Killeen voters have some decisions to make.
Early voting starts Monday for municipal and school board elections, and the stakes are high.
It might not seem that way at first glance, as there is no mayor’s race on the ballot in Killeen, and the school board election doesn’t include a big bond issue, as it did last year.
But the consequences of voting — or not voting —in these races may be just as high, nonetheless.
In the municipal race, Killeen voters have a clear choice between experience on the council vs. candidates who want to offer an alternative.
In the District 2 race, incumbent Debbie Nash-King is facing a challenge from both Mellisa Brown and Will Baumgartner.
In District 3, incumbent Jim Kilpatrick is seeking his third term and is being challenged by Sandra Blankenship and Tolly James Jr.
In District 4, Steve Harris, the incumbent, is running against Brockley Moore, who previously held the seat before Harris won election in 2017.
In the past few months, the council has been divided over several issues, including a water and sewer contingency fund and a controversial street maintenance fee. Who voters choose in the upcoming election may determine how these programs are carried out. In addition, the makeup of the council potentially will impact the handling of larger issues such as recycling, residential and commercial growth, and overall budget priorities
Similarly, in the Killeen Independent School District election, voters will have a choice between incumbents and challengers, as three school board seats are on the ballot.
In the race for Place 1, Lan Carter is challenging incumbent Shelley Wells. Susan Jones, the Place 2 incumbent, is being challenged by the Rev. David Michael Jones; and challengers Stanley Golaboff and Robert People are seeking to unseat Place 3 incumbent Corbett Lawler, the board’s president.
While the district’s $426 million bond issue is not on this year’s ballot, the issue of how the district is handling the taxpayer-approved bond money has been a hot topic during the current campaign. Chief among the criticisms from board challengers has been how the district has frequently changed plans for bond-funded projects and added several new facilities to the project list.
Current board members have also drawn fire for their decision to give Superintendent John Craft a 15.8 percent, $42,000 raise — ostensibly to keep his salary in line with other superintendents of similar-size districts. However, the size of the raise has drawn criticism, especially after district employees were given just a 2 percent raise in the current KISD budget.
Other areas of contention between incumbents and challengers include administration of the district’s special education program, KISD students’ performance on standardized tests, and transparency.
Again, how voters choose in this election will have the potential to impact how these areas are addressed and which district challenges will take priority.
And these are far from the only impactful races in the May 4 election.
Harker Heights voters will choose between two newcomers to fill a seat currently held by a term-limited incumbent. Voters across the area will decide who will fill three seats on the Central Texas College board of trustees.
Residents will also go to the polls in Lampasas, Salado, Belton, Florence and Kempner to cast votes for municipal and school board candidates.
As in all elections, the key is turnout.
The last time Killeen had an odd-year municipal election — in which only district seats are on the ballot — just 1,837 Killeen residents went to the polls, out of about 57,000 registered. That equates to just over 3.2 percent of the city’s eligible voters.
Considering that the early-voting period is nine days long, and even includes extended hours on two days, such negligible turnout is inexcusable.
Of course, just going to the polls and making a random choice isn’t the answer, either. It’s vitally important to be well-informed about the candidates before stepping into the voting booth.
Knowing where the candidates stand on the issues is crucial.
Voters must decide who will be the best stewards of their tax money and choose responsible, responsive candidates who have a solid grasp of the issues facing the city or school district, as well as the best vision for moving the city or school district forward.
It’s also important to pay careful attention to the campaign rhetoric and commit to separating fact from fiction — not always an easy task amid the swirl of ads, fliers, yard signs and social media posts. Certainly, personal attacks and unsubstantiated allegations should be discounted as well.
Making a good choice depends on good information — and the Herald is providing an in-depth look at the candidates with an Election Guide, found inside today’s edition. In it, readers will find information on all municipal, school board and college board races in the Killeen-Fort Hood area, as well as a list of early voting times and locations.
In addition, the Herald’s website, kdhnews.com/centerforpolitics, contains candidate bios and issue-oriented Q and A’s on several key races.
Residents deserve qualified council and school board members who are committed to transparency and accountability in government.
Of course, voters must make a commitment as well.
Whether you choose an incumbent or a challenger, go to the polls between Monday and May 4 and let your voices be heard.
You have some important decisions to make.