Council Tables Master Plan, Church Deal, Debt

May 4, 2015

Updated 5.5.2015 7:18am

Dozens of opponents of the city of West U’s long-range Master Plan for Municipal Facilities were surprised and delighted Monday night, when the West U City Council tabled consideration of a 2015 Master Plan, a land swap with West U Baptist Church, and the issuance of $3 million in debt to finance a part of the plan.

Mayor Pro Tem Susan Sample made the motions to table the controversial issues just five days before the city election that will be held Saturday. Sample is running unopposed in her bid to serve as the next mayor of West U.

A slate of four candidates — Brennan Reilly, former Mayors Bob Kelly and Burt Ballanfant, and Mardi Turner — who opposed the so-called “Super Block” wound up congratulating the council.

Independent candidate Steven Segal also praised the council’s decision.

The three votes were unanimous, with Councilman Ed Heathcott, a deacon at the church, recusing himself.

Councilmember Dick Yehle joked he had been the recipient of “one or two emails” in the last few days from dozens of West U residents who were among the 946 signers of a petition to block the council from issuing $3,050,000 in certificates of obligation to finance moving the Public Works maintenance facility to city-owned property on Dincans St.

The petition, which was submitted to the city last week, has not yet been verified.

West U Mayor Bob Fry defended the council’s actions to update a 2006 Master Plan, which began in early 2014.

“We instructed staff to start making plans in January of 2014. We knew we had facilities that were beyond their useful life. But everything in this plan came up in prior councils,” Fry said.

The mayor also defended the council’s decision to enter into real estate negotiations for a “land swap” with West U Baptist Church, which wants to build a new Youth Center near its campus. The city and the church are still involved in real estate negotiations involving a potential “land swap” of church-owned property on Amherst and the city’s Public Works maintenance facilities on Milton.

That would free up property for the so-called “Super Block” for a municipal campus bordered by University, Auden, College and Amherst.

“There’s been a lot of vilification of the church in all of this, and they do not deserve it,” Fry said. “The vilification has been just plain wrong, and I’m sorry for it.”

Reilly said that he agreed with Fry about the criticism of the church. But, Reilly said the real issue was one of “transparency.”

Reilly said that he had recently received a telephone call from another West U resident, who suggested that Reilly try to compromise on the Super Block issue.

“There are things going on behind the scenes,” Reilly said. “There shouldn’t be an intermediary who reaches out to me to see if I will accept a compromise.”

Ballanfant said, “I appreciate the restraint the council has shown tonight.”

Kelly thanked the council for their action, but he continued to criticized their October, 2014 decision to approve a long-range plan.

“What you did was implement” a plan, Kelly said. “Before implementation, you should find out if the support is there.”

He added: “I do thank you for your service. I know it’s a tough job.”

Turner simply thanked the council for tabling action on all three issues.

“I think it was very wise of you to postpone voting on all of these items,” Turner said.

Segal said, “I’ve tabled my response because I got what I expected this council to do.”

West U resident Michelle Moore thanked the council, but urged them not to proceed with the long-range plan before the next council takes office in about a month.

“I hope this means you rrecognize the groundswell of opposition,” Moore said. She urged the council “not to consummate” a deal with West U Baptist Church before they leave office.

“Please leave these transactions for the next council,” Moore said.