Ballinger City Council election brings out more candidates

Staff Writer
Runnels County Register
There will be 3 Ballinger City Council positions up for grabs in the November election: Single Member District 1; Single member District 3; Single Member District 4.

Ballinger has had a year of political turmoil in which 4 city council members resigned, beginning on January 6th, when 2 councilmen walked out in protest of the council voting to fire former city manager Tommy Turney. The upcoming elections will have 3 seats up for grabs, rather than 2.

Former councilman Jason Gore, who was the council member representing Single Member District (SMD)1, as well as former councilman Bob McDaniel, who represented SMD 3, walked out and resigned after the termination of Turney. Jeff Smith, general manager of KRUN radio, was appointed to fill the Single Member District 1 seat. Ryan Lange was appointed to fill the SMD 3 position.

It was a trial by fire for newly elected mayor Dawni Seymore.

The termination of Turney increased the divide among Turney’s supporters and detractors. Local social media websites were awash with all manner of talk regarding the council and Turney.

The city council then hired Buck LaQuey, who didn’t wait to make waves of his own, demoting then-Streets supervisor Barrett Smith, and subsequently firing him over Smith bringing his pistol to work. The key to that is that when Smith was a supervisor, his termination would have had to go through the council. By demoting him for a few days, LaQuey could then terminate him without council approval. Although, Smith’s termination did have the support of the mayor and at least 1 councilman. When Turney was the city manager, employees were encouraged to legally carry firearms. Smith gave his side of the story to the newspaper but the city declined to comment.

At the March 3rd, LaQuey was asked specifically at the council meeting why Smith was terminated. LaQuey refused to comment. Smith said that when he was in LaQuey’s office, he asked why he was being terminated and LaQuey replied with, “If you don’t know, I’m not going to tell you.” LaQuey was viewed by mans as neither being approachable or concerned with the public perception. After LaQuey was hired, it was discovered that LaQuey had at least one previous sexual harassment complaint that had been settled. The council did not release this information to the public before they hired LaQuey.

Shortly after that March 3rd council meeting, councilwoman Kristi Goetz, who represented SMD 4, resigned. Ultimately, Mike Riley was appointed to take her place when council didn’t accept the nominations of those who spoke up seeking the council position at a previous council meeting.

LaQuey resigned shortly after that and left the city manager spot open for the second time in 3 months. Seymore had spoken at a council meeting about stepping down as mayor and filling in as city manager until a new city manager was hired. She said that afterward, she would step back in to being mayor. According to many, this wasn’t allowed. If she left the mayor position, she couldn’t simply step back into it. The mayor is the deciding vote on many agenda items and leaving that open would have left the council potentially tying 2-2 on every vote.

At that point, the council consisted of Jeff Smith, SMD1; Rick Morrish, SMD2; Ryan Lange, SMD3; Mike Riley SMD4.

May rolled in, with the pandemic in full force as COVID-19 reports confused everyone because there seemed to be no established standard on reporting cases. There were also the pro-maskers and anti-maskers. The city economy was taking a big hit due to the governor shutting much of the state down.

In May, Brian Frieda, the police chief from Sweetwater, was hired as the new city manager. He started work on July 1st. Prior to him starting the job, councilman Jeff Smith resigned, leaving SMD1 open for the second time in 4 months. Ballinger teacher Bryan Manley was appointed to fill Smith’s position.

Frieda has been seen as a good hire by many in the community. He’s been approachable and he’s willing to discuss any topic on your mind. Frieda has an open-door policy and welcomes people who want to talk to him. He was thrown into the crucible and thus far has managed effectively, dealing with challenges left behind by others, as well as new challenges.

One of the biggest issues concerning the citizens of Ballinger has been the water, in a couple of ways. Primarily, people were posting photos of brown and green tinted water flowing into their sinks and bathtubs. The age-old reply was, “The lake is turning over.” People also started receiving exorbitant water bills, some hundreds of dollars over what they had been previously charged. Several people contacted the city manager and posted their water bills on social media. Once again, this brought about angst and frustration from the citizenry. These issues still haven’t been adequately addressed to the satisfaction of many within the community.

One complaint from the public, that has been voiced at city council meetings, is that the city council doesn’t hand out packets regarding the agenda before the council meetings. They post the agenda, but there are items on the “consent agenda” that the public doesn’t see or necessarily know about. Another concern is that the city hasn’t published the minutes of any city council meetings since August 2019. Due to these, and other issues, many view the council has having a lack of transparency. City council meetings, once attended regularly by 15-20 people, with some council meetings having standing room only, have now dwindled down to 4 or 5 people showing up most of the time. The majority of those people are employees, such as police chief Stan Maresch and fire fighter Brent Allen.

Ballinger Printing owner, Steve Gray, has been at almost every council meeting, addressing the council and their responses to people over numerous issues. Shortly after election registration opened, Gray threw his hat in the ring to represent SMD 4, “I have long been dissatisfied with city government, accountability, & general lack of transparency. For years I have preached to the kids if you see something that needs to be done, you do it, don’t wait for someone else to do it, and I can’t expect them to heed the words I avoid. So, I decided you can either cry from the sidelines or you can get on the field and play; and it is my turn to serve the people of my city.”

Chard Hardy, a local entrepreneur and businessman, is a frequent attendee at the coucil meetings, often asking for explanations regarding decisions the council makes. At times, Hardy has been critical of council decisions, but he has also offered solutions. He has entered the race for the SMD3 position, currently held by Lange.

Barrett Smith, the terminated Streets supervisor and volunteer fire fighter, has entered the election for SMD1, running against Ken Manley, who also has filed to run.

Mike Riley has filed to run for his current position, SMD4.

The reason that there are 3 council seats up for election is due to the resignations of the 3 council members representing those districts. When a council member resigns and someone is appointed to that seat by the council, the seat must be part of the next general election for the voters to decide. Morrish was elected last year and his seat isn’t up for election until next year, when the mayor’s seat will also be up for election.

The 2019 elections showed just how important it was for every person to get out and vote. Mayor Dawni Seymore defeated the incumbent, Sam Mallory, by just 3 votes, 281-278. Jason Gore defeated his challenger, Clyde Kresta, 75-40. Councilman Rick Morrish defeated challenger Chad Hardy, 159-32. Every vote does count and every vote is important.

In Ballinger, you don’t have to live in particular district to run for a district seat. You can live in SMD1 and run for the council in SMD4. Some people have been under the misconception that you are required to live in the district that you’re running for.

The Runnels County Register, a USA Today Network newspaper, will email a candidate questionnaire to anyone in Runnels County running for any position in the upcoming election, whether it’s school board, council, etc. The newspaper is impartial and does not support any particular candidate, cause or measure.The questionnaires are not edited but no personal attacks will not be printed. Please limit questionnaire answers to 500 words or less.

Email bhancock@gatehousemedia.com to receive the questionnaire.