By Sean Wardwell
Killeen Daily Herald
For several months, the talk of the town has been the upcoming recall election of five members on the Killeen City Council.
On Tuesday, city voters will have the last word, ending eight months of debate sparked by the $750,000 contract buyout of former City Manager Connie Green.
Pro-recall advocates say the recall is necessary to restore confidence in city government. Anti-recall forces counter that the effort is potentially catastrophic for Killeen.
"The sky will not fall, the city will not crumble, the water will not turn off, the power will not go out should there be a change in leadership," said recall organizer Jonathan Okray.
If four of the five council members on the ballot are recalled, the city would be without its elected body between 13 weeks and five months, depending on how quickly a judge sets a special election to fill the vacant seats to re-establish a quorum. The earliest possible date is Feb. 4.
Local attorney and former city council member Dan Corbin, who recently formed an organization opposing the recall, said requesting a judge's order is crucial. "You'd have to get that (order) filed and in front of a judge in less than three weeks in order to have the election on Feb. 4." Corbin said one reason he opposes the recall is the potential interruption in city business when possible grants and multimillion dollars in transportation funding are coming into the city.
"We may lose grants. There's a $10 million grant we applied for, for hike and bike trails. If that comes in in January, February or March, we will not have any ability to accept that grant," said Corbin. "I don't know what other opportunities the city will have to act or issue bonds or any of the other things that only the council can do."
Okray disagreed with Corbin's urgency surrounding the potential grants. "Our city is much more dependent on a predictable tax base and its ability to borrow against its name," he said.
Basic services continue
City officials said basic services, such as water, power, waste disposal and public safety, would continue as normal if the city council lacks a quorum, and Acting City Manager Glenn Morrison has some authority to approve purchases and contract change orders up to $50,000.
However, Killeen Mayor Timothy Hancock believes the city would have serious problems if the council lost its quorum. "Suppose there was something that broke in the city that was going to cost a million dollars that shut down services for all or a portion of us in the city and we have no council," he said. "What do we do? We have to then go and ask approval (from a judge) to restore those services at that cost. How long would that take? We don't know."
In addition, Hancock said there could be no budget amendments, rezoning hearings, property annexations or changes of city ordinances without council approval.
Okray took issue with the mayor's predictions. "I say there will be zero wait time for service restoration of any required thing. The city manager is authorized and has access to funds to restore required services, should the need arise, without council approval," he said. "(Hancock) should be keenly aware that things don't just break with a routine and predictable maintenance program in place."
In 2009, Copperas Cove went without a quorum for four months after four council members were recalled.
During the interim period, Copperas Cove City Manager Andrea Gardner kept the municipality functioning. "I worked with city staff to plan ahead by scheduling items, considered routine, on the agenda months before they would normally appear," she said.
But, Killeen has not taken similar steps. "There's been no discussions I know of (on accelerating business). But, I think it would be prudent for staff to bring business before us (if needed)," said Mayor Pro Tem Scott Cosper in an Oct. 16 story in the Herald. "Hope for the best, but plan for any contingencies."
Not long ago, College Station underwent a recall election. The city's staffers said they chose not to accelerate business ahead of the election, which retained the mayor and council.
In Killeen, Hancock said he hopes voters realize the gravity of the decision facing them on election day. "I can't believe that the citizens really understand what shutting down the city is," he said.
Okray hopes city voters won't buy into the mayor's arguments.
"Tomorrow is not coming according to Mayor Hancock. I am optimistic there will not be a mass exodus of anything that will damage the future potential of our city," he said. "I believe it will be the opposite. Mayor Hancock appears to be overly pessimistic and fearful that only he and the council members up for recall are capable of conducting the business of our city."
Regardless of the outcome of Tuesday's election, Okray said his stance on the recall was worth it.
"I believe the recall effort was underestimated and not taken seriously," he said. "Some council members scoffed that it was a waste of time and others insisted that it was a conspiracy.
"I believe copious servings of humble pie are in order," continued Okray. "Above everything I have a servant spirit, and it has been an honor and privilege to hold the council's feet to the fire of responsibility and accountability for the citizenry."
Contact Sean Wardwell at email@example.com or (254) 501-7552. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcity.
How the recall works
On the ballot, recall questions must be written as: "Shall (name of person) be removed from the office of councilman by recall?"
Immediately below each question are two propositions: "For the recall of (name of person)" (and) "Against the recall of (name of person)."
Selecting "for" means the voter wants to recall the council member.
Selecting "against" means the voter wants the council member to stay in office.
Why are quorums important?
Under state law, the city council cannot take any action unless a quorum is present.
For Killeen, four of the seven council members must be present to conduct city business. At present, five of the seven members face possible recall.
If less serious than four council members are recalled, a single vacancy can be filled by appointment. If two or three members were successfully recalled, the council still would have a quorum and the authority to call a special election.
If four members are removed from office, it would take a special election to re-establish the quorum. But, without a quorum on the council, the city would need to request a judge to call the election.
When could Killeen hold a special election to fill seats?
Because state law prohibits any election 30 days before or after either primary or runoff elections, Killeen has a limited timeframe to hold a special election, if one becomes necessary.
Since 2012 primaries and runoffs are scheduled, respectively, for March 6 and May 22, Killeen can hold special elections in February or April.
Source: Killeen City Charter
Councilmen facing recall
First elected: 2006
Occupation: Property appraiser
First elected: 2000, served until 2006, re-elected in 2008.
Occupation: Custom home builder.
Position: District 2
First elected: 2007
Occupation: Insurance broker
Position: District 1
First elected: 2007
Occupation: Owns several coin-operated laundromats
First elected: 2006
Occupation: Works for the Veterans Affairs hospital in Temple