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Bound by blood: With Killeen development, it's all in the family

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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.

Developer influence

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.

Blood relations

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.

Homebuilder PAC

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.

MUD Connection

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.

kyleb@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7567

(10) comments

Alvin
Alvin

This is the pesonal opinion of this writer.
@Thallus: I am a little bit confused as to who is suplying water to whom.
As I recall, the District 31, #2, #3 is the onw who is in control. By that I mean the District is in the drivers seat as to who is controlling who.
As I see it, the District is in the drivers seat and it is to Killeen that purchases water from the Distric at a set quantity, but as an example, Killeen must purchase the equipment that the District oversees. So in essence, we are the slave to the District as they get to purchase water which they sell to such as Killeen, and it has been stated that the District 'own's the water until such time as it goes thru the first meter. Until such time, the District own's the water. So they get to provide the water, the potable water plant is their's and I don't know who operates these facilities, but they get the profit from duch sale.
Now there is a question just who is the District as they don't have any recorded minutes of meetings nor they hold elections, free elections, and they are, most of them anyway, the city of Killeen voters, but there has not been a record of elections, they just 'happen'.
Your statement, 'We could not support the MUD due to the fact that we were fresh out of of a drought and had no way to supply the water'. It seems odd to me that if the District is the one who 'owns the water' then how can we supply water to the District? I believe it is the other way around, that the District has us 'over the preverbial barrel as they are the water entity.
Copy: 'I used this as a reason to combat the then Killeen City Attorney, Scott Osborne's, argument that if we said no that, "If we say no, they can go to the TCEQ and file an appeal and, if they won, we would have no say so in how the MUD was built." End of copy.
I don't see us, Killeen, as having any say so as they control the contract, they control the amount of water we are allowed to use, and they sit back and rack in the profit, which I haven't been able to see any appreciable profit geneation fixture, so 'where does the profit from the sale of this water go'????
Copy: 'The building of the Stillhouse plant is the only way Killeen can fulfill its politically, in my opinion, coerced obligation to supply the MUD with water.' End of copy.
There again, I see it as 'it is not Killeen supplying the MUD with water, it's the District supplying Killeen with water and to the tune of 10 MGD, or so that's what is being sold to the citizens of Killeen, and it is to supply water from Stillhouse to the vast majority of patrons, 3,750 homes, which will be the benefactors of that water.
Now with the recent 'turn of events' with the Geotgetown little episode, What impact does this have contractually, does the city of Killeen still have the water rights to the 10 MGD or not???? I have been asking this question for the last 6 to 8 months and I'm not getting any answers, so do have an 'in' with somebody who can supply me with that answer????
One of the few who voted.

