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Killeen on track a year after recall drive began

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Posted: Friday, April 6, 2012 12:00 pm

By Philip Jankowski

Killeen Daily Herald

One year after a concerned resident started a historic recall movement that ousted five city council members, officials and politicians say Killeen remains largely on track.

The city has moved forward on transportation projects and completed a controversial arts and activities center viewed as the cornerstone of downtown revitalization, despite not having a governing body to approve large projects.

Following the buyout of former city manager Connie Green in March 2011, Mayor Timothy Hancock said the former council acted as if the recall would succeed.

On the same November night that five council members were voted out of office, the council approved eminent domain ordinances necessary for ongoing road projects to continue.

"I think that the city has fared very well under the circumstances, simply because a lot was put in place before we were lacking a quorum," said Hancock.

The city has several large road projects that continue to move forward, most notably Stagecoach Road/State Highway 201. The Killeen Arts and Activities Center also officially opened last week.

Interim City Manager Glenn Morrison said there have been no pending grants or bids held up by the lack of a council, which bodes well for the city since ordinances or new contracts cannot be approved or modified without council approval.

One thing on hold is finding Green's replacement.

The council suspended the search for a new city manager in September after concerns about the candidates' backgrounds arose.

The council intended to restart the search in November, but the recall put those plans on hold.

Morrison, who has been the

acting city manager for a little more than a year, did not seek the job when it became vacant.

Morrison would not say whether he would apply for the job when the search restarts.

Planning and zoning

Without a council quorum, there is a backlog of rezoning requests, as each case must have a public hearing in front of the council before approval.

Planning and Zoning Commission member Craig Langford said he worries the city may have missed business growth opportunities because of the recall.

"If they come to (Killeen) and want to be on the ground and running, they would know that they cannot accomplish that here," he said. "How many did we lose to the surrounding communities because of the recall and not having a city council?"

Twelve requests for rezoning have laid dormant since the recall. Most requests are from restaurant owners wanting approval for alcohol sales.

Other delayed items include a request by the Killeen Independent School District for rezoning at Nolan and Palo Alto middle schools to allow for the construction of cell towers by Cingular Wireless PCS. The district planned to draw $18,000 in the first year of the lease. First Baptist Church officials requested a change to allow the church to modify a sign.

Councilman Mike Lower, one of two sitting councilmen not subject to the recall, echoed some of Langford's concerns. Lower called the lack of a quorum "frustrating."

"The people that it really affects are the people we haven't heard from yet," said Lower, who believes it may have slowed down short-term growth in Killeen. "The things that have slowed down are the things that could have happened."

Other planning and zoning decisions such as housing plats have been approved without a council. Texas law grants automatic approval if a council fails to take action within 30 days, planning and zoning commission member Miguel Diaz said.

Challenges ahead

The next council will be seated in May during one of the busiest times of the year.

In July, officials will present a draft budget, which must be approved in September.

The budget will be presented along with an agenda that likely will be more crowded than usual.

Council members take courses with the Texas Municipal League to learn how local government works.

Lower and councilman Terry Clark said the courses were helpful, but they also rely on communications with staff when they have questions about city business.

Lower said he is eager to have a new council.

"There's always those things you want to talk about as a council that you might move forward," Lower said. "I want to put those (things) on the agenda to get those to the council."

Contact Philip Jankowski at philipj@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7553. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcrime.

Ongoing city projects

Stagecoach Road/State Highway 201 overpass project - Detours are in place for the $18.2 million project that will create a bridge over the two roads, which meet at State Highway 195. State Highway 201 will be widened. The estimated completion date is 2013. The project is city funded, but the state will reimburse funds.

Stagecoach Road widening - Crews are working to make Stagecoach Road a primary thoroughfare through southern Killeen. At a $15 million price tag funded by city bonds, the project will widen the road from Harker Heights to State Highway 195. The eastern phase of the project should be finished by the end of 2012. Bids for the western phase will go to contractors this fall.

Cunningham Road - The first phase of the project is set to open in a few weeks. The two-lane road will have sidewalks and a center turn lane.

Arts and Activities Center - The 4-acre, 80,000-square-foot campus officially opened its doors last week, though many services moved in months ago. The $4.2 million project renovated the old First Baptist Church into a facility now containing several social services and an auditorium spread across several buildings.

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