Crime, financial expertise and transparency were front and center Monday at a Killeen City Council candidate forum held by the Killeen Daily Herald.
Candidates for the four seats were separated into two panels by district and asked questions created by the Herald’s editorial staff with contributions from our readers.
More than 200 people attended the forum at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center.
With so many issues facing the city of Killeen, residents in the audience knew how important the May 6 city election will be for the future of Killeen.
“I came out here because we’re interested in our city,” said Charles King. “We’re at a crucial time, we have events going on that we’re very concerned about, financial and otherwise. There will be quite a changeover with the city council that’s coming up this vote that’s in our near future.”
The council candidates for each district seat are:
Councilwoman Shirley Fleming
Councilman Jim Kilpatrick
Mayor Pro Tem Brockley Moore
Ralph Cossey Jr.
All candidates attended, except for Nash-King, whose husband’s funeral was Friday. She was represented by Roosevelt Huggins, who read a statement from King.
The candidates attending were given four questions asking about their preparation for the seat, their commitment to an audit of the city’s finances, their ideas for tackling crime in Killeen and their feelings on transparency with the public. Each candidate was also provided a one-minute opening and closing statement to make their pitches to Killeen voters.
Candidates outlined their experience with financial management, a necessity after the city’s recent budget crisis in 2016.
In June, former interim City Manager Ann Farris presented the council with a preliminary 2017 budget with an $8 million shortfall. The council spent months bridging the gap in the budget but have continued to work to create more revenue and slice expenditures.
The incumbents focused on their ability to balance the budget over the past year, but most of the other candidates said more work had to be done. “All of those on the council were forced to dive into our budget, and that led to a balanced budget,” Kilpatrick said.
Moore said a council member’s responsibility is to be in constant contact with the city manager and financial staff to make informed decisions.
Despite the budget being balanced, former Councilman Harris said he had identified issues in the city’s practices that became apparent during his term from 2013-2015.
“I was there asking questions of city staff, including transfers from the water and sewer fund to the general fund,” he said.
The candidates were unanimous in their support of the coming investigative audit of city finances — but went back and forth on what to call it, how deep the investigation should go and what it should cost.
“I would support a further investigation if it was free,” Abrahams said.
The candidates also discussed crime, saying greater opportunities for at-risk residents and more support for police could help the rash of violent crime and homicides in the first three months of the year. Most candidates agreed a new chief of police from outside the city could help modernize the department.
“We should tackle crime by using more of our local resources,” Fraley said.
“Boasting our local heroes is something we should do,” Cossey said. “If they put their lives on the line for me, I need to do it for them.”
Teel said that police should be celebrated for the work they do and given more support in the community.
The candidates also agreed transparency with the public is a key issue. In the past, the council has had a steep learning curve on city issues and have not always had the information necessary to make key decisions. Some candidates have previously taken funding from special interest groups during their campaigns. Wells, who was a former council member, said he would be funding his own campaign.
“I’m completely self-funded, and I’m not owned by anybody,” he said.
All of the candidates said greater commitment to the job was necessary.
“I ran my last campaign on transparency, and that is the first job on this council,” Fleming said.
For a video of Monday’s forum, go to Facebook.com/kdhnews or find coverage on Twitter at #KilleenFinances.