Alvin
Alvin

This is the personal opinion of this writer.
First I want to thank the staff writer for his wor in seeing this as t what it is, 'a consortium of people who for their on personal fortune a coming together of people who for their own purposes is set on holding the citry of Killeen hostage'. I don't think that I have observed a document that entails the city of Killeen, Texas in this light, the slant that been told by this newspaper, ever before. To this gentleman, I say Thank you.
@TexaSoldier, I believe that Killeen is already on the hook for all of the infrastructure, the police involvement, the fire department, the emergency services, and all of the 'other services that may in turn be provided to this group of out of bounds homes, that in no way are these people encumbered to 'join the city' at any time.
And I believe 'this city is already encumbered for a $30 million dollar bond, that this city council just a few weeks ago voted to include an additional expenditure of approximately $500,000 dollar appropriation to build the pipeline and sub structure of pumps to supply the elevated head tank that will be supplying water from Still-House Hllow lake. What else is the city of Killeen going to be on the hook for???? And why was it not a condition of contract on the base contract of this WCID No 1,2,3 and 4 depending on how it is plaed out as this contract 'is' the property of the Water District, but they have no monetary obligation, it belongs to the city of Killeen.
This all came about because two individuals voted for the encumbrance of ' two men — Parker Watson, 35, and John Cunningham, 46, In November 2014' 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. This I did not know until today. And the story goes on and on.
Right now, even tho I have inquired many times as to how this all came to be, and since then, with the adventure coming from Georgetown as to their involvement into acquiring the water rights that had previously been the water rights of Bell County, now the question arises 'to whom does this water belong and what effect, if any, does this have on the present but not fulfilled 10 MGD of additional water. I have asked this question many times in the past, put as usual I am not getting any answers. To this question, the city of Killeen has dropped out of the picture only to have this picked up by the legal team of 'Bruce Whitis — the owner of WB Development Corporation'. Why the question is not being pursued by the city of Killeen and the legal dpartment of Killeen is beyond me as it is being pursued by the legal team of the WB Development Corporation. So something is amiss when the legal team of the WB Development Corporation who stands to win or loose it all with Killeen footing the bill.
So you see it is not all cut and dried, there are many strings that these people, not necissarily all of them, but at least some of them are manupilating and we the citizens of Killeen are dancing to their tune. B ut let me state: @UTFan: I don't know your standing is with Mr. Dan Corbin, but some of us are not pleased with the managerial style, as the mayor of Killeen, who rammed thru some of the materials and bonds that I believe are 'not in the interest of the citizens of Killeen.
If I have duplicated any of the comments of previous writers, let me say, 'that it was not intentional'.
This has been the personal opinon of this writer.

UT Fan

In my opinion this is a one-sided piece and the KDH has it in for Dan Corbin because he has spoken out about the proposed audit. The KDH wants the audit because they think it will sell papers if it turns up something. (and I don't think it will). This is just another witchhunt.

Thallus

Yes, I just revealed myself.

Thallus

As KDH stated, I was one of the 3 who voted against the MUD, which I did; and, the city of Killeen is now contractually obligated to provide water to the MUD. The problem with that contract is this, Killeen at that point, had no water to supply it with.
When I was on the council, I argued the point that, along with every other water district and, or entity, that we could not support the MUD due to the fact that we were still fresh out of a drought and had no way to supply the water. I used this as a reason to combat the then Killeen City Attorney, Scott Osborne's, argument that if we said no that, "If we say no, they can go to the TCEQ and file an appeal and, if they won, we would have no say so in how the MUD was built." I consistently argued that we could because, like the other water entities, we did not have the water. Osborne continued to repeat his same words over and over again. Unfortunately, my argument was not enough to persuade the majority of the council to say no.
The building of the Stillhouse plant is the only way Killeen can fulfill its politically, in my opinion, coerced obligation to supply the MUD with water. No one ever wondered why the MUD was taking so long to build. Now, along with the new plant out at Stillhouse, the MUD is now scheduled to begin development soon all of a sudden, agreements to supply Georgetown's lake with water as well. The entire contract needs to be reviewed, even outside of the
"management audit", and the validity of the "...not enough water..." argument was actually sufficient to stand against a TCEQ review to determine any coercions and, or before any building begins.

Pharon Enochs

The following comments are indeed those of Pharon Enochs Move along folks nothing to see here. After all this is the city "without limits." To help illustrate the no limits part it seems that agreements which the tax payer will pay for include policies, procedures about land which is not currently part of the city. I pause to ponder just how far these limits will stretch. The Killeen Daily Herald has exposed some of the items and some of the players in these decisions. I also wonder who has and will continue to profit from these agreements. Is there a good old boy network in the city. Heavens no not in Killeen by itself heck the wealth needs to be shared with at least one other city of good old boys. So again folks just move along. Things are just wonderful. In politics thing can change perhaps someone might challenge if a prior city council agreements obligate a different newer council to abide by those decisions. If not perhaps the citizens can vote in a council that will abide by the wants and desires of the citizens unlike this and other previous councils. Is there a shadow government controlling the city of Killeen ? Welcome to Killeen. Looks like the new city manager has his hands full. Hopefully he will find out who he actually works for, with or against. God bless America, the land that I love, President Trump and John Wayne where ever he may be.


'

eyewatchingu
eyewatchingu

@texasoldier There was one person that did speak out very loudly against the Good Ol boys, she may surprise you. She seems very quite yet you ask her the right questions she will stand up for the people. She is also wanting a Forinsic audit done by the Feds. She just needs people to go to the FBI website https://www.fbi.gov/contact-us/ and make a report. This way it will not cost the citizens a dime. Here check her out https://www.facebook.com/HollyteelForCityCouncilDist1/videos/1678431232460289/

She isn't just a dog trainer, Holly Teel was a Consultant for a major company out of venice fl. She handled stocks and over seen many parts of the company for her Ex Husband, she managed over 3 to 4 million dollars monthly and helped keep the company in the black always. She also has Degrees in different areas of education, from business management, truck driving school, bartending school, Accounting, Dog training/handler/instructor and many more. She is well rounded and has lived all of the USA. She belongs to no party as she sees voting as something you do from the heart and you vote for what you believe in. Vote Teel Dist. 1 at lest she is real.

TexaSoldier

@eyewatchingu. People that vote with their hearts are fools. We need people and candidates that vote with their heads. Holly, you seemed to be all over the place and didn't know what you believe or why you believe it.
I don't remember Teel saying she was for or against the "good ole' boys." Matter of fact, that wasn't the question posed to panel. If I remember correctly, she said she didn't know of any good ole boy system.
She did say under her breath that she was for sanctuary cities. No thank you. She implied in a long winded response that she was a stripper and could still "shake my ass with the best of them." again, no thank you.

VetA42

Hmm So now that the Killeen City Government of Yesterday, Today and it appears Tomorrow have their own little City financed by the current City of Killeen Tax structure.
So who are these "upstanding Citizens who are fighting a true audit of the City's finances over the past number of years? Who besides those that received extensive funding for election/reelection, past and current Mayor's, Councilmen and Councilwomen, real estate developers, owners and other business affiliated individuals. What are the true reasons for not wanting this audit? Could there be a possible connection to conflict of interest violations, possible illegal rulings and the passing of Laws or approvals for personal gain and at the expense of mismanagement of past and current Elected and appointed individuals.

TexaSoldier

The city of Killeen will be on the hook for tens of millions of dollars if the MUD comes to fruition. I have no problem with developers doing whatever they want to with their private property, however, when they want the citizens, that will receive no benefit from the venture, to pay for the capital improvements and infrastructure, then that's simply wrong. Killeen will not see any benefits from this for at least twenty years (probably much longer) after footing the utility, water and road improvements up front. This type of collusion will inhibit future city development because the city will be forced to raise taxes for legitimate capital improvements that benefit all citizens. The city government is already having budgetary problems and now they will be on the hook for tens of millions of dollars for something that will not benefit the citizens within the city limits for decades.
From what I understand, Killeen also will not receive any benefits from the sale of water to the district (Georgetown might due to agreement between the county and Georgetown with regards to Sillhouse water supply) even after footing the bill for the water plant, elevated tower, and pipelines to the district. How can politicians make such a ridiculous agreements with other people's money? either ignorant or dishonest people.
Furthermore, I do not think the designated one time taxing authority (impact fees) will come close to paying for the capital improvements. It's kind of common sense but if impact fees could make up for the capital improvements, then the developers would do it themselves. I think that if the city politicians agree with the impact fees, then that cements the MUD agreement and, thus, obligates the city for the capital improvements that the city cannot afford.
In the last forum/debate, Only two candidates (Harris & Smith) stated that there is a "good ole' boy" network yanking the chains behind the scenes. Everyone else on the panel (including current city councilman Brockley Moore) said they don't believe such a thing exist and others stated they simply didn't know altogether (ignorant or willfully ignorant?).

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