As several residents and the Killeen City Council debated changes to the city charter during Thursday’s public hearing, much of the discussion was filled with Mayor Dan Corbin’s refrain, “Let the people decide.”
A proposed ballot initiative for the planned May charter election, initiated by Corbin, would allow voters to decide whether to keep the single-member district system residents chose in 2005 or return to an all at-large elected council.
“We ought to ask the people if this has been working or not,” Corbin said.
Single-member districts were popular with local minority groups during the charter proceedings in 2005, because they provide specific council members to represent specific sections of the city, avoiding potential disenfranchisement.
However, because of the restrictions the system imposes on who can vote in district elections, single-member districts have drawn criticism from residents in recent years.
“We have heard all of the numbers about low voter turnout but I feel, and the NAACP feels, the problem is not the single-member districts; the problem is engaging and empowering citizens,” said TaNeika Driver, president of the Killeen branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Corbin said he has heard mostly from residents who claim that they have less say in their government since the single-member districts were adopted in 2005.
“I see less engagement,” Corbin said.
Driver said she thought that the only impetus for a transition away from single-member districts was the problems it caused during the 2011 recall, when city staff had to decide who could sign petitions for district council members.
For Driver, the problem was not enough to scrap the whole system.
“I feel like the reason the issue came up was because of the recall. If the council does what they are supposed to do, we won’t have to go down that road again,” Driver said.
Driver, along with former Councilwoman Claudia Brown and former Councilman Kenny Wells, also spoke against a proposed amendment that would allow council members to decide their own compensation through a city ordinance process.
According to the city charter as written, council members may not be paid more than $100 per month, and the mayor may not be paid more than $200 per month.
All changes to the charter, including council member compensation, require voter approval.
Under the proposed amendment, council members would be able to approve an ordinance, through an internal vote, to change their compensation.
“I am adamantly opposed to (the proposal). That is a license to steal,” Wells said.
Wells, whose grandfather served on the council that adopted the original city charter in 1949, advised restraint as the city moved forward with the almost 100 proposed changes.
“I am concerned with what we are doing with the charter and how the voters are going to understand all of the changes,” Wells said. “I think the charter has withstood the test of time.”
Additional proposals brought back into the discussion Thursday were the extension of council terms from two years to three years and basing the number of signatures required to call a recall election on registered voters rather than a percentage of those who participated in past elections.
The next public hearing on the city charter will be at 5 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 101 N. College St.
All of the proposed deletions, additions and revisions to the city charter can be found at www.killeentexas.gov.