At least six candidates, many who’ve been galvanized and inspired to run by current events, have applied for the Waco City Council’s open District Four seat.
The deadline to be considered for appointment to the seat is 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Current councilman Dillon Meek, who announced plans to run for mayor of Waco last year, had to step down after buying and moving to a home outside of his district with his family. When COVID-19 unexpectedly delayed 2020’s May election to November 3, Waco City Council members announced they would be interviewing candidates to fill the position until the election.
Kelly Mariah Palmer, a social worker with the Baylor University School of Social Work, filed June 5.
“I decided to run now because I believe we’re in a really dynamic moment in our city’s history and I want to be a part of shaping the future of Waco,” Palmer said. “A future marked by equity and the flourishing of all our neighbors.”
She said she mostly engages with Waco’s community through advocacy and education work, and has not yet served on any city boards or commissions.
“I’m really passionate about some of the complex social issues facing our community and finding ways to raise the level of public consciousness and awareness,” Palmer said.
Rick Allen, a case manager at Veterans One Stop, would be returning to the council. He was first elected to the council in 2007.
“I would like to be on council now because I’m no longer president of the Waco Habitat [For Humanity] board, and I’m no longer on any other boards right now, and I have the time to do it,” Allen said.
Allen, who works with veterans in crisis, said society itself is in crisis. He said his previous experience as an NAACP member and his work with the city’s race relations coalition give him some insight into resolving racial issues.
Darius Lamont Ewing, a Realtor at Rydell Real Estate, said he first became interested in city politics through his friendship with his former coworker, Dillon Meek. He has lived in Waco for the last four years.
“I started to think. I personally know… young professionals in town that have no idea how a city is structured, what the chain of command looks like, and that you can call your councilman and get direction on the best way to take advantages of things,” Ewing said.
He said he realized most people he knew didn’t know either, and as a councilman he’d focus on transparency, ease of access and informing the public. He said bringing the public in would hopefully help Waco retain young talent who might otherwise move to Dallas or Austin.
“I think when you pull back that curtain and start to let people know, you start to get buy-in from the community,” Ewing said.
Haydn Ross Harris, who is self-employed, has lived in Waco for 12 years. In that time he’s served on the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and currently serves on the Plan Commission as vice-chair.
“I’ve always been passionate about service and Waco. We live in District Four, are involved in businesses in two other districts, and will have our oldest starting Kindergarten next year in WISD,” Harris said. “There’s a number of issues facing our city right now and I wanted to offer my name and experience to serve District Four and the city at this time.”
Jose Rafael Villanueva, a self-employed attorney who has lived in Waco since 2003 and served on several city commissions over the years, said he’s been heavily involved in the community since he moved here and has been asked to run by many people over the years. Villanueva said he’s especially concerned with issues of racial equity and said he thinks efforts to address racism so far have been mostly surface level.
“The task that needs to be done in Waco is too important to leave to those who might not be allies,” Villanueva said.
Austin Meek, who is not related to Dillon Meek, is best known for his role on KWBU 103.3 FM’s Downtown Depot. He said after moving to Waco with his wife in 2015, he gained an interest in city government. The first guest he ever had on air was current Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver in 2017.
“I just think this is one of the most effective ways I could serve,” Austin Meek said.
Matthew Robert Polk with the Family Health Center initially filed June 12, but withdrew his application.
“After conferring with the city attorney, I was concerned that my participation on council may create a conflict of interest with the important support the city provides to Family Health Center,” Polk said. “I felt it was best to err on the side of caution to ensure that there was no appearance of such a conflict of interest.”