By Kevin M. Smith
Killeen Daily Herald
Downtown revitalization and voting were the topics of discussion for Killeen Exchange Club members Monday.
The Exchange Club held a Killeen City Council candidate forum during its meeting at Yank Sing restaurant. The candidates had three minutes each to introduce themselves, then club members asked questions after all the candidates spoke.
Gerald Skidmore, club member, said he is disappointed he cannot vote for Claudia Brown, who is running unopposed in District 4.
"I can't even give her a vote of confidence," Skidmore said. "I feel kind of robbed of a vote."
Skidmore wanted to know why the city went to single-member districts, allowing residents to vote only for the candidates that will represent the district in which they live. This will be the first election that is so; in the past, all voters could cast ballots for candidates in all wards.
"The thought was it would generate more people to run," City Councilman Fred Latham said of the change to single-member districts.
Latham, who is running for re-election in District 3, said by narrowing the vote to only the district, candidates would not have to spend as many resources on campaigning, making it easier for some to get elected.
City voters ultimately chose this system, though. A May 7, 2005, election asked voters if they would prefer the single-member district – 1,469 (54.8 percent) voted in favor of it, while 1,211 voted against it.
The other candidates spoke in reaction to Skidmore's discontent with the canceled elections in District 2 and 4, where the candidates are running unopposed.
"I would truly like to know what people think of me," Brown said.
Brown added that she understands the other side of the coin – that the city will save money on printing ballots.
Juan Rivera, a candidate for District 2, is also running unopposed.
"I, as well, would like to find out how many people were going to vote for me," Rivera said.
Rivera said as a candidate he still wants to be invited to all forums, but it is not required to do so since his position on the City Council is all but official.
"Everyone has a right to vote," said Doris Owens, candidate for District 1.
Her opponent, Kenny Wells, echoed Owens' comments.
"I understand we're going to save some money," Wells said, noting his wife is running for the Killeen Independent School District Board of Trustees and wants to see a large voter turnout. "The more people you have involved in an election, the more people come out to vote."
On March 27 the council voted 4-2 to cancel the elections in Districts 2 and 4, as the candidates were each unopposed and no one declared a write-in campaign.
Latham voted in favor of canceling the elections, citing the cost savings.
Kirk Thomas, in the KISD business and finance department, said in a phone interview that polling places will not change for the board of education election.
"First we encourage them to register to vote, then we encourage them to vote, and now we're telling them they don't have to vote," Jim Garvin, Exchange Club member, said. "It's kind of silly."
Candidates also fielded questions about whether the city should put money into downtown revitalization.
Latham noted that HyettPalma consultants suggested providing incentives, such as increment tax zones.
"We want the private community to invest," Latham said, but he added the city must also do its part for improvement.
Owens said the city needs to spend money downtown by way of improved safety so the business owners can feel comfortable beautifying their property.
Rivera also talked about more law enforcement downtown, and the city pitching in for downtown improvement.
"When it comes to the issue about the money, it should be shared," Rivera said.
Brown said the city needs to use all resources possible to create a better downtown.
"The sign of a healthy city is its downtown," Brown said.
Harold Butchart, candidate for District 3, was the only candidate not present. Club members said they were unable to reach Butchart by phone to confirm he received the invitation.
The election is May 12, and early voting starts April 30.
Contact Kevin M. Smith at email@example.com or call (254) 501-7550