LOCAL GOVERNMENT

Killeen’s City Council has a little over a month before it finalizes proposed changes to the city charter.

The charter review process, which started in September after its initiation in April at the request of then-Mayor Pro Tem Shirley Fleming, has so far produced no fewer than 22 items — most of which are administrative or clerical changes.

However, there were two major sticking points for residents, which came to a head at a town hall Monday night: How much control should the city council have over the city manager, and how much should a council member be paid?

During what would become a heated town hall during which council members pushed back against criticism, residents decried “well-meaning but inappropriate measures” by “amateur politicians.”

Speaking Friday, Killeen residents Jack Ralston, Leo Gukeisen, Bill Paquette and Scott Clark shared their thoughts on Monday’s meeting, at which they spoke.

“They showed me ... they just want too much,” Paquette said.

As to the proposals in question, one authorizes the City Council, through some majority, to direct the hiring and firing of department heads under the city manager. The other calls for an increase in monthly pay for council members from $100 to $1,000 and from $200 to $1,500 for the mayor.

Too much, too fast

For some, the pay increase was understandable, but the current proposal is simply too much.

“20 years is a long time for an amount to stay the same,” Paquette said of the current pay rate, before suggesting a more modest increase.

Paquette was originally in favor of raising the salary for council members to $200 or $250, as was Fleming’s initial proposal; alternatively, the resident suggested the creation of an expense account, which would allow the council members to be refunded for city-related purchases upon delivery of an itemized receipt.

Ralston spoke similarly, advocating for a modest increase of about $100 a month. However, Ralston, who sits on several city council committees, said that the current suggestion has the unfortunate side effect of appearing self-serving. And while he clarified that he does not necessarily subscribe to that belief, there are many who may.

At an absolute minimum, he said, city council members would need to step down or institute a clause that does not allow them to receive the increase while still holding office, or until next elected. This was important, he said, because council members did not campaign on the issue.

Gukeisen, however, was less kind, and more forthright.

“I think they’re putting their thumbmark on this,” he said, calling the proposal a “power grab.”

Amateur politicians

The real crux of Monday night’s debate was the authority of the office of the city manager.

The City Council’s proposal to establish the power to direct the hiring and firing of department heads through a vote ruffled the feathers of many residents — and those residents who attended Monday ruffled right back.

Throughout the nearly half-hour public comment portion of the meeting, residents referred to city council members as “amateur politicians.”

Ralston, who used the term several times in his roughly four-minute speech, said that the term was not meant as an insult, but as a realistic descriptor. In fact, he meant it as a compliment.

“We don’t need professional politicians,” Ralston said. “They serve the city best as amateurs.”

Ralston explained that, unlike city councils in large cities like Houston, Killeen’s City Council does not have a staff, and does not have a de facto requirement to hold law degrees.

And while this means that they have a greater ability to interface with the residents of Killeen, Ralston said that it is all the more crucial that they direct, but not control the city manager.

“They’re well-meaning ... They think what they’re trying to do is in the best interest of the city,” he said. “But it’s a slippery slope.”

With the threat of termination hanging over them, department heads may feel forced to truckle to city council members, potentially emanating a return of the “good old boys” system, Ralston said.

All of this, he said, had to do with the loss of the citizen review committee.

Heard, but not heeded

For Ralston and Gukeisen, Monday’s meeting was not a town hall.

“I have never been to a town hall like that,” Ralston said, with Gukeisen describing it as a workshop, without the back-and-forth dialogue that typically characterizes a town hall.

Moreover, the reason this process has been so painful, Ralston said, is because the City Council, despite attempts from Councilwoman Mellisa Brown and Mayor Pro Tem Debbie Nash-King in September, declined to establish a citizen’s review board to consolidate and present suggestions for charter review like the city has done historically.

The review board would have shortened the process and avoided much of the heartache, according to Gukeisen. For him, however, Monday was nothing more than a “dog and pony show.”

“They heard us,” he said. “But they didn’t listen.”

Paquette, acknowledging that the constant criticism can have a wearing effect, said that the City Council nevertheless has a responsibility to take what constructive elements that they can.

“It’s unfortunate that all you’re going to hear from are the complainers, because the people that are satisfied with what you’re doing aren’t going to speak up,” he said. “And I’ve told them when they do a good job. but this isn’t the right thing to do.”

Clark said he was surprised by the response of some council members to his comments, but noted that his remarks about “amateur politicians” were not meant as a challenge to their personal qualifications, but rather to draw a contrast with cities that have paid, professional council members employed by the city.

