Editors note: This story has been updated to correct a quote.
A Killeen council member alleged collusion in the city’s 2013 contract to create a 3,750-home subdivision on the southern outskirts of Killeen.
During a town hall forum hosted by Councilman Steve Harris to discuss the city’s contract with developer Bruce Whitis for the Bell County Municipal Utility District No. 2, Harris said the contract was not mutually beneficial for the city and was concerned about collusion or coercion between the developer, some council members and city staff.
“First thing’s first, I think there needs to be an investigation, into collusion with the MUD,” Harris said.
After a rundown of the contract by City Council at-large candidate Mellisa Brown, former Mayor Dan Corbin stood before the audience of around 25 and said: "Are you intentionally misrepresenting the facts or are you just grossly ignorant of the facts and the law?"
Corbin was mayor during the council’s approval of the contract in 2013.
That led to a back and forth between Corbin and Brown, in which Corbin accused Harris of intentionally misleading the public.
Bell County Commissioner John Fisher, who represents Killeen, then asked to clarify some of the facts of the presentation before he was denied a chance to speak.
“There’s hundreds of MUDs in the state of Texas — go to those communities and ask them how it’s going for them,” Fisher said, before leaving the Veterans of Foreign Wars 9191 Auxiliary.
The presentation largely focused on the contractual stipulations of the city’s agreement, most notably the city’s obligation to construct road and water-sewer improvements in concert with Whitis as the subdivision builds out.
As a municipal utility district, the subdivision will operate independently of the city and use resident property taxes to pay back the expected $238 million in debt floated to pay for district infrastructure.
Part of the city’s obligations explicitly listed in the contract are the construction of a 1-million-gallon water tank — which the city has since expanded to 3 million gallons — and the expansion of Chaparral Road to a five-lane thoroughfare.
The contract stipulated the developer would recoup some of the money back to the city for those improvements while following city standards on construction and infrastructure. In turn, the city would have the right to annex the development at a later date, taking over property tax revenue.
By Brown’s count, the improvements would cost the city around $30 million without developer reimbursement and possible federal funding.
Former councilman Jared Foster, one of four members who voted to approve the contract, said the allegations of coercion were “disingenuous.”
“That MUD was the most difficult vote I made as a council member; however, it is disingenuous to suggest anyone was coerced or colluded,” he said. “We were presented with plan, some of which I did not like. Considering the growth there, it was the best option available.”
Foster had previously voted against a prior proposal by Whitis which would include 4,500 homes in the subdivision and conform to few of the city's demands on the building and infrastructure.
Harris said he was using the forum as a tool to circumvent council consensus on a possible MUD investigation and potentially court new council members in the coming May 5 election.
“This election is very important,” Harris said.
In fact, the forum appeared to be a campaign event of its own with nearly half the audience comprised of City Council and mayoral candidates.
In attendance were council members Shirley Fleming and Gregory Johnson, who is running for re-election; council candidates Patsy Bracey, Brown, Bruce Bynum, Placidio J. Rivera and Tolly James Jr.; and mayoral candidates Hal Butchart and Holly Teel.