The races for four Killeen City Council district seats officially have begun, and the field is packed with candidates from a variety of backgrounds.
That wealth of experience is important — the next City Council will have plenty of work cut out for it when the May 6 election votes are canvassed and the council members are sworn into office.
The candidates by seat and stated profession are:
Incumbent Councilwoman Shirley Fleming
Kenny Wells, laundry owner
Holly Teel, dog trainer and handler
Debbie Nash-King, graduate student
Larry Smith, contractor
Incumbent Councilman Jim Kilpatrick
Patsy Bracey, retired registered nurse
Vantonio Fraley, VL Coaching Unlimited founder and coach
Hal Butchart, retired military
Incumbent Mayor Pro Tem Brockley Moore
Steve Harris, teacher and coach
Ralph Cossey Jr., software engineer
Stanley Abrahams, corrections officer
The list of candidates includes eight who have not served previously on the council and will have to catch up on a number of pressing city issues, including a pending forensic audit, continuing turmoil in the city’s financial situation, a rising violent crime rate, crumbling infrastructure and a lack of high-paying jobs.
The current City Council recently hired City Manager Ron Olson and said the fiscal year 2018 budget is balanced, but Olson said Feb. 10 he and the council will be tasked with “putting out the embers” of a smoldering financial crisis.
The long sought forensic audit spurred on by resident demand last year went off the rails after the City Council issued a timorous list of targets for outside auditing firms to include, leading to a process that has dragged on at a lethargic pace and that might not address residents’ concerns.
The council also struggled to work together on key issues, with council members — sometimes unprofessionally — disrupting each another on key decisions and failing to reach agreements on ideological grounds.
Olson previously withdrew his name from the city manager search after coming face to face last year with a council that could not reach a strong consensus to pick him.
With these issues and more on the table, the new council will have to step up immediately and keep the fire burning on residents’ concerns and the civic involvement playing a part in making council races competitive this spring.
Knowledgeable residents have their own wish lists for what makes an ideal council member and what issues the council members should tackle.
The Daily Herald reached out this week to the KDH Reader Panel, an in-the-know and informed volunteer group whose mission is to be independent thinkers willing to share opinions and ideas. (Go to bit.ly/kdhreaders for details.)
Panelists were asked which issues they wanted the new council to tackle first and what qualities and experience they are looking for in council members.
“City Council members are similar to the members of the board of directors of a large corporation,” said former Killeen Mayor Dan Corbin, a District 1 constituent. “They should have the education, experience and expertise to make policy decisions, approve budgets and provide guidance for staff to do long-range planning and budgeting.”
James “Jack” Ralston, a District 4 voter, echoed the need for financial expertise.
“The citizens of Killeen need forward-thinking council members who can balance a checkbook and are not (beholden) to special interests and big unions,” Ralston said. “We need individuals who understand that when you borrow money (bonds) to pay for everyday city maintenance functions such as streets, sewers, you are not being a good steward of the citizen’s money.”
Bob Blair, a District 1 voter, said greater cooperation among council members is necessary to get business done.
“The District 1 representative should be able to set aside ego and dogma to find compromises that benefit the city and the district,” Blair said.
Cooperation was an issue recently after four council members denounced the actions of Councilman Jonathan Okray during a Feb. 7 discussion on a potential forensic audit of city finances. Okray loudly interrupted fellow council member Kilpatrick and interrogated recently hired city auditor Matthew Grady after issues Okray wanted addressed in the audit were not included in a proposed contract with accounting firm McConnell & Jones.
Volunteers on the reader panel outlined districtwide and citywide concerns of note.
“In District 1, the main concern is crime, but transportation is also an issue for many,” Blair said. “Past councils were lax in studying and understanding the packets prepared for them by city staff, resulting in inefficient meetings and uninformed decisions. I want my council person prepped and up to speed for every meeting.”
Ralston said water rights should be a major concern for the council.
“The problem lies in the bald fact that if there is no water, there is no public safety,” Ralston said. “In fact there will be no city to be safe in!”
The city has done an adequate job of supplying water through its contract with Bell County Water Control and Improvement District No. 1, Ralston said, but was still losing out to Georgetown, which secured the water rights of the Chisholm Trail Special Utility District in December 2015.
“We often hear that the future growth of Killeen is going to occur in the much ballyhooed southern corridor,” Ralston said. “Anyone who thinks Georgetown politicians are going to prioritize water for southern Bell citizens — who cannot vote for them — over their own interests are living in a dream world.”
The candidates will have 12 weeks to make their case to residents. Big dates to watch for:
The candidates must submit campaign finance reports to Bell County on April 6 and April 28. These reports, which the Daily Herald will track and publish, allow residents to see who is donating money to council members in their districts.
The first day of early voting is April 24. Early voting ends May 2.
Residents must register to vote with the Texas secretary of state’s office before May 6.
Residents vote for the candidates who represent the district in which the residents live.
For more information on which district you live in and where to vote, go to www.killeentexas.gov/election or call City Hall at 254-501-7600.
For continuing coverage of the Killeen election, visit www.kdhnews.com/centerforpolitics.
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