In November 2014, two men — Parker Watson, 35, and John Cunningham, 46 — were the sole voters in a general ballot election to establish the boundaries for a 3,750-home, $238 million development on the outskirts of the city of Killeen.
Watson and Cunningham also voted on propositions that allow the development to levy its own property tax from residents and issue bonds as part of a municipal utility district agreement whereby a developer oversees the construction of the district and pays for improvements through a tax created by the district’s board of directors.
The two men elected the directors as well — and their picks were unanimous.
The newly minted board was comprised of a former mayor of Killeen, a former Killeen councilman, a construction company owner from Copperas Cove, a still unknown individual and a 31-year-old Cove teacher who is related by blood to not only Watson and Cunningham, but also Bruce Whitis — the owner of WB Development and the man who negotiated the development agreement with the Killeen City Council in 2013.
That agreement — approved in June 2013 by a contentious 4-3 vote from the council — locks the city into millions of dollars of infrastructure improvements over the next two decades with the intent that the city will annex the district when it is eventually filled out.
The nexus of blood relations stretching through the development’s creation reveal a targeted effort on behalf of Whitis and his extended family to control the direction of the development in its earliest phases — and potentially beyond.
Supplementing this effort is an ever-expanding web of developer and homebuilder campaign contributions influencing Killeen City Council votes as state records reveal a now-defunct political action committee financed by regional homebuilders and local officials that shelled out thousands of dollars to Killeen elected officials over a span from 2005 to 2012.
The list of names attached to the Central Texas Home Builders Association PAC — which was dissolved in 2013 — is a who’s who of current and past Killeen officials, including two former Killeen mayors, Killeen council members, council members from neighboring cities and current Texas House District 54 Rep. Scott Cosper, a former Killeen mayor and councilman.
The PAC is also tied the development’s controversial vote in 2013 — one of the former mayors funded by the PAC now sits on the development’s board.
The five men elected to the development’s board of directors in November 2014 were Jason Dewald, Miguel Diaz, former Killeen Mayor Tim Hancock, former Killeen City Councilman Otis Evans and Nathan Reding.
Dewald is the owner of Dirt Works Construction in Cove and brother to Bradi Diaz, who was previously the Cove mayor and chairwoman of the Cove Economic Development Corporation.
Bradi Diaz contributed to the Central Texas Home Builders Association PAC in 2006.
Hancock was the mayor of Killeen from 2006 to 2012, and Evans served on the council from 2006 to 2009.
Miguel Diaz’s connection was not clear.
That leaves Reding, a teacher and coach at Clements/Parsons Elementary School in Cove and freshman football coach at Copperas Cove High School.
Reding is related to Randy Reding, the owner and operator of Reding Construction in Killeen, and Johnny Reding, who is a superintendent for WBW Construction — the construction arm of Whitis’ WB Development.
Not only do the elder Redings work with Whitis, the three are first cousins through their mothers — Frances Reding and Nancy Whitis, according to obituary records.
Nancy Whitis was the wife of the late Weldon Whitis, a development giant in Killeen who died in 2014.
Another sister to Frances Reding and Nancy Whitis was Ladine Cowan, who died in 2007. Two of Cowan’s daughters were Connie Cunningham and Caren Frances Watson, who also died in 2007.
Connie Cunningham was married to Maj. John Cunningham and is mother to John Houston Cunningham III — the first voter who enumerated the development district’s legal authority.
Caren Frances Watson was married to Parker Watson and was mother to Parker Ryan Watson — the second voter.
For both Parker and Cunningham to be allowed to vote as residents of the development district, they were required to register as voters within that stretch of land, according to Bell County elections administrator Shawn Snyder.
According to Bell County voter rolls from the November 2014 election, both men said they live on properties on Rocky Road, a paved road that leads to a locked fence on the development’s western border.
It remains unclear whether the two men lived on that road before the district was approved by the City Council or moved onto the land at a later date to accommodate the vote.
No property owned by either Cunningham or Watson appear in the Bell County property records database. Both listed addresses also did not appear in county records.
Even though Whitis was later armed with a board comprised of family and supporters, the development still needed council approval in 2013.
Filling that void was a stream of campaign funding that boosted a number of local and county officials who orbited around the development agreement vote.
The Central Texas Home Builders Association PAC, originally treasured by builder Glenn Fidler of Holmes Homes and later by Debbie Brockway, the chief executive officer of the Central Texas Homebuilders Association, contributed more than $25,000 to local, county and state campaigns from May 2005 to May 2012.
