For the second time in six months, Killeen council members have named an interim city manager.
Their first interim top executive, Ann Farris, proved to be less than an ideal fit.
Let’s hope the council’s pick last week, Police Chief Dennis Baldwin, works out a little better.
Though Baldwin was the lone applicant for the position, the City Council’s vote Tuesday was far from unanimous. In fact, the 4-3 split was the same count by which Farris was removed from the position Oct. 4 and returned to her previous job as assistant city manager for internal services.
Though both votes were contentious — with Councilman Jonathan Okray and Mayor Pro Tem Brockley Moore each abstaining from deliberations on one occasion — the council made the right decision in both cases.
After a difficult, flawed budget process — which started with Farris’ presentation of an unbalanced document calling for a 10 percent increase in expenditures and a severe drawdown in the city’s reserves to fund it — it was apparent that many on the council had lost confidence in her leadership. A change had to be made.
Several senior staff members expressed interest in the interim position, but they pulled their names from consideration before Tuesday’s meeting, leaving Baldwin as the only remaining candidate.
Despite the reservations of some council members about handing the top law enforcement officer the reins to the city’s administration, it’s not a bad move — provided Baldwin takes steps to move the city in a positive direction leading up to the hiring of a new city manager.
First, Baldwin must make a significant effort to improve the city’s transparency. During his 12-year tenure as police chief, that has not been the strong suit of his department. Responses to questions regarding criminal investigations have often been slow in coming, and the KPD is frequently less than forthcoming with pertinent information of public interest — such as during last summer’s spate of shooting incidents. Still, the chief has pledged improved communication in these areas, which is encouraging.
Improvements in transparency are needed at the highest levels of Killeen’s city government — especially in the area of municipal finances and taxpayer-funded city projects.
Baldwin also must evaluate each city department objectively, in an effort to identify cost savings and improve efficiency as the city moves into the new fiscal year.
Perhaps the most important task will be preserving the integrity of the upcoming forensic audit, which will delve into the city’s financial operations over the past decade.
As Farris has overseen the city’s finance department for the past 3½ years as assistant city manager, it is imperative that Baldwin shift her away from that area of responsibility in order to avoid any possible conflict of interest in the lead-up to the audit.
This may prove to be a difficult decision for Baldwin, who has a cordial working relationship with Farris. During the recent budget process, Farris enlisted Baldwin’s help in talking to council members about implementation of a transportation utility fee. Though the conversations did not violate any open meeting laws, they were highly unusual.
Now, however, Baldwin must put aside personal considerations and do what is right professionally.
It’s uncertain how long Baldwin will remain in the interim post before returning to the police department. With several candidates identified last week, it’s possible a new city manager could be hired and in place before the end of the year.
But in the short term, Baldwin can make a positive impact on the city and its administration. With 32 years working in the city’s police force and previous service in the Army, Baldwin certainly has a good feel for Killeen and the challenges facing the city.
By asking the hard questions, committing to more openness in government and putting the city’s taxpayers first, Baldwin can go a long way toward putting Killeen on the right path.