While Fort Hood is the primary economic partner of the city of Killeen, job growth and good wages are a central concern for residents as the city’s population continues to grow.
For Killeen City Council and mayoral candidates in the May 5 election, getting a grasp on finding and enticing innovative industries will play a big role in selling their campaigns to voters.
The city’s economic development policy currently is defined by its relationship with the Killeen Economic Development Corporation and Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce, which work to attract and develop local businesses, respectively. Killeen Mayor Jose Segarra and council members Juan Rivera and Debbie Nash-King sit as voting members on the corporation’s board.
In lieu of a sales tax allocation, which is common for many cities, Killeen pays the two organizations $700,000 a year combined to perform those functions, but there has been continuing suspicion the city’s funds are not adequately utilized.
Transparency is also a concern.
Residential and council outrage reached a fever pitch in July, when the EDC signed a performance agreement with MGC Pure Chemicals America for a super-pure hydrogen peroxide plant at the Killeen Business Park on Roy J. Smith Drive.
After the agreement was signed, the corporation issued a press release to announce the contract — taking council members and residents who were left out of the loop by surprise.
This week, the Herald reached out to the 12 council candidates and five mayoral candidates for their opinions on increasing transparency in the operations of the city’s business attraction and retention arms.
The 12 council candidates are:
Incumbent Gregory Johnson, 35, a businessman
Incumbent Juan Rivera, 67, a businessman
Patsy Bracey, 72, a registered nurse
Mellisa Brown, 36, a caretaker and student
Bruce Bynum, 50, a family consultant and substitute teacher
Den’Mica Eugene, 42, a salon manager
Leo Gukeisen, 52, a security company manager
Tolly James Jr., 49, an HVAC contractor
Hugh “Butch” Menking, 57, a financial adviser and former Killeen school board member
Brockley Moore, 50, a former councilman
Placidio J. Rivera, 53, a retiree
Kenny Wells, 65, a business owner and a former councilman
The five candidates for Killeen mayor are:
Mayor Jose Segarra, 53, a Realtor
Hal Butchart, 70, a local businessman
Arturo Cortez, 65, a retiree
Jimmy Parker, 48, a local automotive technician
Holly Teel, 47, a dog trainer
Johnson, Juan Rivera, Eugene and Cortez could not be reached for comment.
QUESTION 1: Killeen residents and council members have recently complained of a lack of transparency surrounding the operations and contracts signed by the Killeen Economic Development Corporation and Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce. As the council is tasked with approving the city’s agreements with the two bodies, would you support amending the agreements to promote more transparency with the council and the public? What other changes would you seek, if any?
Patsy Bracey: “The Chamber of Commerce is a group of professional people acting as spokesman for the development of commercial and industrial opportunities in the community. Should not receive a salary or any city funds. KEDC needs to be amended allowing more citizens input and support. No missing of funds should be allowed.”
Mellisa Brown: “I would fully support amending the agreements to promote more transparency with the council and the public. I would require KEDC to make all announcements of meetings through the city of Killeen’s website and not just post them on bulletin boards, hold them to actually updating the Council regarding the businesses that have been brought in to the City and what incentives and concessions have been made, and require that the financial information for KEDC be made as easily available to the public as the City’s financial information.”
Bruce Bynum: “My number three promise is open and honest communication, which means transparency with our community. So, I would support amending the agreements. I fully understand that at times we must have confidentiality for certain projects; only because it is essential for the success of the project. The other changes are that it will never take away from safety, and or being fiscally responsible.”
Den’Mica Eugene: Did not reply.
Gukeisen: “I would support amending the agreement because the agreement we have now appears to keep the City Council in the dark until the last minute. I would seek that both the Killeen Economic Development Corporation and Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce would be required to make monthly briefings to the council on exactly what they are doing in the name of Killeen. This would allow the council to see where the annual allocation of roughly $700,000 is going.
Tolly James Jr.: “Yes, I would amend the agreement. As currently constructed, the KEDC has two current city council members and our mayor on its board, and they can not share any information about what is discussed in the KEDC’s operation with anyone. Once a quarter, or more often if necessary, the members on the KEDC from our city government should update full council on KEDC activity in a closed session. During this session, the full council should prepare information to update the public without giving information that would be detrimental to any current negotiations contracts, or land acquisition.”
Gregory Johnson: Did not reply.
Hugh “Butch” Menking: “I am definitely a supporter of transparency in all facets of city government. However, the relocation of a business from another community carries with it a responsibility of confidentiality that a business would logically expect. The KEDC and Chamber would most likely be expected to maintain this confidentiality at the request of the business until they allow it to be released publicly.”
Brockley Moore: “Yes, I support all actions to be transparent. There cannot be transparency without being ethical. There are some actions during the negotiations which are private, closed session and only selected parties are involved.”
Placidio J. Rivera: “Absolutely yes. For far too long the KEDC/GKCC has been a routine agreement that has been passed every time it comes up for review. Business as normal. That shouldn’t be the case. The council should require both groups to be on a performance-based contract. Actually, the problem is rooted much deeper than that. You have two organizations that by all appearances have no distinction between them.”
Juan Rivera: Did not reply.
