By Andy Ross
Killeen Daily Herald
The city of Killeen and co-defendants named in a federal lawsuit filed over a recent recall movement submitted response briefs Friday in U.S. District Court in Waco, asking for the case to be dismissed and rejecting the plaintiffs' claim that a three-judge panel is required.
The lawsuit, filed June 17 by recall-movement organizer Jonathan Okray and two other Killeen residents, contends the city did not follow the proper timeline outlined in its charter in calling for a recall election for council seats on Nov. 8.
Citing a provision of the federal Voting Rights Act, the suit asks for a hearing before a three-judge panel and a determination that the recall election be held at an earlier date.
In their response motions, attorneys for the defendants - the city, Mayor Timothy Hancock, all council members and city secretary Paula Miller - claim a single judge must first determine whether the case falls under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The defendants' motion goes on to contend that the case should not fall under Section 5 - even if the plaintiffs' core argument is correct.
"The plaintiffs' pleading is designed to bring a garden variety state election law dispute within the jurisdiction of the federal court by couching a dispute regarding the interpretation of state law as a Section 5 claim," the plaintiffs' motion reads.
The resident-led movement to recall all seven members of the Killeen City Council and Hancock was spawned in the wake of a March 29 council vote to buy out the contract of former City Manager Connie Green for $750,000.
Over a five-week period, Okray gathered signatures for a recall election. On May 24, the city certified petitions with enough names for all council members to face a recall. Hancock's petition failed, making the mayor safe from recall.
On June 14, the council voted 3-2 to set the election for Nov. 8. Only five - Larry Cole, Scott Cosper, Juan Rivera, Kenny Wells and Billy Workman - face a vote since Ernest Wilkerson resigned and JoAnn Purser lost her re-election bid.
The city's charter states a recall election will be held between 30 and 60 days after petitions are certified. The city, however, has maintained that state law trumps the charter and requires the city to hold a special recall election at the earliest uniform election date, which is Nov. 8.
Attorneys for Okray and his fellow plaintiffs also filed a brief Friday reasserting the request for a three-judge panel and denying the defendants' claim that the case is "wholly lacking in merit and substance."
Contact Andy Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7468.