Candidates Reveal Different Visions at West U Candidate Forum

Tiny town politics were on display for the hundred or so people in attendance at Wednesday night’s City Council Candidate Forum at West University Methodist Church. Eight candidates have signed-up to vie for four spots on the West University Place City Council. Current Mayor Pro-Tem Susan Sample is running unopposed for mayor.

Rev. Carol Bruse, Senior Pastor, welcomed the crowd of about 100 to the forum that was jointly sponsored by the West University Methodist Church, West U Democrats, and the Village News.

Each of the eight candidates delivered a three-minute opening statement, followed by a series of questions from Channel 13’s Tom Koch. Koch’s questions were followed by a one-minute response from each candidate. The candidates answered the questions in alphabetical order – Burt Ballanfant first, Mardi Turner last.

The questions were collected from the audience and the asked questions were chosen by Marie Monroe, from the West U Democrats, and Ben Ballanfant, junior partner and writer from the Village News (also candidate Burt Ballanfant’s son).

The biggest disagreement among the eight candidates was about the efficiency of West U’s municipal government.

The “slate” of four candidates – Ballanfant, Brennan Reilly, Turner and Bob Kelly – painted a portrait of inefficiency and a lack of transparency in West U’s municipal government. All four “slate” candidates were critical of the current mayor, city council, and city manager.

The four independent candidates – Bruce Beneke, Sonny Brandtner, Steven Segal and Phil Snyder – seemed to take the view that the execution of West U city services and the administration of West U municipal government are substantially efficient.

Other topics discussed –

West University Baptist Church Youth Center
“Slate” candidates Kelly, Reilly and Turner seemed to have reversed their earlier opposition to a church youth center proposed by West University Baptist Church. However, Ballanfant refused to state his opinion. The independent candidates have always supported allowing the youth center’s construction.

There seemed to be acknowledgement from all candidates that West University Baptist Church can, and will, build a youth facility. The question is where?

The Skinny: WUBC will either build its youth center on property the church now owns on the south side of Amherst Street that abuts the West U  City Hall parking lot where they already have city approval to operate the youth ministry center. Or they will trade that land to the City of West University Place for the land at 3826 Milton St. which is the current location of the 60-year-old Public Works Maintenance Facility. If the latter happens, WUBC would build the youth center at 3826 Milton St.

Relocation of the Public Works Maintenance Facility
The city council recently approved a plan to move the Public Works Maintenance Facility outside the city limits.

The facility, now housed at the corner of Milton and College, would move to the city’s now shuttered Recycle Express property on Dincans St. in the City of Houston. The public works maintenance operation houses solid waste and recycling, and the structure also is the home of a full-service vehicle and equipment repair and maintenance facility.

This proposed move is a topic of disagreement among the eight candidates. Ballanfant and Reilly oppose the move, while Snyder and Brandtner support relocating the city’s maintenance functions and vehicle storage lots outside the city limits.

The other candidates are less clear about their thoughts. However the “slate” is circulating a petition for forcing an election on the city’s decision to issue $3 million in bonds to finance the move of the Public Works Maintenance Facility and some other possible land purchases. If the petition is successful the city would have to seek voter approval of the bonds. Rather than force a vote, the WUBC has said it would instead construct its new youth ministry building on Amherst.

What wasn’t discussed

Outsourcing the Functions of the Public Works Maintenance Facility, Specifically the Vehicle Maintenance and Trash Collection
In the February 10 edition of the Village News, “slate”-members Kelly, Reilly and Turner opined that the city council should study the “cost savings that might be realized by outsourcing and not rebuilding” the Public Works Maintenance Facility.

These operations include the trash collection and recycling functions. It is also the storage area for crew trucks, the bucket truck, application equipment for the pavement marking. It includes a full-service vehicle and equipment repair and maintenance facility. The facility services police cars, trash trucks, street sweepers, jet spray trucks, trailer mounted generators (used for emergency power to sanitary sewer lift stations), compressors, excavators and backhoes, dump trucks, flatbeds, the seniors’ bus and various sedans.

Outsourcing of the public works functions and the possible service impacts to the residents from that action are likely to be controversial and were not discussed at the forum Wednesday night.

Purchase of Additional Parkland
For more than a decade, candidates Ballanfant and Turner have been West U’s leading advocates for acquisition of the “Ownby tract” for parkland. This tract includes 38,553 square feet of real estate where Pittsburg terminates at Poor Farm Ditch. The two lots, 3615 Pittsburg and 3619 Pittsburg, have been for sale for $3.6 million. The cost of the land acquisition and capital development of this proposed park could be between $7-$10 million. This issue is likely to be controversial and was not discussed at the forum.

Early voting by personal appearance will be conducted each weekday in the City Hall Council Chambers, 3800 University Blvd., between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. on April 27 – May 1, 2015 and between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. on May 4 – 5, 2015. On May 9, the polls will be open from 7am-7pm. and everyone in West U votes at West University City Hall, 3800 University Boulevard.