If conducting an election is too difficult, just don’t have one.
That seems to be the position of some local water board members who are advocating switching to appointed representatives — which would require action by the state Legislature.
The board is in agreement to expand the district’s current boundaries to include outlying cities served by the district, so members have some justification for their argument that future elections could be complicated and expensive.
But that’s no reason to abandon the democratic process altogether.
The Bell County Water Control and Improvement District No. 1 made news last spring when it held its first contested election in 28 years, according to district records.
But if it hadn’t been for a last-minute filing by former Killeen councilman Richard “Dick” Young, that election wouldn’t have been necessary, either. Young found out about the board election second-hand, and discovered the only place the election notice was posted was on the district’s headquarters building, which is set back from the roadway on 38th Street in Killeen.
What came to light following Young’s filing was the rather secretive nature of the district’s operations. At the time the candidate filing period closed, the district was not posting notices of its meetings or meeting minutes on its website, and the site didn’t contain any information about the members of the board.
The biggest surprise was that the district hadn’t updated its official boundaries since 1984. That meant that any residents who wanted to vote in a water board election had to live in the portion of Killeen that existed more than three decades ago. Given the rapid pace of the city’s growth during the intervening period, the outdated boundaries excluded thousands of potential voters.
Consequently, when the district did have its board election in May, residents were confused as to whether they were eligible to take part. The district ended up conducting the election in a facility the city was using for its municipal election, further adding to some voters’ confusion — since the district’s boundaries didn’t match up with the city’s.
The district’s service area extends far beyond its current official boundaries. WCID No. 1 also provides wholesale water to the communities surrounding Killeen, but it does not allow those residents of Copperas Cove, Belton, Harker Heights, Nolanville and Fort Hood to vote in district elections.
Now that the board is considering expanding its boundaries to include some or all of those areas, members are justified in asking how the election process would work going forward.
Another concern raised at last week’s meeting was maintaining consistency on the board — something elections could threaten, especially since three seats are up for election in November.
But underlying the argument for a switch to appointed members is a thinly veiled attempt to protect the status quo.
The current board was shaken up in May when Young — who ran on a platform of transparency and accountability — finished as the top vote-getter in the election.
Nearly 1,200 Killeen-area voters turned out to cast their ballots, electing Young and re-electing board member Allen Cloud but turning out incumbent Mike Miller.
It was just one seat on the five-member board, but it may have set the tone for last week’s discussion.
Board members last week discussed the option of allowing the district’s municipal customers to appoint members to the board to represent their interests. On the plus side, along with the expanded boundaries, this would guarantee cities like Copperas Cove, Belton and Harker Heights representation on the board and a say in the future of the area’s water resources.
However, those benefits are negated if the district’s voters are taken out of the equation.
Depending on who does the selecting, appointments by municipal water customers could produce a water board that is dominated by business owners and real estate developers — people who have a vested interest in the board’s policy decisions.
Perhaps a better solution would be to retain the current board setup, with five members being elected by voters, while also establishing a nonvoting five-member advisory board, with appointed members from the outlying municipalities served by the water district.
This would give the district more representation and a broader perspective while ensuring voters still have a voice at the ballot box.
The board will meet again this week to discuss how to proceed on these issues, but whatever changes they agree on will require approval by the Texas Legislature. And considering state lawmakers will convene in Austin in just a few weeks for their biennial session, time is drawing short to draft a plan.
Hopefully, that plan will involve expanding the district’s boundaries while keeping the election procedure intact — if not expanding the process.
Conducting an election may be costly. It may be complicated. But board members must come to understand that it’s worth it.
Upholding the democratic process — even for the selection of a water board — is worth more than a few extra dollars in the budget or the inconvenience of having to bring new members up to speed on technical issues.
No doubt, consistency is important to the efficient running of the water board. But accountability is essential if the board is to earn and keep the public’s trust.
And the only way to ensure that accountability is to keep the board’s selection in the hands of the district’s customers.
If nearly 1,200 residents took the time to vote in this year’s election, shouldn’t they and those who would be included within the expanded boundaries have that opportunity again next year?
District voters must speak out — and demand that the first board election in 28 years won’t also be the last.