By Anthony Scott
Killeen Daily Herald
Killeen City Council members are not volunteering to resign from their positions despite strong evidence that the public wants them to.
Councilman Kenny Wells said Friday he didn't plan to resign and doesn't believe he can be recalled because he was recently elected to a new term.
"I don't know how this is going to play out," Wells said. "There are obviously flaws in the charter and state law, too, but I'm not an attorney so I don't know how it's going to work out."
Efforts to recall all of the council members was started April 6 by Killeen resident Jonathan Okray amid a heated residential 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.
Okray said he harbors concerns that council members are pursuing legal maneuvers of their own.
"Maybe (council members think) they're not subject to recall based on a new term and anything that was done prior to the term is under the bridge because of election," Okray said.
Wells said he always has an attorney, but not specifically for this issue, and that he did not plan to pursue litigation.
Councilmen Juan Rivera, Ernest Wilkerson, Billy Workman and Mayor Pro Tem Scott Cosper did not return phone calls requesting comment.
"I do not plan to resign," Councilman Larry Cole said. "We'll just let it run its course."
Cole said he questioned whether the three council members who were re-elected to new terms could file with the district judge to remove them from the ballot.
"Mr. Rivera was just re-elected. Is he going to be on the ballot for recall in November?" asked Cole at the council's Tuesday workshop.
Wilkerson, Rivera and Wells were each declared unopposed and automatically placed in office for a new term after the recall petition effort was completed.
"I'm personally of the opinion I was elected to a new term on (May 14) and I believe the term I was recalled to expired (Election Day)," Wells said.
At the workshop, City Attorney Kathy Davis said the charter does not address the issue, but acknowledged it was a good legal question. In order to challenge the recall ballot, Rivera, Wells or Wilkerson would have to take the matter up with a district judge.
"I think that's a very interesting legal argument and it has merit," said Davis, responding to Cole. "I would have to presume first it would require a change to the charter to actually say that."
For more than a month, Okray spent almost every afternoon in the parking lots of the Killeen Community and Civic Center collecting enough signatures to petition a recall election for all of the city council.
He's now at odds with the city as to when that election must take place.
Residents have begun to offer money toward Okray's cause in the event that he must pursue legal action over the issue.
Okray has not collected any money yet, but he said he is considering legal options after butting heads with the city attorney.
Okray contended the election should be ordered in accordance with city charter, while the city's official position is that state law binds Killeen to hold the election Nov. 8, the state's next authorized date - a position backed up by the Texas Secretary of State's Office.
Though the charter requires the recall election to occur between 30 and 60 days after the council is notified they're subject to recall, the provision is superseded by state law.
Council members were notified at a Tuesday council meeting that they each have five days to resign or they then must call for an election at their next meeting June 14.
Despite having what he believes is a valid argument, Okray said one of the main reasons for not pursuing the disagreement in court is that it could take longer than waiting for November. If Okray's effort is successful, it will be the first recall in the city's 129-year history.
Terry Clark was elected to District 3, replacing former Councilwoman JoAnn Purser, lowering the number of council members subject to the recall to six.
In the meantime, council members continue to wait out the recall process and some of them requested copies of the petition.
Cole said that apart from himself, he knows Wells and Purser have also picked up copies of the recall petitions to see who signed against them, since the documents are public record.
"I have 40 people that I have, between me and the wife, that we recognize that some of them I'm not particularly surprised about," Cole said. "Some of them I thought were good friends and thought well of me and appreciated the job, and some of them told me that. It's just kind of strange and weird."
The petition records include the names and addresses of people who signed.
Wells confirmed he made an open records request and has seen who signed the petition against him. Purser did not return a request for comment.
"I'm certainly not going to hold a grudge against anyone because they signed the petition," Wells said. "I'm just a bigger person than that. I serve at the will of the people. If people decide they don't want me to serve anymore, that's what I'll do."
Despite that, Wells said he still thinks the recall doesn't apply to him because he started a new term.
"My primary reason for getting the recall petition, I was just curious to see the number of people that lived in my district, after all they're the people who elected me," he said.
About 200 - 15 percent - of the signatures were from his district, Wells said.
Cole said that upon examination of the petition, he noticed his own barber signed up against him.
"You think I'm going to be looking for a new barber?" Cole said. "I went down and picked up my sheets and I went through it and his name popped up real quick."
In light of the evidence, Cole said he will likely seek a new barber.
Contact Anthony Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7568. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcity.