LOCAL GOVERNMENT

To simply say that Killeen’s government is imperfect entirely fails to capture the last 10 years of dysfunction that has left some residents both cynical and wary.

10 years in review

In 2011, The Killeen City Council was left nearly memberless after then-resident Jonathan Okray successfully led an effort to recall five council members after the council decided, without public input, to buy out the contract of then-City Manager Connie Green for $750,000 — almost $200,000 more than his contract stipulated.

Okray was subsequently elected to an at-large council seat — three times. Okray’s tenure was passionate, to say the least, vigorously dissenting whenever he felt cause. Okray twice issued “public reprimands” to then-Mayor Dan Corbin in 2013, claiming that Corbin would repeatedly shut down conversation lines of questioning.

In 2014, the City Council devolved into a shouting match over the use of remaining funds with then-Mayor Corbin yelling at former Mayor Tim Hancock, “You’re out of order. Everybody just keep quiet.”

In 2016, then-City-Manager Ron Olson and the City Council began an audit into the city’s credit card program, the results of which found that at least $10,000 had been misused over the program’s nearly 10-year life cycle. This audit came just a few months after a separate auditing firm found that $4.5 million had been taken out of enterprise funds to create a new fund. Auditors found that the city did not keep accurate track of funds, and records included double payments and other discrepancies. The auditing service, McConnell & Jones of Houston, cost taxpayers $394,456.

In 2017, Okray returned to the spotlight again, after intentionally using points of order to interrupt another council member — just four months after allegedly threatening then-Councilman Dick Young after a council workshop.

“If you ever tell me ‘screw you’ again, I will kill you, I will (expletive) kill you,” Okray said, according to Young.

And just last year both the former City Council and current City Manager Kent Cagle drew heavy criticism after Cagle unilaterally zeroed out the city’s budget for arts funding.

A recent critique

This year, residents criticism of the council has primarily focused on perceived “inattentiveness” during citizens’ comments.

As Councilwoman Mellisa Brown stated in her response to the Herald’s request for comment on the issue, no one from this council has threatened another in the parking lot during or after a meeting.

And third-term Mayor Jose Segarra stated during an Aug. 17 workshop that “this is one of the best councils I’ve seen.”

However, the council is not without its detractors.

Killeen resident Michael Fornino caused a commotion at Tuesday’s council meeting when he was asked to leave by Segarra after what was described as an unruly outburst.

Fornino reached out to the Herald that evening, and again on Thursday.

“They’re in the people business,” Fornino said. “The problem is all these little things. You’ve got a 17-year-old girl, her first time going up in front of the council, and they’re just looking down or staring off into space.”

Fornino has raised the claim multiple times that the City Council is inattentive toward residents.

Fornino referred to a series of three residents, which included a young woman, who petitioned Tuesday to request more money for code and animal enforcement.

Fornino says that he often addresses the City Council as “your majesty” or “kings and queens.” When asked whether he thought council would be more receptive to a politer introduction, Fornino had the following to say.

“When it comes to the spending of my money, I don’t feel I need to be particularly nice,” he said. “You know, it may be the opposite, but when they walk into the chamber, they project that image of disinterest.”

The City Council has, by and large, bounced back hard by referencing their responsibilities as council members.

Council’s response

“Civic engagement is essential whether we agree or not,” Councilwoman Jessica Gonzalez wrote.

And Mayor Pro-Tem Debbie Nash-King agreed similarly, saying that “we may not always agree but, we do have the best interest of the community and the future growth of the city as our top priorities.”

Councilman Rick Williams said that “every voice within the city limits of Killeen is of equal importance,” and Councilman Ken Wilkerson stated that “to paint the entire council as a bunch of arrogant people is way off base.”

However, Councilwoman Mellisa Brown sympathized with dissenting residents.

“I understand the frustration of being a citizen and feeling like you aren’t being heard during that short amount of time available to address the city council. I shared those frustrations as a citizen and I still dislike it when I feel like any speaker isn’t being listened to by the whole council,” she wrote.

The majority of the City Council have spoken directly to a responsibility to their constituency, reassuring them of the desire to serve with integrity and respect, but many of Killeen’s residents have expressed distrust and downright apathy toward Killeen’s finances. The issue then, must come back to perception.

For Fornino and others like him, this City Council — six members of which have never held elected local office before — appears to lack the professionalism and consistency of older, more established government. The current City Council has taken great offense to the accusation.

Ultimately, as several council members pointed out, the City Council will be remembered most for their leadership abilities and their impact on the city.

To read each City Council members’ full response, please read their replies on this page.

jdowling@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7552

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