If you’ve lived in Killeen for less than 25 years, chances are good that you haven’t voted in a water board election.
It’s not just because the interest in such elections are generally low, but because there hasn’t been a board election during that time.
That’s pretty amazing, considering the board governs Bell County Water Control and Improvement District No. 1 — the entity that has a multimillion-dollar contract with Killeen to treat and supply the city’s drinking water.
It’s the same body that has Killeen on the hook for $30 million to build a new water plant on Stillhouse Hollow Lake — a plant that Killeen will not own, by the way.
But for the last 28 years, the water board’s members have been unopposed for re-election when their terms expired, so the elections were canceled.
That won’t be the case this year, though.
Former Killeen City Councilman Richard “Dick” Young filed to run just before the deadline Feb. 17, and his candidacy was subsequently affirmed after a records check to ensure he owns property within district boundaries. The candidacy of another late filer, former Killeen Councilman Terry Clark, was rejected since he didn’t meet the residency /property requirement.
Two incumbents also filed for the two available seats, so it appears there will be a water board election May 5 — but it wasn’t easy getting to this point.
First of all, Young found out about the election from a friend. The election notice was posted on the water district’s office on 38th Street in Killeen, but there was no legal notice about the open seats posted on the WCID-1 website, the county website or Killeen’s city website.
When Young and Clark showed up to file their candidate paperwork, the office administrator couldn’t tell them whether incumbents Allen Cloud or Mike Miller had filed for re-election or even if anybody had filed.
On Wednesday, WCID-1 Executive Director Ricky Garrett said he believed the election would take place at the Killeen Community Center, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. May 5. To be eligible to vote, residents must live within the district’s 1984 boundaries.
That seems problematic, as Killeen has grown dramatically in the last 34 years. The district is serving a significant number of residents who live in newer areas of the city but will not be eligible to vote in the board election.
That is not a mere technicality; it’s a fundamental lack of representation among ratepayers.
In fact, since WCID-1 also sells water to Harker Heights, Copperas Cove and Belton, it’s worth asking why residents in those communities aren’t allowed to vote in the board election.
In the past, the district has cited a state rule that allows districts to exclude cities that don’t have outstanding bond debt to the district — though all three cities mentioned qualify in this area.
Moreover, according to the Texas Water Code, all WCIDs in the state must schedule their elections on the first Saturday in April of even-numbered years. It’s not clear if the planned May 5 board election would constitute a violation of the code.
As the entity that controls the city’s water supply, WCID-1 and its board of directors owe it to the city, its elected leaders and its residents to be accountable and transparent in all areas.
But unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case to date.
In a December 2016 article, the Herald asked Garrett about several transparency issues, including why the district didn’t post notices of its meetings on its website or provide meeting minutes. He did not offer an explanation.
Asked how the district notified the public about district elections and election cancellations, Garrett said the district posts notices of election on its Killeen district office.
At the time of the 2016 Herald article, WCID-1 had been noncompliant with a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality regulation that the district have current administrative contact information — a fact the Herald reported to the TCEQ. The district subsequently sent the updated information to TCEQ and was not fined.
All this may seem like small potatoes, but when it comes to transparency, every detail matters.
For example, as recently as Friday, the district’s website not only made no mention of the upcoming election, but it also did not list the board of directors — or even acknowledge the existence of a board.
Further, posting board election notices on the district office, and only there, limits the number of people who see it or have knowledge of it — as Young and Clark discovered last week.
With no election or board information on the website, how are prospective candidates expected to know which seats are up for election, when the election is scheduled, where to file for election or the dates of the candidate filing period?
The same goes for local voters, who must discern where and when the election will take place — and more importantly, whether they are eligible to vote.
As Clark discovered when he attempted to file for a seat, the district’s 1984 boundaries are not the same as Killeen’s current city limits. Without a significant public education campaign, it’s likely that the leadup to this spring’s board election will be fraught with confusion.
The potential for voter disenfranchisement is considerable — and unacceptable.
Between now and May 5, the Herald will work to provide readers with the information they need to understand the issues, know the candidates and how to cast an informed vote.
Some may argue that a local water board election doesn’t matter much.
But for those who are served by WCID-1, nothing could be further from the truth.