He expressed concern about the proposed charter change that would give council members oversight over the city manager’s personnel decisions.

“I worry that council members could harass and pressure city staff to get their way, and we can’t afford to let that happen,” Clark said.

Council members respond

Members of the City Council, along with Mayor Jose Segarra, responded to questions from the Herald regarding council member’s confidence in the charter review’s current trajectory.

Councilwoman Nina Cobb said that, after going back to the drawing board, residents will be pleased with finalized proposals.

Cobb said via email: “I have and will continue to enjoy being a representative of OUR GREAT CITY and District 3! Decisions are made through research and facts, most importantly they are made ALWAYS based on the SAFETY and BEST PRACTICES for The City of Killeen. I am confident that citizens will be pleased with the proposals as we move into the New Year and those proposals that are not passed. WE will go back to the drawing board.”

She also said that comments that have been made are always constructive to some degree, and thanked residents for their activism.

“Leaders will always have their share of positive and negative comments, they have made me stronger.

“I stand on the work that is being done, the resources given and the assurance that a difference is being made no matter how small or BIG. As we celebrate this Christmas Holiday and moved into a New Year let us have HOPE in improvements to our City, Communities, Staff, Relationships, Collaborations and most importantly your City Leaders.

‘The ultimate measure of a man or woman is where they stand in times of conflict.’ We are a safer and vibrant community when work is done together. If it is only one person who has seen the changes or fairness that I strive along with my fellow Council-members, City Staff and Community Leaders have made ‘Thank You, It is well.’”

Segarra expressed disappointment with the City Council and asked that the body rethink its current charter proposals.

“My hope is that the city council will listen to the people that spoke at the workshop on Monday and not put all these amendments on the ballot. The charter is the people’s document and most of the changes that are controversial are about changing the council’s power or pay and not about the people.

In the beginning, this council was also even trying to take away the only thing that the Mayor has the power to do, which is to speak at council meeting.

The feedback that I have been receiving from citizens is that they are against these changes and if they do make it to the ballot, I believe citizens will overwhelming vote no against them.”

Nash-King expressed a lack of confidence in the proposals as they are currently constructed.

“I am not confident that the residents will vote on most of the charter revisions if placed on the general election ballot, because the proposals on the charter do not benefit the residents.”

The mayor pro tem also stated that she has received no positive comments regarding the charter review process and asked that the City Council postpone or cancel the process.

“My original position to not make any major changes to the city charter has not changed. I have not received any positive feedback supporting the proposed revisions on the charter. The majority of the residents that I have spoken to are not in favor of making revisions to the charter at this time because they did not have any input on the decision making process. Also, they expressed disappointment in the city council for not appointing a citizen’s charter review committee.

It is my opinion the council should not move forward with placing the proposed changes to the charter on the ballot in May, because the residents should be a part of the discussion on the city council pay raise and the removal of department heads.”

jdowling @kdhnews.com | 254-501-7552

jdowling@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7552

(3) comments

Alvin

Copy: 'Killeen residents explain position after charter town hall; council members, mayor respond'

Copy: 'The charter review process, which started in September after its initiation in April at the request of then-Mayor Pro Tem Shirley Fleming, has so far produced no fewer than 22 items — most of which are administrative or clerical changes.'.. End of copy.

Need we say anymore, the so called ;Charter review, which is only authorized every 24 months 'IS A FARCE FROM THE WORD GO, WITH NO MEET IN IT'. So what good is a city charter that can only be authorized to be changed or altered by a council that has all of it's authority thrown into a single basket that the council controls? Is this not a Socialistic and/or Communistic city charter that only the council can control as it has only the city charter itself in control.

Copy: 'However, there were two major sticking points for residents, which came to a head at a town hall Monday night: How much control should the city council have over the city manager, and how much should a council member be paid?' End of copy.

These are two 'administrative changes' that are called out by the citizens in question. But they have no merit as not one question was raised about 'how the city should function as a city government, or 'who is indeed in charge of the government when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of applying the power to who is actuality running this city government, the city council or the citizens themselves. I believe that it should be the citizens who have control of the purse strings by which the citizens can and will have the control. It should not be a select council of 4 out of 7 which controls the where with all of a city of 153,000. In as much, I have offered up some selective writings and offer them for you.

Copy: 'The Founders read that republican government was one in which:

The power of government is held by the people.

The people give power to leaders they elect to represent them and serve their interests.

The representatives are responsible for helping all the people in the country, not just a few people.

And:

Why a Republic is better than democracy?

