Tempers were high on Tuesday as members of Killeen City Council expressed frustration at being forced to decide the fate of two urgent candidates for the North Killeen Town Center Startup and Small Business Relief programs in the town of Killeen on immediate notice.
The North Killeen Town Center Startup Program and the Town of Killeen Small Business Relief Program were approved and announced in January and were built with $1 million American Rescue Plan Act funding of dollars. The programs have set aside $500,000 for new businesses in downtown Killeen and $500,000 for North Killeen Small Business Relief.
According to Councilman Ken Wilkerson, the goal of both programs was to allow businesses to locate downtown, revitalize it and eventually renovate it in the process.
Councilor Mellisa Brown also clarified that the grants were originally intended for future business owners looking to start their businesses, not to grow existing ones.
However, Deputy Director Danielle Singh said on Tuesday she had been tasked with reviewing more than 100 applications and, with no deadline set, the applications kept pouring in. To complicate the situation, all companies approved for ARPA funding must show how those funds would be used to recoup losses resulting from the pandemic.
As a result, two contestants, Khandiese Cooper and Toni Ringgold, found themselves facing tight deadlines. Both Ringgold and Cooper have set up businesses and are asking for $110,000 and $150,000 respectively. Of those amounts, Ringgold needs $90,000 for the down payment on two small business loans, while Cooper needs $40,000 to secure the down payment on a physical location.
under the gun
However, city council members said the way things unfolded on Tuesday lacked transparency or fairness.
“First of all, I think it’s a great idea for both of you. Both of your presentations were excellent, looking at the business plans, I understand what they mean and what you intend to do for the community,” Councilman Ken Wilkerson said. “But I’ll say this: you probably don’t have to worry about getting funded because of how this process has worked — because we’re under pressure to approve you.”
Wilkerson later said by email that the city council was “making the process more fair and just” and that he assumed he was the only one who thought it was inappropriate to consider the two candidates. before the others.
Councilman Rick Williams said the rushed nature of Ringgold and Cooper’s nominations had “failed” the city as well as the candidates, and that the candidates should be given the opportunity to be tried together.
“Everyone who submitted an entry and was reviewed should have the opportunity to be judged together. There’s nothing I’ve seen that says we make exceptions to bring in one or two at a time. said Williams.
Williams clarified that he ‘certainly supports’ the plaintiff’s businesses and said Ringgold and Cooper’s move from a ‘home base’ to a downtown structure echoes the program’s intent. .
“However, I also want to make sure that we can be transparent about what we are doing, so that when we come back to it, it will appear that everyone who took the time to submit had a fair chance to get their share. money. , and I think as a city we let them down and we let you down,” he said. “I think we can do better, and we should have done better.”
Councilwoman Nina Cobb pointed out that, of what Brown estimated to be about 64 total complete applications, Ringgold and Cooper’s applications accounted for 26% of the $1 million total.
“Starting this business is 26% of our million dollars, and we have 20 pages of people with great ideas,” she said.
To take part
Despite their objections to the process, City Council ultimately approved the Letter of Intent by a 5-1 vote. Williams voted to abstain, but without legal or ethical disqualification, City Attorney Traci Briggs said that his vote would be counted as a no.
Strictly speaking, the letter of intent does not specify an approved amount for Ringgold or Cooper; rather, it simply says that the city council intends to approve their applications, funding by funding them in the process.
The city council also set a deadline for nominations, April 12, after Councilwoman Jessica Gonzalez moved to do so with unanimous support.
Gonzalez noted that she knew the candidates through the city council and that Ringgold was hired for a family event.
Mayor Debbie Nash-King was forced to interrupt several council members when their three-minute deadline expired.
Additionally, Brown was repeatedly shut down as she attempted to call two separate points of order, one in response to a member of city council calling for a vote when there was no motion on the ground and another in response to a member of the municipal council attempting to open discussion on the point currently in question.