• September 28, 2016

Local city officials accessible to residents

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Posted: Sunday, June 29, 2014 4:30 am

Killeen resident Jasmine V. may not know the names of all of her city officials, but she knows how to find them.

“I know where to call if I need help or have a concern,” she said.

But once residents make that call, how responsive are city officials? That question was raised during the recent Killeen mayoral race when all three candidates campaigned to be the “people’s mayor,” promising to be more visible and accessible to residents.

Scott Cosper won the May 10 election and appears to be following through with his campaign promise. He said he fields about 30 questions a week from residents, usually directing them to city staff who can better answer questions or solve the problems.

“I get some over the phone and some over email,” he said. “I do my best to respond to every one of them, though.”

While Cosper strives to be accessible to residents, Killeen city department heads and other employees are covered by a public information officer who acts as a “gatekeeper” to control and aid the outflow of information and help residents navigate city systems.

Copperas Cove also uses a PIO to facilitate communication between city employees, residents and the news media. However, Harker Heights does not.

Here’s a rundown of each city and the systems they have in place for residents and other community members to access officials and basic information.

KILLEEN

Phyllis Jones, a Killeen resident and DJ at KISS 103.1, said she sometimes has to call the city manager to answer residents’ questions who call in to her show.

“It’s always been good ... if something is going on in Cove, they call up here, too,” she said.

As a Killeen resident, she said there are only a couple of council members she knows will reliably return her phone calls.

Residents can acquire most of the information they need about Killeen on the city’s website, including services offered, location, operating hours, contact numbers and email addresses for departments and elected officials, said Hilary Shine, executive director of public information.

“To speak to someone like the city manager or a department director, a resident should call the appropriate office and schedule an appointment to ensure the official’s availability,” she said.

Carroll Smith, public information officer for the Killeen Police Department, fields questions from the media and acts as a liaison between the public and the police department. In addition to calling her at 254-501-8807, residents can call 254-501-8800 for issues that are not a matter of life and death or they can email the Community Relations Unit at csmith@killeentexas.gov. Residents also can ask for information in person at the department’s headquarters on Community Boulevard.

COPPERAS COVE

Some residents gave mixed reviews on the accessibility of Cove city officials and information.

Nilsa Santana recently contacted the city to have her water bill payment automatically withdrawn from her bank account.

“We called the water utility company recently and left messages because they are always busy, but they called back in two or three days,” she said.

When Teresa Wheeler, a Copperas Cove resident and mother, had questions about signing up her youngest son for swimming lessons, she called the Parks and Recreation Department and was able to get answers fairly quickly.

However, she did have a problem when she tried to apply online for a mandatory $10 yard sale permit. The rules and processes were unclear, she said, and it took a while to get them explained.

News media requesting information from a city employee must first go through Cove’s PIO, Kevin Keller, but residents have it a bit easier. Keller said residents can call the various departments as needed, but he can help steer them in the right direction and help answer questions, if needed.

Elected officials, such as the mayor and council members, are not city employees; therefore they have clearance to meet with residents and the news media without a liaison. Their email addresses are available on the city’s website.

Residents can call Keller or Justine Mirabel at 254-547-4221, ext. 6210, to schedule a meeting with City Manager Andrea Gardner. They also can email Gardner.

“She responds and checks her email frequently,” Mirabel said. “Depending on the matter, she may forward it on to a specific department head if there’s a specific matter they can address.”

The Cove police and fire departments also have their own PIOs, Sgt. Martin Ruiz and Deputy Fire Chief Gary Young, who can speak on behalf of their departments, Keller said.

Copperas Cove currently does not have a fire chief, so calls are transferred to Mike Fleming, the interim chief.

“He’s really easy to talk to,” a Cove firefighter said. “If he’s not in, you can leave a message, and he’s good about getting back to you.”

Copperas Cove Police Department officials follow a chain of command if someone needs to speak to Police Chief Tim Molnes. Residents can contact the deputy chiefs and the administrative staff will set up an appointment.

“We’re a community-orientated police department,” said a Cove police officer, who along with the firefighter did not want to be identified because the interviews were not authorized by Keller.

HARKER HEIGHTS

Mayor Rob Robinson, who does not consider himself a politician but a public liaison, believes elected officials should listen to their residents.

“I like to hear what the citizens have to say,” Robinson said. “My phone number is listed on the website and I return all phone calls and correspondents. It’s important as elected officials to follow through on what we were elected to do.”

To request a meeting with the mayor or council member, residents can call them directly at the numbers listed on the city’s website. To arrange a meeting with the city manager or any department head, residents can call or email their requests to the departments, City Manager David Mitchell said.

“I have had residents routinely come in to the office to shake my hand to meet me,” said Mitchell, who took over for longtime City Manager Steve Carpenter in January. “When our residents have an issue, we encourage them to connect with the corresponding department to get their issues resolved as quickly as possible.”

Department email addresses and phone numbers are available on the city’s website. The “Contact Us” link at the top of the site is a quick link to the contact information. If residents are uncertain which department to contact, they can use the email option on the city’s website or call administration at 254-953-5600.

City staff said they always attempt to serve anyone who walks into City Hall. However, staff members are often in meetings or working on projects, so for best service, it is important that residents allow them time to schedule a meeting.

At the Harker Heights Fire Department, Deputy Fire Chief Glenn Gallenstein can sometimes be found answering the main phone line and will answer any questions he can. Residents can leave messages for Fire Chief Jack Collier and he will return calls promptly.

Miriam Rodriquez, administrative assistant to Police Chief Mike Gentry, said the best way to reach the chief is to call the department and press 8 for the chief’s office. She will then direct the call to him, even if he is out of town.

“It’s best to catch him by phone,” she said. “He probably receives about 100 emails a day.”

Herald staff writers Rachael Riley, Erinn Callahan and James Harper contributed to this report.

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