By Anthony Scott
Killeen Daily Herald
Racial allegations are out in the open after Killeen council members were given a green light to talk about what transpired during two closed-door meetings in which they negotiated the buyout of former City Manager Connie Green.
During Tuesday's workshop, City Attorney Kathy Davis said council members can talk about the closed-door meeting because there is no longer a reason for confidentiality.
On Wednesday, Councilman Ernest Wilkerson asserted that Councilman Larry Cole was to blame for the circumstances surrounding Green's departure and that Cole is a racist.
"He is definitely a racist to his heart and to his core, and he needs to be removed from City Council in my personal opinion," Wilkerson said.
Wilkerson said Cole continues to make racial comments and remarks and he made some in an exchange with Green.
"He made Mr. Green's life a living hell; he is the cause of Green being upset," Wilkerson said.
He said his decision to vote in favor of the $750,000 buyout was to avoid litigation, as a lawsuit was possible over a comment Cole made and the environment toward Green.
"Cole made the situation so intolerable for Green that it was unreasonable," he said. "All of this was Larry Cole's fault, in my personal opinion."
Cole voted against the buyout, saying he believed the amount of the settlement was too high.
Cole responded Wednesday with his own details about what went on behind closed doors.
"The last defense of somebody who wants his way, or not getting his way, is to throw racial bias," Cole said. "Whenever you throw racial bias, you've lost the argument and you're as racially biased as the other person. I'm tired of being blackmailed over racial bias."
Cole said Green attacked him for having racial bias, citing a race-based joke Cole had emailed, with Green claiming Cole didn't send it to anyone on the council who is black. Cole said he sent it to at least one other black council member, Billy Workman.
"If they want to accuse me of it, I'll go back and accuse them of the same thing," Cole said. "If they want to call me a racist, I'll call them a racist."
Councilman Kenny Wells said Wednesday that while there was a verbal altercation between Cole and Green in the closed-door session, he heard nothing racial.
However, during an April 7 interview, Councilman Juan Rivera indicated there was truth to rumored racial comments between Green and Cole at the meeting and then qualified his position.
"Racial per se," he said. "I didn't consider them racial. I said yes (there were racial comments) because you could say right now something I don't like and it could be racial for me. So it depends who is going to determine what is racial and what is not racial."
Rivera said he's never had racial problems with Cole.
"He'll say a couple of things in a joking manner, but Mr. Cole didn't, as far as I'm concerned ... I didn't see any racial comments that took place there that really did hurt someone."
Wilkerson said Green did not threaten the council at the first closed meeting March 15, which Green called to discuss his duties and evaluation. Green, 49, had served as city manager since 2005 and worked for the city since 1990.
Instead, Wilkerson said, Green told the council it shouldn't interfere with the city's internal employee investigations and that Cole may have violated the Texas Open Meetings Act in the process.
"Instead of saying you two should be doing this, (Cole and Councilwoman JoAnn Purser) got emotional and went off the handle," Wilkerson said. "He (Green) was really just informing us of what was going on. Once he blew the whistle on them, they got angry and retaliated."
Cole said Green's warning was targeted at Purser for calling former City Planner Beverly Zendt and at himself for racial bias and his investigating EMS billing fraud and personnel issues. In the process, Cole passed out emails from former billing department employees to other council members.
At the second closed meeting, March 22, the council met to continue discussion of the duties and evaluation of the city manager at the request of Mayor Tim Hancock. Wilkerson said Mayor Pro Tem Scott Cosper and council members Wells, Purser and Cole had reached a consensus to fire Green without reasons.
"At that meeting, they were definitely set on making sure they had the numbers they needed," Wilkerson said.
Recalling the first meeting, Wilkerson said Purser cried during an exchange with Green. Cole said the exchange erupted into a shouting match with Cosper sitting between the two.
"She was just so offended that she was accused of interfering with the investigation, which she really did," Wilkerson said. "If there's something going on in the city, you let the departments work it out."
Cole and Purser made the environment hostile toward Green, Wilkerson added.
"They act like angels and (that) nothing happened; they're wrong," Wilkerson said. "They made the situation worse than it is by doing unlawful (actions) and their own investigation instead of waiting on the report to come back from the police department and the others investigating."
Wilkerson also said Green said he'd send in his resignation and at that point Wells pushed toward negotiation.
"Kenny Wells jumps in and says, 'What would it take to get you out of here today? What? $500,000? $750,000?'" Wilkerson said.
Wilkerson said the council could have settled for "a whole lot less had it not been for Kenny Wells."
Wells said Wednesday that while there have been reports of Green's contract stipulating he receive a $555,000 severance payment, he contested that the number should be about $705,000.
"What Mr. Green told us was one figure and the staff basically agreed that it might be accurate," he said. "They certainly didn't contest it. I assumed the man was negotiating in good faith."
While Wells did agree to pay $45,000 more than Green's contract may have stipulated, Wells said it was worth it in the long run to avoid litigation.
Cosper, Purser, Rivera, Workman and Green did not return calls seeking comment Wednesday.
Contact Anthony Scott at email@example.com or (254) 501-7568. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcity.