West U elections – Who is in? Who is out?
(Note- This is an updated version of an article in the January edition of the West University Essentials magazine.)
It doesn’t seem that long since the smoke cleared from the last, incendiary municipal elections — and here they come again, with the mayor and four City Council seats up for grabs on May 6. But it appears the matches and lighter fluid won’t be part of this year’s campaigns.
Two years ago, local politics in West University Place were angry. Rice Boulevard yards next to West University Elementary School were covered with “Stop the Super Block” signs, and the perceived fear of massive redevelopment gave birth to a slate of candidates that took all four council seats. The only independent, Susan Sample, ran unopposed to claim the mayor’s seat.
Cliché-wise, the Super Block issue is now as extinct as a dodo, and the mood of the city is as fit as a fiddle.
The slate of candidates that won in 2015 showed unanimity in its shelving of the Super Block proposal but showed lock-step unity on little else. The early months of this term of the City Council began a little rough — sometimes even downright nasty. But now, the barbs have disappeared, the language has softened, the mood has mellowed. Government is operating in the harmonious style that West U leaders have historically favored.
Most votes were have been unanimous with Mayor Sample commanding a governing majority that included Councilmember Mardi Turner and often included both Councilmember Burt Ballanfant and Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kelly.
When there was a divided vote, it was usually 4-1, and Councilmember Brennan Reilly was almost always the lone dissenter.
Reality is that there’s little to raise the temperature in council chambers. General agreement is that the state of the city is excellent. A responsible budget was recently adopted with little fanfare — only three residents voiced any opposition or concerns.
A benevolent lifelong resident passed and left his property to the city, along with $200,000, to develop the two lots at the northwest corner of Sewanee Avenue and Pittsburgh Street into a passive neighborhood park. West U is on the glide — no contentious issues to divide our residents for this election.
There is little disagreement. Arguably the only issue that seems to rattle the voters is a perception of increased crime. So the issues of public safety and how to deal with concerns about creeping crime are likely to be the significant talking points leading up to the May election.
Current mayor and city councilmembers
Mayor Susan Sample, who served as a mayor pro tem for two terms before becoming mayor, is running for re-election. She is overjoyed by the gift of the new Jennie Elizabeth Hughes Park. Sample says the location, at 6446 Sewanee Ave., is precisely in the section of West U identified in two parks master plans as needing a park.
Sample is proud of the federal funding the city received to reconstruct Buffalo Speedway and believes a careful design of its redevelopment will help eradicate flooding concerns in West University Place.The mayor was instrumental in the adoption of a trial surveillance camera system that she believes will be a useful tool to assist the police department in solving crimes. She hopes to expand the trial program during the term of the next ccouncil.
The mayor was instrumental in the adoption of a trial surveillance camera system that she believes will be a useful tool to assist the police department in solving crimes. She hopes to expand the trial program during the term of the next ccouncil.
She is disappointed that sometimes there is a lack of respect among some of the council, but is happy they body is able to decide most issues with a unanimous, or a near unanimous, vote.
Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kelly is not running for reelection. Kelly, a long-time political fixture in West University Place, has served eight years on the city’s elected body, four as mayor and four as mayor pro tem.
Kelly believes this council was elected to restore stability and confidence in city government, and he believes that has been accomplished.
He has a keen interest in encouraging other citizens to run for the City Council, he says, a part of his life he has enjoyed immensely.
Councilmember Burt Ballanfant says right now it is his plan to run for re-election. Prior to his current term, Ballanfant served on City Council from 1999-2001, and was mayor from 2003-2007. He was appointed as a member of the METRO board of directors from 2007-2011.
Ballanfant feels this council’s greatest accomplishment was making the personnel changes the citizens wanted, namely the removal of the previous city manager, an action performed by a 3-2 vote in the summer of 2015.
Councilmember Brennan Reilly is completing his first term on the city council. Reilly would not reveal whether he intends to run for re-election or for mayor and did not respond to the same questions posed to other incumbents about their accomplishments and disappointments. Reilly previously served one term on the West U Parks Board.
