Hundreds of area residents will gather in Killeen on Monday morning to remember the life, words and wisdom of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King.
In honoring King’s memory, residents can help to ensure that his legacy lives on — and that the principles he espoused — justice, equality and inclusivity — remain rooted in our national conscience.
King was a tireless advocate of voting rights — and gave his life working to ensure the right of all Americans to participate in free and fair elections.
But just one day after the official observance of King’s birthday, the Killeen City Council will decide the fate of a resolution that could strip residents of that right.
Just as residents are encouraged to join the MLK march in Lions Club Park on Monday morning, they are also advised to attend Tuesday’s council meeting to voice their opinions on a proposal that would take away their right to elect a regional water district’s board of directors.
The proposal would replace the district’s elected board with an appointed board — a plan that will require approval by the state Legislature. Before introducing the measure in Austin, the district is soliciting resolutions of support from city councils within the district’s service area.
If the city council of Killeen — the largest entity in the district’s service area — declines to sign off on a support resolution, the proposal’s chances in the Legislature are greatly diminished.
With council members split over whether to back the water district’s proposal, residents have both an opportunity and an obligation to show up at Tuesday’s meeting and weigh in on the issue.
Unfortunately, attending the meeting may not be so easy for some residents.
Late Thursday, the city moved the meeting’s start time up to 4 p.m. — an hour earlier than council usually convenes for workshops.
The reason given for the time change? A long meeting agenda.
Granted, a 19-item agenda presents council members with a considerable challenge, but the decision to move the meeting up an hour could hardly come at a more inopportune time.
Starting the meeting at 4 p.m. disenfranchises residents who can’t get off work or have child care conflicts.
The earlier meeting time effectively silences those who can’t be there. Not only do residents face the possibility of losing their vote for water board representatives, but they lose their opportunity to offer their input on the issue in a public forum.
Moreover, the decision to move up the meeting was made unilaterally by the city manager, without consulting council members beforehand — though many members likely would have expressed their reservations about the time change.
But now that the agenda is posted, the city is obligated to stick with the time listed — so there’s no going back.
Still, residents should make every effort to attend.
Potentially at stake is the selection of who will determine your representatives on the board of Bell County Water Control and Improvement District No. 1 — the body that regulates your water resources, sets your water rates and has the ability to levy taxes.
With passage of the resolution, the Killeen council members would effectively give the green light for legislation that would put city officials — not the voters — in charge of who sits on the WCID-1 board.
With each municipal entity appointing board members, appointees would be obligated to do what is best for their respective cities, with perhaps less regard for the district’s customers at-large.
And with no provisions for term limits or recall of directors in the water district’s bylaws, residents would have no recourse if they should take issue with board policies or actions.
This is not to say that the water district’s proposal is without merit.
For example, the plan calls for expanding the district’s official boundaries to encompass the current service area, which extends from Copperas Cove to Belton — a step that all area elected representatives endorse.
The current boundaries of WCID-1 coincide with Killeen’s 1984 city limits, which proved to be problematic in May when the district had its first election in 24 years.
As a result of the outdated boundaries, only residents who lived within those boundaries were eligible to vote in the board election.
The district’s plan also would increase representation for its water customers by enlarging the board to provide seats for all municipal entities within its service area — a laudable initiative.
However, those pluses are negated if water customers across the district forfeit their right to vote for board representation.
WCID-1 director Ricky Garrett has consistently argued that keeping elections while expanding the district’s boundaries would be too complicated and too expensive.
Garrett tossed out $150,000 as the potential cost of districtwide elections at a recent Copperas Cove Council meeting, but a LULAC representative who researched the issue said last week that the cost would be more like $10,000 if elections were consolidated with other local elections in November.
Indeed, careful planning and negotiation likely could bring an even more reasonable price tag.
But no matter what number is quoted, residents who stand to lose their vote have a right to ask how you can put a price on the democratic process.
The answer is, you can’t.
For that reason alone, this plan should be a non-starter for the Texas Legislature. But because the measure may be introduced as a “local bill,” it could potentially find its way through to the full House and Senate with little resistance. At that point, its passage would be likely.
That’s why the Killeen council must slow its momentum here — and voting to decline the resolution of support would do just that.
Residents who feel strongly about the issue should plan to attend Tuesday’s council meeting and voice their opinion.
Speak up and let your elected representatives know how you feel as well.
Call your Killeen City Council members and offer your input. Their numbers are on the city’s website: www.killeentexas.gov/153/City-Council.
Contact District 54 state Rep. Brad Buckley, District 55 state Rep. Hugh Shine and District 59 state Rep. J.D. Sheffield and sound off. Or weigh in with District 24 state Sen. Dawn Buckingham.
Their contact information can be found with the front-page article in today’s edition of the Herald.
So get involved. Stand up for your rights. Make your voices heard.
In doing so, we can honor Dr. King’s legacy.