In a 6-1 decision, Killeen City Council members on Tuesday approved an ordinance amendment reducing the number of representatives on the Animal Advisory Committee.
“The inference would be if we cut the number that we’re cutting the citizens’ voices,” Mayor Pro Tem Ken Wilkerson said. “It appears to be that way on its face but, in fact, the committee’s goal is to get things done. And unfortunately, when you go to committee work ... sometimes it can get inefficient in that process.”
The move came four months after multiple members of the city’s Animal Advisory Committee resigned in protest.
“While we had good people on it and people with great hearts and a mind toward pets and animals and things of that nature, we just could not get anything done with just the girth of the committee,” Wilkerson said. “These committee meetings are open to the public. Anything that is brought forward from that committee to the council, again, you have the mechanism of coming here. It’s not silencing the committee. It’s not silencing the citizens.”
The existing ordinance provides that the Animal Advisory Committee consists of 11 members, including seven “citizen” representatives. Texas law requires the committee include at least one licensed veterinarian, a city official, “one person whose duties include the daily operation of the city’s animal shelter” and a representative of an animal welfare organization.
The members of such committees are also required to meet at least three times a year, according to state law.
“I think that having four citizens on the Animal Advisory Committee ... is fine,” said Anca Neagu, one of the four committee members who resigned in September. “I don’t think that’s a problem. However, the justification for reducing the number of citizens on the committee is not (legitimate). The citizens were no longer allowed to communicate with (city) staff directly.”
Reducing or adding positions to the committee requires an ordinance amendment. On Tuesday, the amendment was approved when the agenda item was pulled from the consent agenda.
“Even outside of what was said this evening, I’ve (had) numerous calls about dropping the number of constituents,” Councilman Riakos Adams said.
He and Wilkerson are subcommittee members. After Adams’ motion to disapprove the change failed when he didn’t receive a second motion, the number of positions on the committee was reduced from 11 to eight.
“I’ve seen this committee grow,” Councilman Jose Segarra said. “We want to see something good come out of less. They’ve gotten frustrated. These are people who want to serve, but I’ve heard a lot of their frustrations and a lot of those just quit.”
In September, Linda Marzi, Shirley Del Conte, Vicky Duke and Neagu tendered their resignations during the public-comment period of a City Council meeting, citing a culture of apathy among city officials.
The euthanasia rate was central to the members’ resignations, with Marzi repeatedly criticizing the city for “killing animals for space” and Del Conte offering a more severe response.
“I believe there’s a special place in hell for those who choose to mistreat and even kill healthy animals while trying to justify what they do,” she said during the meeting in September. “I finally realized recently that nothing is ever going to change.”
Council members Nina Cobb, Michael Boyd, Segarra, Wilkerson, Jessica Gonzalez, Ramon Alvarez and Adams voted for the change in the committee’s size Tuesday. Adams voted against it.
As subcommittee members, Wilkerson and Adams appoint the Animal Advisory Committee members. They are Sue Cummings, Dr. Michael Joyner, Dr. Pat Davis, Janice Holladay, Monique Brand, shelter manager Jessica Green and Assistant City Manager Danielle Singh.
Following a public hearing, council members unanimously approved changes to the ordinance that governs the vacant structure registration program focused on fines assessed against non-compliant property owners.
“We’ve head overwhelming support with this particular ordinance,” Gonzalez said. “To the points that were made ... we have to do something different this time to get a different outcome.”
The Vacant Structure Registration ordinance was adopted by City Council members in August 2020.
“The intent of the ordinance is to reduce blight, preserve the historic character, and improve property values in Downtown Killeen,” according to a staff report. “The Vacant Building Registration ordinance requires the owners of vacant buildings within the Historic Overlay District (HOD) to abide by a standard-of-care practice, register their property with the city, and pay an annual registration fee.”
Property owners with unregistered vacant buildings in downtown Killeen could face fines of $2,000 based on changes to the ordinance that include:
Imposing penalties for failure to register from 90 days to 30 days.
Increased penalties for failure to register within the notice period of 30 days, “which include ... a misdemeanor and upon conviction in municipal court,” and fines for each offense, with every day “constituting a separate offense.”
Increased structure inspections to include external and internal inspections to ensure the structure complies with “minimum standards of care.”
Allowing for the re-inspection of structures in a more timely manner if the initial inspection deems the structure non-compliant with minimum standards of care requirements.
Increased penalties for failure to bring the building into compliance with the minimum standards of care in a timely manner that include a possible misdemeanor conviction and fines up to $2,000 per day for each offense.
“I have two businesses downtown regarding this subject,” Michael Austin said during the public hearing. “What’s happening with these vacant buildings ... they start to decay, the windows are broken and some of these people are breaking into the windows. They go into the buildings, and they live in there. They totally devastate the buildings inside. They even live underneath the flooring.”
Fines range from $250 to $2,000 per day for property owners who do not register.
The city’s historic district, in north Killeen, is bounded by Avenue A, Santa Fe Plaza, North Fourth Street and North Eighth Street. To protect the integrity of the area, the Killeen City Council more than two years ago created the program “to compel property owners to make needed repairs to their historically significant buildings and attract new and expanding businesses to downtown Killeen.”
The fee to register a vacant structure is $500 for the first year it is vacant, according to the city’s website. After the first year, the registration fee increases by $50 per year for each year the building remains vacant.
“Any time we do something like this, we always hear two sides,” Segarra said. “This right here just shows that, for the most part, I think we’re all on one side. I think everybody wants our downtown cleaned up. my only concern.
“I do believe in this ordinance, and I believe that it will be effective.”
At registration, the city also collects an inspection fee for one cent per square foot. For property owners who fail to register their building by the registration deadline, a $150 late fee is assessed.
“Staff began enforcing the ordinance in November 2020,” a staff report shows. “At that time, there were approximately 22 vacant buildings in HOD. In total, only 11 buildings have ever been registered as vacant.”
Eight buildings were registered in 2021. Of those, six were not re-registered last year, and two are occupied. Three properties were registered in 2022.