andidates for the Killeen city election and Killeen ISD board took part Saturday in a political forum put on by Innovation Black Chamber of Commerce.
Eleven of the 14 candidates who will appear on the May 7 ballot for the city and KISD elections took part in the 4½-hour program.
The lightly attended event was held at the Vive Les Arts Theater in Killeen.
Several issues were brought up as items for discussion for the four candidates for mayor, but the main topic was jobs and how jobs could be brought into Killeen.
One of the types of jobs mentioned were tech jobs.
Candidate Holly Teel, who is a self-proclaimed gamer, said the tech jobs are the future.
“We do need technology jobs in Killeen; technology jobs do pay” Teel said, “Technology is going to put our kids on the right path, but we need to bring technology in.”
Incumbent Mayor Debbie Nash-King said Killeen doesn’t need just tech companies, but any company, to come in.
“We will take any company that comes into the city of Killeen,” Nash-King said, “We have to be able to work with them and give them incentives to come in here.”
Patsy Bracey, former chairwoman of the Senior Advisory Board, said that there just aren’t enough jobs that can cater to a lot of residents in Killeen.
“I think that’s the biggest problem we have, is that we don’t market what have here,” Bracey said.
James Everard, a welder and community organizer, said he believes that Killeen shouldn’t just be looking at tech companies but manufacturing companies as well.
“If we are going to bring technology into Killeen, then that is going to give some jobs to people in Killeen,” Everard said. He touched upon this further in response to a question asked by a resident.
“We have an abundant workforce of people that are already educated in manufacturing, but the problem is that we do not have manufacturing jobs here,” Everard said.
Conversation was then switched over to funding and downtown revitalization.
Nash-King explained the process that the council goes through every year when it comes to establishing a budget and spending.
Everard asserted that there wasn’t much transparency when it came to where citizen tax dollars were being spent, but responding to his comments, Nash-King noted that the budget was on the city’s website.
“I wished I knew more of what is going on in the inner workings of how tax dollars are spent in the city,” Everard said.
“The city is responsible to be transparent on what they do with our money,” Teel said.
Teel also claimed that the city says it is going to fix areas but never does. Teel used an area in the city that is referred to as the “donut hole” as an example.
“I think funding should be spent on safety and roads,” Bracey said, “I also think that we should continue to improve downtown.”
Nash-King said that small businesses are important to Killeen and also to downtown Killeen.
“If we get downtown Killeen revitalized and small businesses out there, then downtown Killeen could become the hub,” Nash-King said.
City Council Candidates
Five of the six Killeen City Council candidates spoke on a range of issues, but downtown and small businesses remained a large talking point.
Candidate Leo Gukeisen was not in attendance.
“One of the issues that faces the success of downtown revitalization is the surrounding residential areas and the better we improve these surrounding residential areas, we will get more foot traffic from these areas to these small businesses in downtown,” said candidate Ramon Alvarez.
Jose Segarra, a former Killeen mayor and now a city council candidate, spoke on how businesses are important to downtown’s revitalization.
“I think what any business needs whether it’s online or brick and mortar, is foot traffic,” Segarra said.
Segarra also mentioned how he thinks with the developing apartment complexes in the area will help and shared some criticisms he had with the historic district of downtown and how it limits building.
“I think every city needs a core and needs to build around that core” Mayor Pro Tem and candidate Rick Williams said. “We have Christmas celebrations in downtown to show people that we have a great downtown, but we need businesses in downtown.”
Incumbent City Councilman Ken Wilkerson, who is seeking re-election, said that while revitalization is important, other parts of the city such as North Killeen should also be looked at.
“The better we have a downtown that people can commute to, the better the city will be for it,” Wilkerson said. “We can’t just look at the downtown area because we are not looking at the multitude of people.”
Councilwoman Mellisa Brown, who is seeking re-election, said that downtown revitalization isn’t the only thing that the city needs to improve upon.
“Foot traffic does not do us any good if people are just window shopping; we need to improve economically,” Brown said.
At the end, the candidates shared their views and visions for the future of Killeen.
Wilkerson spoke on what he calls “bad planning” has led to the issues that the city faces but remained optimistic.
“We are catching up from that right now,” Wilkerson said, “We need your help to determine what you want Killeen to be.”
Segarra said that the city needs to start placing focus on the cities outside of Killeen and their growth.
“As leaders, growth is the biggest challenge that we have out here,” Segarra said, “Right now, you see a lot of growth in north Austin, and we need to start preparing for that.”
Alvarez said that he was unsure on what Killeen was going to look like in the future but said that he was optimistic on the city’s growth and possible companies coming to the area. But he seemed pretty positive on the growth of south Killeen.
“I can see south Killeen growing itself as more families begin to move in,” Alvarez said.
“When it comes to cities, you city is either growing or dying, and right now I think our city is swollen and has swollen in population and right now we need to focus on growing our city … Right now,” Williams said. “And right now, I think our future is bright.”
Brown said, “I would say to prepare for the fact that stakeholders are changing and every citizen is a stakeholder and theyre more important than any chamber or business that comes out here.”
KISD candidates shared their views at the beginning of the forum. The only candidates who did not appear were Gerald Dreher and David Jones.
A topic of discussion that has been going on since the beginning of the year has been the dwindling staff of KISD.
“We need to have a long term strategy,” said Lenna Barr, who is running for Place 3 on the KISD Board of Trustees.
Barr stressed the need for efforts to show high school students the values of teaching and possibly offer internships.
Barr’s opponent, Oliver Mintz, said pay raises are also the key.
“We have got to make KISD a place that people want to come to,” Mintz said.
Place 1 candidate Brenda Adams shared the same views on pay raises.
“We need to be innovative and creative. I am all in favor of pay increases,” Adams said.
Adams also criticized the district’s decision to hire outside of the district when there are employees in the district who have put both effort and care in the children.
Board Vice President Susan Jones, who is seeking re-election, said the teacher shortage isn’t unique to KISD but is an issue throughout the United States. She noted that discussions to bring in more teachers are frequent on the board.
“They are just stressed. They are tired. Teachers are just not respected,” Jones said. “They are raising the children of our society, not just educating.”