It’s decision day in Killeen.
In choosing four district council members, voters have a clear choice: whether to stick with the incumbents or take a chance on their challengers.
This is not about personalities, though several have been on display throughout the campaign. Rather, this is about choosing elected representatives who will commit to doing the hard work, making the hard decisions and putting the residents first in every situation.
That means listening to the public — and not the special-interest groups — when considering outsourcing services that could save the city money while providing better service.
That means giving full consideration to departmental changes that will keep taxes low, rather than worrying about the short-term political fallout from various employee factions within the city.
Above all, that means fully supporting the investigative financial audit underway and seeing it through to its completion and beyond — especially if the audit’s final report concludes that criminal wrongdoing has taken place.
Where the candidates stand on the audit should be a decisive factor for voters.
Indeed, McConnell & Jones’ preliminary report on its investigative audit was a sobering reminder of how badly strong council oversight is needed in the city’s financial dealings.
The report, delivered to the City Council on Tuesday, detailed a raft of significant problems: unauthorized use of bond funds, inconsistent planning for capital projects, misapplication of pay raises, and creation of an escrow account to transfer funds.
It’s too early to say whether any of the problems the audit uncovers will be criminal in nature, but the fact remains that serious problems already have been found.
Residents should be glad the city moved ahead with this audit, as the early findings show that such an investigation was sorely needed.
However, not all council members were convinced of that fact prior to last week.
Despite intense public pressure for an audit in the wake of last year’s contentious budget talks — in which the council was forced to reconcile a projected $8 million shortfall — two council members opposed an audit when it came up for a vote in March, claiming it was unnecessary.
When it came time to vote on funding the investigation, the same two council members — Juan Rivera and Jim Kilpatrick — pushed back on paying for the audit before finally giving their support.
As chairman of the council subcommittee responsible for giving direction to the audit firm, based on council recommendations, Kilpatrick has frequently opposed an investigation, choosing to trust the judgment and actions for previous city administrators and the findings of the city’s routine annual external audit.
Hopefully, last week’s preliminary report caused Kilpatrick — who is up for re-election today — to reassess his opinion of the current audit’s value.
Looking ahead, it’s imperative that council members are committed to a fully transparent discussion of the audit’s findings. Members also must be willing to take action to ensure that policies and procedures are changed to prevent future financial missteps — and to demand accountability from city leadership in the areas where the audit finds fault.
Knowing where the candidates stand on this issue is crucial, but it’s not the only issue of importance in today’s election. In each of Killeen’s four districts, voters must decide who will be the best steward of their tax money. Voters also must choose a responsible, responsive candidate who has a solid grasp of the issues facing the city and who has the best vision for moving the city into the future.
Residents deserve “hands on” council members who have a solid understanding of municipal finances and are committed to transparency and accountability in government.
But in order to put these candidates in place, residents must be “hands on” as well.
During the early voting period, which ended Tuesday, just 1,837 Killeen residents went to the polls. That’s an average of only 460 voters per district. With about 57,000 registered voters in the city, that’s a poor showing.
Voters, if you care about the future of your city, go to the polls today and make your voice heard. Whether you choose an incumbent or a challenger, make a commitment in the voting booth.
Still not sure who is the best choice? For an in-depth look at the candidates, go to the Herald’s website kdhnews.com/centerforpolitics. Candidate bios and issue-oriented Q and A’s can be found there for the city election, as well as the Killeen school board races, Harker Heights City Council, Lampasas City Council and Lampasas ISD board.
Vote as if your future depends on it — because it does.