Those campaigns include those of Bell County commissioners John Fisher and Tim Brown, county Judge Jon Burrows, former Texas District 54 state Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, the mayoral campaign of Hancock, and the Killeen council campaigns of Cosper, Juan Rivera, JoAnn Purser, Evans, Dan Corbin, Larry Cole, Kathy Gilmore, Ernest Wilkerson, Fred Latham and Hiram Reynolds.
The PAC also financed the Copperas Cove mayoral campaign of John Hull; the Cove council campaigns of Mark Peterson, John Gallen, Rick Ott and Joseph Solomon; and the Harker Heights council campaigns of Sam Murphey and Spencer Smith.
Notable contributions to the PAC were two payments from Corbin — in the name of his law firm, Corbin & Associates — in 2009 and 2012, totaling $600; and payments from Aycock, Hancock, Fisher, Cole and Don Farek, a former Killeen City Councilman and homebuilder who is now a director on the Bell County Water Control and Improvement District No. 1’s board of directors.
The WCID is the sole wholesale provider of Killeen’s drinking water.
Farek sat on the water district’s board during the council’s 2013 agreement to help fund a $50-million, WCID-owned water treatment plant on the shores of Stillhouse Hollow Lake that is scheduled to go online in 2019.
Killeen ratepayers will eventually pay nearly $30 million in debt service to fund the plant, which will allow another 10 million gallons per day of treated drinking water to flow to the southern portion of the city and the extraterritorial jurisdiction.
The development, which is scheduled to break ground later this year, will tap into that new water system when the city completes the infrastructure for the project. The city is currently in design phase for the water lines, main, lift station and elevated storage tank that will connect to the plant.
The development agreement was approved 4-3 by the Killeen City Council on July 30, 2013, with council members Elizabeth Blackstone, Jose Segarra, Wayne Gilmore and Jared Foster voting in support.
Councilmen Jonathan Okray, who is still on the council; Steve Harris, who is running for the District 4 seat in May; and Terry Clark voted in dissent.
Wayne Gilmore is the husband of Kathy Gilmore, who was funded by the homebuilder PAC in 2005.
Corbin was the sitting mayor during the development vote and was accused by Okray of violating council protocols during the vote to approve the district.
“I believe Mayor Corbin violated rules of procedure, rules of decorum, provided inaccuracies in regards to Robert’s Rules of Order,” Okray said.
Okray alleged that his attempt to amend the agreement during the council’s deliberations was ignored by Corbin.
“I had the floor. My motion was not to the contract, but to the ordinance, which is law,” Okray said.
The development’s boundaries are entirely within Killeen’s extraterritorial jurisdiction, and the build-out of the 3,750 homes will be overseen by Whitis, who appeared frequently before the council during deliberations over the agreement.
Killeen On the hook
The council’s fight over the vote was not without reason — per the agreement between the council and Whitis, the city is contractually obligated to provide water and sewer service to the development, construct a 1-million-gallon water storage tank, expand the number of lanes from two to four on Chaparral Road to accommodate new traffic and expand Trimmier Road leading north from the development.
The city will also be on the hook for the costs of oversizing infrastructure within the development to city specifications.
In return, the city will be allowed to annex the development once the full build-out is completed. Theoretically, the city will benefit from the increased sales tax from the development’s residents, but won’t see any property tax funds until the district is annexed.
The city also has the right to review the platting of the development, but the council no longer makes platting decisions after it voted away that oversight to the city’s planning and zoning commission in February 2014.
Okray and Harris also voted against that measure.
The development’s board also has the sole right to levy a property tax on its residents and issue debt to pay for infrastructure improvements.
Some sitting council members, led by Okray, have repeatedly called for a review of the development agreement over the past few months, particularly during the creation of the forensic audit of the city’s finances that was approved March 14.
One of the items that will be investigated during the audit will be “city-owner agreements,” also known as development agreements, which will include the MUD agreement and look for any illegal activity or breach of best practice standards during the development’s approval.
Rivera received campaign funds from Whitis during his 2016 run for the council at large seat though a separate PAC, Prosperity Central Texas, that was treasured by Corbin.
Whitis also directly contributed to Councilman Jim Kilpatrick’s district council race in 2015.
Both council members voted in opposition to the forensic audit and developer impact fees March 14.
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