The main reason why a republic is better than a democracy is because a republic is more biblical. Without an amendment, the laws in a republic cannot be changed, similar to how God's commandments are constant.' End of copy'

So do we now have Representatives, city, county, state, federal that are in essence of how we feel as a united body, a 'Republic' or do we now have an aberration of what we started out when we fought, and yes some of those have died in the semblance of this Nation, this Republic as was formed over 200 years ago.

I do not believe that there was one who thought they were fighting for a Socialist or Communistic form of government because as our Constitution says, 'We Are A Republic form of government' and shall remain so. But through the days we have been a Republican form of government this has slowly evolved into a Socialistic or Communistic form of government. Now you ask, 'But Why, why has our Republic for which we fought so hard for is now teeming with Socialists and Communists. And to what do we now owe to this transition? I personally think that it is because of our elected officials from the city level all of the way to the Federal level. We now owe it to ourselves by not taking the time to pay attention to what our city government has become. A city charter in which we have attributed the central core that now 'controls this city', a core of approximately 4.58 percent of the voting public.

Copy: 'During what would become a heated town hall during which council members pushed back against criticism, residents decried “well-meaning but inappropriate measures” by “amateur politicians.” End of copy.

But was it a case of 'amateur politicians' who were bent by childish behavior or just another case of being bent on preserving the very nature of a city charter gone awry this was exactly what they indeed wanted.

Copy: 'As to the proposals in question, one authorizes the City Council, through some majority, to direct the hiring and firing of department heads under the city manager. The other calls for an increase in monthly pay for council members from $100 to $1,000 and from $200 to $1,500 for the mayor.' End of copy.

Now why would anyone subscribe to a city government that is wholly in debt so as to be $160 million dollars for the city roads and has the gall for the city council to vote for an increase from $1.70/month/water meter to $10.00.month/water meter and then tack on a $24 million bond which does not even begin to reflect the total outlay for just this subject alone let alone what this city needs in total especially concerning the down town area with a 70 percent vacancy rate, and they have the gall to appoint themselves as 'caretakers of the city of Killeen'. They have to be kidding. Deny them this privilege.

Copy: '“We don’t need professional politicians,” Ralston said. “They serve the city best as amateurs.”

Ralston explained that, unlike city councils in large cities like Houston, Killeen’s City Council does not have a staff, and does not have a de facto requirement to hold law degrees.' End of copy.

In this I find disfavor. I personally think that it is for the reason that we now have the majority of the legal profession that we now have the problem we are now facing. But it is not only that that city level but graduates up to the federal level as the are themselves responsible for what has our hands tied today. We used to have a Republic in which the citizen of the United States was beholden to one country alone and that country was the United States, but we have finagled this to become a fact that now you can have dual citizenship's. So is it a true fact that a person can hold a citizenship to the United States and also a citizenship to a Muslim country also?

Copy: 'And while this means that they have a greater ability to interface with the residents of Killeen, Ralston said that it is all the more crucial that they direct, but not control the city manager.' End of copy.

While I am not a fan of our city manager, this I will say that 'if the city

manager is not doing the job we hired him for then fire the city manager for not doing the job that we hired him for, but that would reflect on the city manager so we'll just keep on giving him praise and merit increases.

Copy: “I have never been to a town hall like that,” Ralston said, with Gukeisen describing it as a workshop, without the back-and-forth dialogue that typically characterizes a town hall.' End of copy.

That gentlemen is what I've seen in this city from day one, not a town hall meeting with back and forth dialogue but a gathering of citizens to be told how it is with no dialogue what so ever, or if a dialogue, it is still presented as a 3 or 4 minute communication in which no one is even listening to.

Copy: 'The review board would have shortened the process and avoided much of the heartache, according to Gukeisen. For him, however, Monday was nothing more than a “dog and pony show.”

“They heard us,” he said. “But they didn’t listen.” End of copy.

That is exactly the way I would tend to think about that is 'A Dog and Pony Show' in that they just don't listen as they already have their minds made up.

Copy: 'Segarra expressed disappointment with the City Council and asked that the body rethink its current charter proposals.' End of copy.

But needless to say mayor, you have been preaching to the choir with your exclamations as to we need to stop kicking the can down the road and then saying we need to do something about our roads and then imposing a $10.00.month/water meter and a $24 million dollar bond to 'clean up the debris of a $160 million dollar debt that this city has allowed to fester and grow,

dailymajor

Which two were arrogant and what did they say or do ?

don76550

I attended that meeting. It is unfortunate that a couple of the council members showed their arrogance.

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