By Billy Crosby
L. F. “Frankie” Hogan was elected mayor of Buena Vista Tuesday, defeating Thomas Keiser by 5 percentage points, as well as a write-in campaign for incumbent Mayor Mike Clements that Clements said he did not seek.
Problems plagued the vote count, postponing release of the results until about 9:30 p.m.
Hogan and Keiser waited while election workers wrestled with returns from one of the three machines in Ward 1. They realized there was a problem when the votes didn’t add up to the 1,146 residents who voted. That was about one third of registered voters in the city.
Hogan said he was excited about the unofficial numbers, but he will wait to celebrate until the count becomes official Wednesday afternoon.
Three City Council and three School Board seats were also being decided. Jane Armstrong, Steve Baldridge and Lisa Clark finished at the top of a list of six candidates. Billy Fitzgerald, Lewis Plogger and Bob Thomas were not elected. Armstrong and Plogger were running for re-election. Just three candidates – Margaret Byers, Teresa Ellison, and Wayne Flint—filed to run for the three open School Board seats, guaranteeing themselves election.
Money was the key issue in the mayoral race.
Keiser, Hogan and Clements all worried about the millions of dollars the city still owes from its golf course development fiasco.
“This is the worst I have ever seen it,” Keiser had said.
In 2003, the City Council borrowed $9 million from ACA Financial in New York to build a municipal golf course. As collateral, it put up the course, City Hall and the police station. The hope was that the golf course would attract tourists to the area and give the community an economic boost.
When the economy soured in 2008, demand declined for playing golf and for purchasing home lots adjacent to the course. When the city couldn’t make its debt payments, ACA agreed to pay half of each installment for the next five years and said the city could repay that money without interest in 25 years.
Keiser, 46, the city’s volunteer fire chief, was raised in Buena Vista and has never left. He works for Advance Drainage Systems. A former City Council member, he told voters he wanted to get the city back to where it was before the recent financial downturn.
His priority, he said, was selling the residential property around the golf course, as originally planned, by starting a committee to help market the property to investors.
“We need to sell this property without costing the taxpayers anything,” he said. He also assured voters that he doesn’t plan to increase taxes.
“We certainly can’t raise the taxes anymore,” he said. “They are already very high, and we can’t afford that.”
Hogan, 70, formerly worked as a volunteer for Buena Vista’s rescue squad. He is now the vice mayor and has served on City Council for 15 years. Hogan had no specific plan to fix Buena Vista’s economy. But he said everyone needs to talk through it.
“It’s just a matter of us sitting down and putting our heads together and figuring out what the best thing to do is,” he said.
Since nearly defaulting on its golf course loan, Buena Vista has been in an economic slump.
Hogan believed that repairing rundown property around town will make it seem “more attractive to prospective industry.”
Clements said he never planned on running for reelection, but some of his loyal supporters told him they would write in his name on today’s ballot. Clements would not reveal any of their names.
Clements helped refinance the deal for the golf course. He also went to Washington, D.C., with Lexington Mayor Mimi Elrod and Hunt Riegel, retiring chair of the county Board of Supervisors, to help secure a $7 million grant for broadband in the Rockbridge area.
The mayor in Buena Vista serves a two-year term and participates in all City Council votes. The mayor makes $275 a month with no benefits.