Kenny Wells: “Generally, there is transparency of the efforts and successes of the organization in quarterly or annual reports to the Council. Unfortunately, it is impossible to be transparent about specific contracts for several reasons. There is always a second company involved that demands total confidentially. When working to attract job producing companies, Killeen is competing with the world. Competing cities are looking for information leaks they can use to their advantage to attract those companies to their cities instead of ours. Absolute transparency is simply impossible in these complex negotiations.”
Harold Butchart: “Yes, I would. I believe that the KEDC and the chamber of commerce are basically the same people. There is no transparency and there is no accountability with money. The two council members and mayor on that board kept it a secret how money was spent. It’s not right or democratic. We should closely monitor and keep track of taxpayer money.”
Arturo Cortez: Did not reply.
Jimmy Parker: “I feel we should make the two bodies one body in hand and then it would be much easier to come to agreement. As far as the mayor and the councilmen, yes we do need to get more in involved with the public. The only way to acquire more local business owners and outside businesses is through building the community strong through education and good health.”
Jose Segarra: “I think it’s important that Council understands the value of what these two organizations do for our city, and I would support policy that provides regular updates to Council members and encourages council members to attend their meetings, outside of council meetings.”
Holly Teel: “Transparency builds trust between people. The lack of transparency between Killeen Economic Development Corporation, Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce, the city of Killeen and the people of Killeen is concerning. Yes, amending for the betterment of transparency is always in the best interest of the people.”
QUESTION 2: There is a difference of opinion over the city of Killeen and the Killeen City Council’s role in attracting businesses to the Killeen area. Do you believe a City Council member or mayor has a role in attracting businesses to Killeen and how should that role look?
Bracey: “City council and mayor play a major role in the developing of policies, supporting city government and appropriating funds necessary for the city. Must be involved in the future development of the city by community visibility and leadership, not for self-worth or status.”
Brown: “I believe that the City Council and the Mayor have a role in attracting businesses to Killeen in the form of networking, advertising the City any time they are traveling on official business that is being paid for or being reimbursed by the City, and by being open minded to all businesses while listening to the desires of the citizens. This is another reason why it is so important to have KEDC be more open and transparent, especially with the Council.”
Bynum: “Now that I live in Killeen I have always talked and supported the businesses in Killeen. I also believe that before one can attract any businesses, they need to be fully informed and have the ability to help make offers to bring businesses in. At this time not all of our council members have the ability to do that.”
Eugene: Did not reply.
James: “Yes, they both do. First and foremost, the vision for the comprehensive plan of Killeen must be cast clearly by our city council and mayor. Secondly, we should have streamlined and transparent regulations. We should draft policies that allow our city and businesses to enter into mutually beneficial agreements on tax incentives. Finally, evaluation of current incentive plans and marketing strategies effectiveness must be done to ensure that our tax dollars are not being wasted on a plan that is not working.”
Gregory Johnson: Did not reply.
Menking: “Marketing a city for relocation or establishment of major enterprises is a specialized function. Council members individually aren’t educated or trained in this profession. That being said, city leadership has a critical and indispensable role in promoting our city’s openness and willingness to support these businesses should they consider locating here. The long term financial risk to our city is too great to be handled solely by inexperienced people.”
Moore: “The mayor and two appointed council members along with other businesspersons represent the city. They work hand and hand with the KEDC and the Killeen chamber to attract businesses. The mayor and the city manager coordinates operations and procedures with partners. The city manager is not a voting party. Therefore the council is represented directly and indirectly with the vision of attracting businesses. The KEDC and chamber are responsible for all coordination, scheduling and heavy lifting. The mayor and council creates the city vision.”
P. Rivera: “This could be a slippery slope. If a member of the council or the mayor owns a business we need to make sure that there isn’t any personal gain for the council member or mayor as related to their businesses. Having said that, the governing body should play a role to the extent that they approve what concessions the city is willing to concede to bring a business to the city. They have the responsibility to promote a plan with goals and milestones to the KEDC as well as to the people of Killeen.”
J. Rivera: Did not reply.
Wells: “I do believe that the Mayor and City Council members do have a role in attracting businesses to Killeen. When I served previously on the council, the Mayor and I met with every prospect in the final stages of negotiations. These meetings served to convey confidence that the city government was on board. City leaders with varied backgrounds and experience including business people are vital to a growing city. New businesses must be confident that the city government is solid, unified and business friendly.”
Butchart: “Yes, I do. The mayor is the face of Killeen and if I’m elected, I will be the face of Killeen and I will recruit business wherever it can be recruited. We have enough Wal-Marts and chains. We need real industry that pays real money, not minimum wage. The mayor has to have an active part in recruiting. We now have an interstate, and we have an opportunity.”
Cortez: Did not reply.
Parker: “Yes we do play a big role and bringing businesses. The only way to attract more local business owners and outside businesses here to Killeen, we have to make sure good health and safety for one another, a good education is the solution to build economic growth in Killeen.”
Segarra: “I think the Mayor and Council have very important roles in attracting businesses to the city and that is through strong positive leadership that believes in the many opportunities that our great city has to offer. As leaders, we also need to provide clear guidance on our rules and regulations as businesses look to our city.”
Teel: “Yes, both can work together marketing our city. If our Mayor and City Council can market our city to hire a new police chief, a new city manager, and market our city for a new waste disposal company, then they should have no problem marketing our city for industrial growth.”
email@example.com | 254-501-7567