The Killeen City Council will hold a rare Saturday workshop meeting to discuss what has been a dicey subject lately — ethics.
“Discuss Ethics Ordinance” is the only item on the agenda for special workshop meeting set to begin at 9 a.m. Saturday in the main conference room at City Hall, 101 N. College St.
The council is not expected to vote to approve a possible new ethics ordinance, but it may come to a consensus on what it may want to do moving forward on the subject.
The topic of ethics for the council came to head last month, when the issue was discussed at length during a May 18 council workshop meeting.
At that meeting, there was more heated exchange than constructive discussion.
Councilmember Mellisa Brown said she wanted to see the ordinance cover all staff, elected, board and committee members, election workers and anyone else who is appointed or hired by the city that would represent the city in an official capacity in any official matter.
While there was no shouting or yelling at the May meeting, the council members openly reflected on the optics of their sometimes tense discussions.
“I’ll be honest, in the time that I’ve been here we’ve had some times up here where it’s quite embarrassing to sit up here,” Councilman Ken Wilkerson, who supported the ethics ordinance for council members only, said. “I think there is a need to have a governing standard of how we operate up here.”
Mayor Jose Segarra last month said he did not agree with the need for an ethics ordinance because protocols were already in place and at the end of the day the people are the ultimate check on behavior.
“It gets to the point of ridiculous here,” the mayor said. “As a city, we have so many important things to discuss and a lot of times we get stuck on things that have nothing to do with our citizens. I think it’s an emotional thing.”
When they are sworn in, council members already sign Killeen’s “City Council Standards of Conduct” — which outlines eight principles, including honor, civility and conflicts of interest.
Added Segarra: “I think the citizens, they are our boss. If you do something wrong, there is a way to get you out of council. Us hashing out how we are going to control each other, to me, that’s ridiculous.”
After about an hour of discussion, and bringing up some old wounds among council members, the council eventually voted 5-2 to hold a workshop on the issue of creating an ethics ordinance.
That workshop is set for this Saturday.
Segarra confirmed to the Herald this week that he will be out of town and unable to attend, which means Mayor Pro Tem Debbie Nash-King is expected to run the meeting.
Like the mayor, Nash-King has also said the current ethics policies are sufficient.
"The city council has a greater responsibility to the citizens of Killeen than dictating to the city manager on how to manage the city. If the council members chose to approve an ethics ordinance to manage council members, city employees, board members and volunteers, the council would also have to use taxpayers' dollars to hire an outside attorney to investigate if an ethic’s violation has been committed because it would be a conflict of interest to use the city staff," Nash-King said in an email to the Herald on Friday.
"The city already has a check and balance system in place to investigate violations, the council members have the authority to appoint or not appoint volunteers to serve on city's boards and the citizens have the right to vote for or against reelecting a council member," she said. "I believe the council members should follow the present ethics policy that is located in our Governing Standards & Expectations’ manual. The council should also practice the Standards of Conduct which each council member takes an oath to follow after being elected then we would not need a new ordinance."
If anything is voted on during the meeting, Nash-King will not be able to vote while acting as mayor, city officials confirmed. She will, however, vote if there is a tie, just as the mayor does.
Councilmen Wilkerson and Rick Williams confirmed to the Herald this week they will be going to the meeting.
“My job as I see it is to listen to my fellow council members and then to determine the most appropriate and effective way to proceed,” Williams said in an email to the Herald Thursday.
Brown also said she will be at the meeting.
“I would just like to see a framework for the ordinance put together including who will be covered, what will be covered, and if we have a committee what will it consist of and what will their responsibilities and abilities be,” Brown said via email. “I would like to see all staff, elected officials, and appointed representatives covered and we should have a committee that can accept and hear complaints.”
Councilwoman Jessica Gonzalez also said she plans to attend.
"While it is a step toward enhancing transparency and ensuring best practices. I have many questions, that I will address at that time," she said in an email to the Herald Friday.
Council members Michael Boyd and Nina Cobb did not reply to the Herald's questions on Thursday, asking if they would be attending the meeting.