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.

dmiller@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7543

(1) comment

Alvin
Alvin

This is the personal opinion of this writer.
Let me say this again, with the council split 4 – 3, and with the leadership of this city, bringing 6 candidates for the city manager, and only 1 coming out as the lone prospect, Chief Baldwin, it is questionable in my mind 'why was chief Baldwin the only prospective candidate, plus the fact that this was an internal selection only, it does give one the idea that 'why was this the only one to be named'?
Coupled with this the fact that, as I've questioned before, 'How is it that 4 days after him being named to the city manager slot, he comes up with all of the changes that he is going to institute?' Why was there not some play as to a suggestion of him going forth with these changes when Morrison and Farris was in this position? I ask this because .'It is my opinion that certain functions of this city government is questionable'. It is my opinion that 'you don't always get a straight forward answer when questioning certain factions if this city government'. Now this is only my opinion, but???
I am of the opinion that Chief Baldwin must have been giving this considerable thought before this alignment and this decision.
In my opinion, 'This city government has not been too successful in filling the top slot of this city government which has resulted in this city suffering some serious city money problems, to the tune of $12 to 24 million dollars. Nobody seems to know 'how much money has gone to never-never land and the only way to resolve this question resides in the, in my opinion, questionable decisions that have came out of the committee, which is in the hands of mayor Segarra, councilman Rivera and councilman Okray. Bad penny becomes another bad penny.
Copy: '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.'
Continuation of copy: '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.' End of copy.
Can the chief of Police foster that image of a 'do right interim city manager' or will he succumb to what every other city managers have done??? I don't know who to believe, my instincts or the city administrative staff who eve they are.
One of the 3% who voted.

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