West U voters turned out in record numbers Saturday to elect a slate of candidates who campaign against a land swap between the city and the West U Baptist Church that would have created a Super Block of city buildings and a new Youth Center.
The slate includes two former West U Mayors — Burt Ballanfant and Bob Kelly — as well as attorney Brennan Reilly and Mardi Turner.
Mayor Pro Tem Susan Sample was elected mayor without opposition. She received 1,283 votes.
Several thousand voters participated in the municipal election, handing a sweep to the slate of “anti-Super Block” candidates. The victorious candidates held a victory party Saturday evening at Little Matt’s, a popular hamburger restaurant owned by West U businessman Jim Reid. Reid who contributed $2,000 to Kelly’s campaign.
The candidates on the slate popped open a bottle of champagne when the final results were delivered, offering each other a toast of congratulations.
“Remember, this is a republic, not a democracy. This is democracy in action,” said Kelly, who was the top council vote-getter, with 1,273 votes. Kelly was referring to a comment made last year by outgoing Mayor Bob Fry.
Ballanfant, who received 1,264 votes, said, “I think we will have a very productive council.”
Reilly, who received 1,234 votes, said: “I am looking forward to starting right away on restoring citizen-driven decision-making,” to the West U council.
Turner, who received 1,190 votes, said, “West U is a democracy. Our citizens have spoken.”
Former councilman and Mayor Pro Tem Steven Segal came in fifth in the race, receiving 679 votes. The other candidates were Bruce Beneke, with 596 votes; Phil Snyder, with 515 votes, and Sonny Brandtner, who had 442 votes.
The real estate negotiations between the church and the city of West U triggered a community controversy, after the city council voted in mid-October to approve a long-range Municipal Facilities Plan that included proposed real estate transactions with four residential property owners and the Baptist Church.
The city had been working on creating a block of buildings — bordered by University Blvd., College, Amherst and Auden Sts. — when the church announced that it had received an anonymous $3 million donation to build a new Youth Center on its property on Amherst.
The city and the church have been negotiating over a land swap that would have allowed the church to build the Youth Center on city-owned land at 3826 Million St., in exchange for church-owned land on Amherst.
The city’s Public Works maintenance facility, currently located on Milton, was to be moved to city-owned property on Dincans St., near Westpark. But, the city was blocked from issuing $3 million in certificates of obligation to finance that move, after candidate Reilly and other opponents collected 946 signatures on a petition to force a public vote on the additional $3 million in city debt.
Although those petitions have not been verified, the city council last week tabled the issuance of the debt, as well as a vote on its Master Plan and a vote on the real estate deal with the church.
Meanwhile, the church is apparently preparing to proceed with its initial plan to construct the new Youth Center on its Amherst property.
Ballanfant served as mayor of West U 2003 to 2007. Prior to that, he served as Mayor Pro-Tem from 1999-2001. Kelly, who served as mayor from 2007 to 2011, is an attorney who has lived in West U for about 38 years.
Reilly is an attorney who specializes in Employee Retirement Income Security Act. Turner is a West U resident who served on the Parks and Recreation Board for six years. Prior to that, Turner served on the Recycling and Solid Waste Reduction Board and she has been a proponent of recycling yard waste
Both Ballanfant and Turner also have been proponents of West U’s acquisition of additional parkland.