By Anthony Scott
Killeen Daily Herald
Killeen City Council members are expected to vote Tuesday on holding a Nov. 8 special election in which residents can choose whether to fire five of its seven council members who are subject to recall.
If more four or more members are recalled after the Nov. 8 vote, the council would not have a quorum and therefore would not be able to meet.
However, until such a recall election occurs, it will be business as usual for the council - including approving the city's budget and appointing a replacement for Councilman Ernest Wilkerson who resigned last week.
The Killeen recall scenario is similar to what happened in Copperas Cove a few years ago. In 2008, residents petitioned for a recall of four Cove council members. That recall was successful in November 2008 and Cove was without a quorum - unable to do some types of business - until a special election could be called to find replacements.
According to state law, the special election to find council replacements would be held in May 2009, but District Judge Philip Zeigler stepped in and authorized a February special election.
Zeigler ruled that six months was too long for the city to go without a governing body.
Killeen now faces a similar scenario in which it may not have a quorum, the minimum number of council members required to meet. In Killeen, that number is four.
The city could go without a governing body until the uniform May election unless a district judge says otherwise.
But here is an interesting twist.
The state is considering a change in its voting laws that would make it easier for soldiers to mail ballots. If that change is approved to put Texas in line with 2009 federal standards, it would have the side effect of pushing municipal elections scheduled for May to November 2012.
Without an intercession by district judge, the city could be without a governing body for an entire year if the voting law is changed.
For whatever period of time council would be without a quorum, it would not be able to act on planning and zoning issues, pass ordinances, make budget amendments or hire a new city manager. Glenn Morrison currently holds the position on an interim basis.
No impact on next budget
The recall won't affect the formation of Killeen's 2011-12 fiscal year budget, which will be completed before the pending Nov. 8 recall election. Council members also will have time to appoint a replacement for Wilkerson, who resigned Thursday from the District 4 seat.
"As far as I know, anything that requires council approval and the amount of money over $50,000 would stop," Councilman Larry Cole said of the scenario in which the council would lack a quorum.
"I would assume we could make our normal payroll and normal budgeted and approved expenditures would continue."
Such expenditures include routine operations such as public works maintenance, police protection and payroll.
Copperas Cove City Manager Andrea Gardner said certain financial decisions couldn't be made while its council couldn't meet, including those involving grant approvals.
"There were many other incidents similar to the grants that required the city manager to seek an exception to the norm or an extension," Gardner said. "Besides teamwork, prior planning and organization were key factors to ensuring the loss of the governing body didn't negatively impact the city's operations."
Gardner remembers the months leading up to the recall and the preparation that was taken to keep the city moving forward without a governing body.
"I worked with city staff to plan ahead by scheduling items, considered routine, on the agenda months before they would normally appear," she said. "One key element was once the recall election resulted in the loss of a quorum was the teamwork between the city manager, city staff and the city attorney."
Killeen's recall movement leader, resident Jonathan Okray, said he believes the effects of the recall will be minimal despite what council members have said.
"It will have an effect on maybe large-ticket items, but you have people employed with the city," he said. "These people are acting like the city of Killeen is going to come to a grinding halt if they are not there, but they are expendable and they are replaceable because there are other people who can do a better job."
Okray started his recall efforts April 6 in response to the council's 4-3 vote in favor of a $750,000 buyout of former City Manager Connie Green - about $200,000 more than his contract stipulated.
During the course of a month, Okray collected more than 1,050 signatures on each petition, calling for an election to recall all seven council members. Since the process began, District 3 Councilman Terry Clark unseated former Councilwoman JoAnn Purser in the May election and Wilkerson resigned Thursday, leaving five council members subject to recall.
Another similar recall movement occurred in Haltom City, in which residents removed five of seven council members in a 2004 election, effectively stripping the council of its ability to maintain a quorum.
For about three months the city operated without a council until voters filled the vacant seats during the May 2004 election. Similar to Killeen, the recall effort started after the firing of its city manager.
"The reasons for the firings were unclear, which are similar to what Killeen was going through," said Tom Muir, Haltom City's city manager. "Why Connie left? Why he resigned? Everybody is being muffled about it."
Muir, who replaced fired City Manager Richard Torres, said the city staff accelerated business by moving up contracts, bids and projects for votes before the recall election, similar to what Copperas Cove did in 2008.
Muir started with Haltom City in 2002 after coming from Killeen, where he was director of general services. He worked at the city for about 11 years, working under Green.
Torres was city manager of Copperas Cove from 1995 to 2002 before leaving to take his position at Haltom City.
"I pay attention to it because I worked there so long and I love the people there," Muir said. "It's a neat staff and a neat community. I'm sorry they're having to go through this. It's unfortunate.
"I'm not saying it's right or wrong. A recall, whether you agree with it or not, is painful."
Contact Anthony Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7568. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcity.