Whatever happened to the Killeen City Council’s efforts to rein in spending?
After a contentious and difficult budget process last summer, council members agreed to carefully scrutinize all budget expenditures as the new fiscal year unfolds.
However, two votes at Tuesday’s council workshop fly in the face of that logic.
The first is a consensus to move forward on a plan to rename Rosewood Drive at a cost of more than $40,000. The second item is an agreement to continue paying a high-power lobbyist $100,000 a year, without much discussion.
The Rosewood plan was advanced by Mayor Pro Tem Brockley Moore, who proposed renaming the road after retiring state Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, a Killeen Republican who is finishing his fifth term in the Texas House.
The project would cost about $44,000 in new signage — not a major expense in the grand scheme of things.
However, the fact remains that the road was just completed about a year ago. Changing the road’s name almost before the paint is dry on the new highway signs seems like a waste of taxpayer money. And while $44,000 won’t break the bank, it is an unnecessary expenditure in a year when the city is trying to regain its financial footing.
Tuesday’s vote wasn’t a slam-dunk. With Councilman Jim Kilpatrick absent, the remaining members split on the issue, 3-3, with Mayor Jose Segarra casting the deciding vote to move the plan forward.
Certainly, Aycock is deserving of some kind of recognition for his significant contributions to the community — especially in the area of education. As chairman of the House Education Committee, he spearheaded needed reforms in the state’s standardized testing system. He also led the successful effort to establish a Texas A&M University campus in Killeen.
However, the push to rename Rosewood in his honor before he even leaves the statehouse seems a bit rushed.
Also rushed was the council’s agreement to continue the city’s contract with the Schlueter Group, a lobbying firm led by Killeen native and former state Rep. Stan Schlueter.
Schlueter, the firm’s CEO, was on hand for Tuesday’s meeting, and he touted his lobbying achievements for Killeen’s financial interests and those of Fort Hood. He also told council members that intimate knowledge of legislators and the legislative process is worth the sum the city pays.
That may be especially true in the coming year, with a freshman legislator in state Rep.-elect Scott Cosper taking over for Aycock in the District 54 House seat.
However, Councilman Jonathan Okray took issue with Schlueter’s summation, contending that council members and others in the city could do the same job without the cost. Though Okray’s statement drew some fire, he was correct in questioning the city’s use of the money.
The contract calls for the firm to provide monthly reporting of all pertinent activities. But before rubber-stamping a six-figure payout each year, council members should receive a comprehensive annual report on actions undertaken on the city’s behalf. Council members also should have the opportunity to question Schlueter or another of the firm’s key executives before signing off on an annual payment.
Council members have sent mixed messages on the budget in recent weeks.
They did the right thing Tuesday in agreeing to vote on canceling the Fleet Replacement Fund, recognizing ongoing budget concerns. But some of the same members who recently drew the line over $35,000 in compensation for a city manager finalist have no qualms about spending more than that sum to rename a road.
It’s time for the council to get serious about money matters and not get sidetracked by peripheral issues.
The council also can’t afford to be distracted by the kind of verbal sniping between council members that marked Tuesday’s meeting.
It’s imperative that the council stay focused on the budget, continue the city manager search and move forward with the forensic audit.
The city and its residents are depending on their success.