Candidates for the Killeen City Council and the Killeen Independent School District board doubled down on the issues during a political forum at the Moss Rose Community Center on Saturday afternoon.
Fewer than 20 people showed up to hear the candidates speak, however. City Council District 3 candidate Harold “Hal” Butchart said that’s reminiscent of the voter turnout for local elections.
“It’s an insult to democracy to have less than 1 percent or 2 percent vote in the city council elections,” he said. “People aren’t voting because they’ve lost hope.”
Each candidate was given 7 minutes to speak on the issues that mattered most to them. There was little, if any, interaction between candidates before the forum started. LULAC Herencia Council No. 4297 and the Stars and Stripes Exchange Club of Killeen hosted the event.
Council candidates Shirley Fleming, Holly Teel, Larry Smith, Kenny Wells, Debbie Nash-King, Jim Kilpatrick, Butchart, Vantonio Fraley, Brockley Moore, Steve Harris and Ralph Cossey were all there to tell local residents why they should be voted onto the council. Candidates Stanley Abrahams and Pasty Bracey did not attend.
Lan Carter, Gerald Dreher, Lonnie Farrow, Bob Snyder, Marvin Rainwater and Stephania Williams were the KISD board candidates who attended. Candidate Carlyle Walton was absent.
Crime and financial transparency were major focuses for nearly all of the candidates. Fleming, the councilwoman for District 1, led off the
meeting by holding up her neighborhood watch signs that have made an appearance throughout the city. She’s been a supporter of community police work and said that crime rates are the “number one problem here in Killeen”
“Ladies and gentlemen, I think you know who I am,” she said. “We need to stop these crimes; we need to stop human trafficking.”
Teel’s 7 minutes focused primarily on stopping crime as well.
“I live in an area where some days, I don’t even want to go in my front yard,” she said. “When our children go to the IGA (grocery store) and there is a body lying in the parking lot, that is not quality of life.”
Butchart, Harris, Nash-King, Fleming and Smith all expressed support for an external audit of the city’s finances. Residents requested a forensic audit of city finances, after being stunned June 30 that the city needed nearly $8 million to balance the budget, had been spending more than it was making and had been for at least three consecutive years.
A management audit and risk-based analysis of city finances was approved by the council to focus on seven areas to look for negligence, misuse and fraud.
“In order to deal with more crime, we need more money, and ... the money has been allegedly mismanaged,” Harris said. “I’ll say it — it might be a controversial statement — but there is a good ol’ boy network here in Killeen.”
The lack of high-tech jobs available for qualified workers who come from Fort Hood has been no secret to residents, Smith said toward the end of his speech.
“We need to diversify our industries here,” he said. “We empower the chamber of commerce, if we’re giving you guys millions of dollars a year, and all you’re doing is padding retirement funds. You’re wasting our money.”
Special education was a major talking point for Killeen school board candidates. Williams works for the Department of Defense and serves on the board for Disabilities Rights Texas. She cited a long history of working with people with disabilities and said that she has more experience in special education than anyone on the board.
Farrow talked about increasing vocational opportunities for special education students. Though he realizes it’s an important issue, it wasn’t something that was always on his radar.
“I don’t have kids in special education, so I don’t know,” he told the crowd. “When I talked to a special education parent, I didn’t talk. I listened.”
Snyder didn’t get into specifics about the special education department at KISD. He did give it some praise and celebrated the fact that the department is currently “100 percent in compliance” with Texas Education Agency standards.
“Now, do they have some warts?” Snyder said. “Yes, it’s not a perfect system. They’ve got some work to do. They need to hire more people, but I’d like to look at what they’ve been doing and not what they haven’t done.”
Rainwater, an incumbent, told the audience what he believed the most “bulletproof” worker in the state of Texas was. It had nothing to do with college degrees or competency in science, technology, engineering or math.
“The most bulletproof worker in the state of Texas, is a guy who has a CDL (commercial driver’s license) who’s not a felon and can pass a drug test,” he said.
“At the end of the day, that’s what you’re faced with as a board member.”