Councilmember Mardi Turner is running for reelection, and his proud of her service during her first term of office.
Turner cites a grocery list of proud accomplishments during her council term. She was instrumental in adopting a policy change to divert green waste, or yard clippings, from the solid waste landfill and instead compost the green waste for reuse. Two new parks, Colonial West End and Jennie Elizabeth Hughes Park, are also at the top of that list. Lowering the tax rate for both years, approving security cameras and indexing audio recording of all City Council meetings for online citizen access round out the accomplishments.
Turner says she is disappointed by the frequent lack of civility during council meetings.
Prior to her City Council service, Turner served on both the West University Place Recycling & Solid Waste Reduction Board and the West U Parks Board.
The possible challengers
Bruce Beneke is a 20-year resident of West University Place who lives on Tangley Street. He retired from Apache Corp., an oil and gas company.
Beneke ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 2015. He currently serves on the Building and Standards Commission.
Wayne Franklin moved to West U in 2009 and lives on Dartmouth Street. The seven-year resident is married to journalist Rachel McNeill, who is an anchor with KPRC-2 TV.
Franklin is a board certified cardiologist and a member of the faculty at the Baylor School of Medicine where he serves as a faculty senator.
The father of two sons, 5 and 8, who attend West University Elementary School, Franklin is serving his second term on the West University Parks Board.
Bob Higley is a 45-year resident of West University Place and resides on Belmont Street. His wife, Laura, was West U mayor from 1989-1991. She is currently a justice on the First Court of Appeals, where she has served since 2002.
Higley is a financial advisor with Wells Fargo. He has served three terms on the Zoning and Planning Commission, and was previously a member of the Charter Review Committee.
Michael Kaplan is a 16-year resident of West University Place. He and his wife of 15 years live on Robinhood Street. He is Senior Vice President/Wealth Manager at Morgan Stanley.
Kaplan, the father of four, has two children at West University Elementary School. He has been the Republican precinct chair and precinct judge of precinct 183 for three years.
Orval Marlow — who lives appropriately enough on Marlowe Street — moved to West U in 1988. The 28-year resident is an attorney and a partner in a commercial practice law firm.
Marlow is one of the longest serving members of the Recycling and Solid Waste Reduction Board; he currently serves as its chairperson.
Owen Rutz moved to West U in 1989. The 27-year resident is the chairman of the Facilities Master Plan Task Force, an appointed volunteer board that was charged with evaluating city facilities. He is also a member of the Recycling and Solid Waste Reduction Board, where he is serving his second term.Rutz, who lives on Plumb Street, says various people have asked him to run for the City Council but will only consider running if one, or more, of the current
Rutz, who lives on Plumb Street, says various people have asked him to run for the City Council but will only consider running if one, or more, of the current councilmembers does not seek reelection.
Dick Yehle is a 27-year resident of West University Place who previously served three terms on the city council, 2005-2007, and 2011-2015.
Yehle, a resident of Rutgers Avenue, is retired from Marathon Oil Corporation where he was a commercial manager for international and exploration production. Yehle was a member of the Zoning and Planning Commission for three terms and served one term on the Zoning Board of Adjustment.
West University Place Election Facts
The City of West University Place holds its general elections to choose a mayor and four councilmembers in May of odd-numbered years. The next general election in West U will be held on Saturday, May 6 with polls open from 7 a.m.-7 p.m.
Filing for Office
The first day to file an application for a place on the ballot is Jan. 18, and the filing deadline is Feb. 17.
A qualified resident who desires to become a candidate for city office must file with the city secretary a signed, sworn application for his or her name to appear on the ballot along wit a petition signed by at least 25 qualified voters recommending the candidate.
To qualify to be a candidate to serve as the mayor or a councilmember, a person must be: (1) at least 21 years of age, (2) be a resident of and have resided in the city for at least 12 months immediately preceding the election, and (3) and be qualified to vote in the city.