Killeen City Council meetings have been lacking a key element lately — civility.
Tuesday’s volatile workshop meeting, in which Mayor Dan Corbin interrupted former Mayor Tim Hancock while he was speaking and told him he was out order, was at minimum a breach of etiquette. But when Corbin instructed a police officer at the meeting to escort the former mayor out, along with anyone else if they wouldn’t be quiet, it crossed the line of acceptable behavior.
Hancock’s response was no better, as he told the mayor, “You can’t make me be quiet.”
Granted, the issue was an emotional one — the proposed rededication of funds from the city’s 125th birthday celebration to help build the Nov. 5, 2009, Fort Hood shooting memorial.
But the meeting never should have gotten out of hand.
As a respected former three-term mayor and member of the memorial’s fundraising committee, Hancock should have been afforded as much time as he needed to make his case for the funds transfer.
But instead, just as Hancock was starting to address the council regarding the leftover funds, the mayor raised his hand and cut Hancock off, saying, “I think we understand those facts.” He then turned to address the city finance director regarding who the funds belonged to.
Hancock had a right to feel disrespected, and when Corbin quickly asked for a consensus on rededicating the funds — which the council subsequently rejected 5-2 — he felt the need to interrupt.
The resulting breakdown in decorum was unfortunate but avoidable — and ultimately an embarrassment to the city.
Once the dust settled, both Corbin and Hancock said they regretted how things turned out. Corbin said he would have used different language in trying to restore order, stating the meeting was out of order, rather than telling Hancock he was out of order.
For his part, Hancock tried to clarify a remark he made after the vote, in which he apologized to the council “for asking you to support soldiers,” which Corbin rightly called “offensive.”
Hancock later said his intention was to “say I am sorry that I have put you in this position,” not to call into account the council’s support of Fort Hood.
But an ill-advised comment by one council member seemed to do just that.
In arguing against rededicating the funds — which were originally planned for a fountain in 2007 — Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Blackstone commented that the money was raised for something for the city, and none of the Fort Hood shooting victims were city residents.
Whether the money should be rededicated is open to discussion. But to draw an artificial line between the city and those who died in an on-post shooting is inexcusable.
Fort Hood’s soldiers and their families are a part of our community, whether they live inside the city limits or not. To base a decision about funding a memorial on the victims’ perceived residency is simply incomprehensible.
Over the past two years, Corbin, who is not seeking re-election, has done a credible job running council meetings and keeping the focus on the issue at hand. But far too often, he has seemed to rush council members into decisions and marginalized some of the dissenting members in the process.
Mayoral candidates Scott Cosper and Dick Young attended Tuesday’s emotional meeting, and both said they would have handled things differently. Cosper said he “would go to great lengths to be courteous and respectful at all times.” Young said he would “listen and run the meetings ... not interject my personal feelings as mayor.”
Those are encouraging remarks, indeed.
Ultimately, Killeen residents need and deserve a council and mayor who are dedicated to advancing the goals of the community as a whole, while remaining receptive to their constituents’ needs.
Promoting an atmosphere of mutual respect during council meetings is an essential first step.