Killeen’s political landscape shifted significantly last week.
With the swearing in of newly re-elected District 3 Councilman Terry Clark and newcomer Steve Harris in the District 4 seat, the Killeen City Council appears to have taken on a more independent mindset.
How that ideology plays out as the council tackles the major issues facing the city remains to be seen, but it’s likely new voting alliances among council members will come into play.
The latest political shift was precipitated when redistricting moved former District 4 Councilman Michael Lower into District 3. Since the District 3 seat was already held by Clark, Lower had to challenge him for the seat in the May 11 election in order to remain on the council.
With Clark’s re-election and the uncontested election of Harris — a 43-year-old Killeen ISD teacher and self-described independent thinker — to Lower’s old District 4 seat, the council now has a decidedly new look.
The council also got a new mayor pro tem, electing at-large Councilwoman Elizabeth Blackstone to the position. Lower had served in that capacity for the past year, and in campaign ads supporting Lower, Mayor Dan Corbin had urged voters to “keep my mayor pro tem.”
For his part, Clark had positioned himself as an independent voice, and in one campaign ad declared he was “not another ‘yes’ man for the mayor.”
With the election over, it’s important that the council and mayor try to bridge any differences and work together to address the important issues at hand.
Chief among those is the city’s negotiations with regional water suppliers to provide the water resources Killeen needs to support future residential and commercial development.
Prior to the election, council members expressed a range of views regarding the approach the city should take regarding those negotiations, with some advocating switching from the city’s current supplier. With Lower gone and a new member on the dais, it will be interesting to see how the council proceeds.
Another interesting issue is the creation of Municipal Utility District No. 2 south of town in the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction. The taxing district, requested by local developer Bruce Whitis, would support a 4,500-home development in a 4-mile-long tract.
After three months of negotiations, the council voted, 4-3, in March not to endorse the development, which would have provided the city with potentially lucrative revenue from water and sewer sales from the district.
In voting against the MUD-2 consent agreement, Clark argued that it favors a single developer and goes against the city’s Comprehensive Plan. Voting with Clark were Council members Jonathan Okray, Jared Foster and Blackstone.
Whitis, who already has MUD-1 in development near Belton, is planning to resubmit his Killeen proposal, but with the council members who voted against MUD-2 still on the dais and Lower’s departure, the project’s near-term future is uncertain.
In the aftermath of the May 11 election, Corbin commented that most issues facing the city are not necessarily ideological in nature.
That’s true in large part, but how council members approach big-picture issues such as economic development, zoning and tax and fee increases ultimately may hinge on differences in their philosophy of government.
Since his election as mayor last year, Corbin’s initial role in guiding the council has changed somewhat as the fledgling council members gained experience and became more knowledgeable about the complexities of governing.
When the council took office in May 2012, only Clark and Lower had any experience in city government. Each had less than a year of service on a working city council, thanks to the recall that removed five members in November 2011. Corbin, by contrast, had more than three years of council experience.
Now, with the exception of council newcomer Harris, all members have a year under their belts and are becoming more in tune with the city’s issues and challenges.
It’s important that they thoroughly research the issues, listen to their constituents and vote their consciences.
If they do these things on a consistent basis, these council members will serve the city well.