Killeen’s municipal election is over.
The results have been tallied — not once but twice, thanks to a requested recount.
The mayor and three at-large council members have been sworn in.
It stands to reason, then, that the newly elected council should be getting down to business.
Unfortunately, Mellisa Brown, the incumbent council candidate who finished a close fourth in the voting, doesn’t happen to agree — going so far as to file a lawsuit to contest the results.
So now the city is operating under a legal cloud while its elected members wait for a judge to rule on the suit.
No doubt, the May 7 election was close, with Brown finishing just 26 votes behind third-place candidate Ramon Alvarez for the final at-large seat.
Even before the official results were posted, Brown indicated she would request a recount — which is understandable given the closeness of the election.
Because of Brown’s pending recount request, the council candidates’ planned swearing-in ceremonies were delayed a week. As a result, only Mayor Debbie Nash-King took the oath of office prior to the May 14 council meeting.
The recount — for which Brown paid a fee of $3,000 — was a painstaking hand count of 19,000 ballots from across Bell County, since Killeen voters could legally vote at any county polling site. The recount, which started at 10 a.m. last Sunday, was not completed until 10:30 p.m.
And although the hand count resulted in Brown closing the gap on Alvarez by two votes, she still fell short of winning reelection.
But instead of bowing out gracefully, Brown filed a lawsuit on Monday in 146th District Court, seeking an emergency injunction to stop the city from swearing in Alvarez — which was scheduled for Monday afternoon.
However, no judicial action was taken on the suit, so the city proceeded with the swearing-in ceremony for Alvarez, Jose Segarra and Ken Wilkerson, as planned.
Regardless, Brown is forging ahead with her lawsuit, which names only Alvarez as a contestee, or defendant.
In addition to asking for a temporary restraining order preventing the installation of Alvarez as a council member, Brown’s lawsuit also seeks to have a judge order a new election between Alavrez and Brown.
The lawsuit alleges that the county failed to provide adequate training to election workers, that there was a problem with voting cards, and that a polling location was changed without proper notice. Because of these issues and the closeness of the election, she states, the outcome of the election may have been impacted.
These points seem to have some merit, but let’s examine them a little more closely.
First, naming only Alvarez in the lawsuit makes little sense. As a candidate, he had nothing to do with the alleged issues that may have impacted the vote totals. The fact that the county was not named in the suit, or even the city of Killeen, is more than a bit confusing.
Second, any alleged problems with election worker training, voting cards or polling locations are likely to have affected the other candidates in the race to an equal degree — if, indeed those problems existed.
Finally, calling for a second election between only herself and Alvarez ignores the dynamics of the original election, in which voters were allowed to vote for three of the six candidates on the ballot. Many voters may have chosen both Brown and Alvarez on their ballots — or neither. Asking them to choose one or the other in a pseudo runoff does not seem to be an equitable solution.
It’s likely that a visiting judge will be asked to rule on the suit, and when he or she does, it will be interesting to see what comes down from the bench.
Certainly, Brown deserves whatever consideration the courts are willing to give, if she has a legitimate case.
As a councilwoman, Brown has worked diligently to be an advocate for residents and has not shied away from asking the hard questions. To her credit, she has pushed for ethics reform and greater transparency among council members.
But it’s also worth asking whether Brown’s continued efforts to change the outcome of the election don’t have the potential to damage her image and reputation.
Brown’s refusal to accept the results casts a shadow over Councilman Alvarez’s legitimate electoral victory, and by extension, the city’s voters as well.
Given the wearisome national preoccupation with grievance-based politics, it’s unfortunate that Killeen’s municipal election has been tarred with the same brush.
No doubt, Brown feels she has more to give the city’s residents, and she would like to continue her work as a council member for the next two years.
Certainly, no one can fault her for wanting to extend her time on the dais — especially since her term was shortened when the 2020 city election was pushed back to November because of concerns surrounding the spread of the coronavirus.
But is forcing your way back onto the council the best way to go about it?
At a time when the newly elected mayor and council are trying to make a fresh start, the request for a judicial mandate or new election is a major distraction.
Moreover, if Brown were to succeed in removing a duly elected and sworn council member after the fact, it could prove divisive —both to the remaining council members and the community as a whole.
Make no mistake, Brown has every right to use the legal system to address what she considers inequities in the recent election, just as she had every right to request a recount of the votes.
However, she would be better served to focus her efforts on preparing for a future campaign, rather than trying to litigate the last one to her advantage.
The city’s final election tally showed that Brown had considerable support: 1,748 voters chose her on their ballot. Had it not been for Segarra’s decision to run for a council seat after being term-limited as mayor, it’s conceivable that Brown might have secured reelection to her seat.
Of course, that’s just speculation — as is the conjecture that changed polling locations and lack of election worker training may have impacted the candidates disproportionately.
At this point, the best thing Brown can do is to look to the future and not try to litigate the past. That means withdrawing her lawsuit.
Doing so would not be an admission of defeat. Rather, it would demonstrate a willingness to move forward in the spirit of unity, for the good of the city.
Brown could also issue a statement of her commitment to continue advocating for residents as a private citizen, while also leaving open the possibility of a future council campaign.
That’s the mark of an astute politician.
And that’s the kind of leadership Killeen’s residents both need and deserve.
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