Killeen, Texas is a town in the heart of Texas, fitting snugly next to Fort Hood, a bit north of Austin. The population after the 2010 Census worked out to 127,000 or so, not a small town by any description. It rarely makes big news; other than the Fort Hood tragedy in 2009, and a horrible massacre at a Luby’s twenty years ago, you rarely hear about Killeen.
Maybe that’s how the citizens want it. But the latest shocking situation in Killeen bears trumpeting far and wide, and has a much happier ending than the others.
It all started in March, when the city council decided to unload their city manager. Depending on who is telling the story, either he failed to live up to the duties, or he called the city council out on illegal activity. That doesn’t matter so much to the story, though.
What happened next was that the city council voted to pay the city manager $750,000 to buy him out of his contract, rather than the $555,000 his contract entitled him to. Then all hell broke loose.
Resident Jonathan Okray decided to launch a recall effort. He had a month to obtain over one thousand signatures on seven petitions, one for each council member. And he did it for five of the council members.
So the whole thing went to a vote this November. Mixed up in the problems with the city manager were stories about a Good Old Boy network that really ran the city of Killeen. Add some bumper stickers and a dedicated campaign, and you had the potential for change in the city of Killeen.
As the results came in on election night, it soon became apparent that the council members, all five that were being recalled, were out of a job. They reacted with some shock and confusion, and even some bravado: “I don’t know what I’m going to do as far as public service. It seems like a thankless job,” said one ousted council member.
So Killeen gets a chance to make some big changes in the future because a few people did the hard work of holding their government accountable.
It seems pretty sad, after reading this incredible story, that voter turnout in municipal elections is so low. Houston, for example, should be ashamed of itself after the recent election, where no race had turnout of more than 18%. Perhaps that goes to the maxim that the people get the government that they deserve.
And as for Killeen, they deserve quite a bit of their share of good government. They campaigned on and counted on their votes making a difference.