San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

August 8th, 2008
Low-stakes Kyle council election set for Saturday

By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large

KYLE – Kyle voters will attempt to choose a new city councilmember for a short-term engagement in a special election on Saturday.

At least, they will begin to fill the unexpired term of former Councilmember Mike Moore, who resigned in April. However the election turns out, the seat goes back up for election in May 2009.

Four candidates are up for Saturday’s election, meaning it’s unlikely any one candidate will win the majority vote necessary to preclude a run-off election in September. Should a run-off election occur between Saturday’s top two vote recipients, the new councilmember won’t be in place until October, which would leave about seven months left on the term.

Though the race is a city-wide affair, a small turnout is expected due the relatively low stakes and a presumption of voter fatigue during a busy 2008 election calendar. During the first two weeks of early voting, only 205 of Kyle’s 9,100 registered voters bothered to cast a ballot.

But the election features a little something for everyone, including a variety of demographics and a sling of mud here and there as whispering campaigns rap the candidates for their past associations, personal habits and stations in life.

The candidate attracting the loudest controversy is Bob Straub, a retired mortgage broker and investment banker who claims to have been a vice president of sales for Dartmouth Plan from 1976-1983 and a mortgage broker for Fairway Funding from 2001 to 2007.

As it happens, Dartmouth Plan and Fairway Funding have both caught the attention of various state regulatory agencies. Straub said he was a low man on each totem pole, involved in no wrongdoing by either company.

“If I’d worked for Enron, would you be asking me questions about Enron?” Straub asked. “… Somebody asked me, ‘Would you take a criminal background check?’ Of course, I would.”

A June 1992 article in Washington Monthly said Dartmouth Plan paid $4 million to the State of Connecticut to end a fraud investigation involving 7,000 homeowners. A Business Week article from August 1997 quotes the New York City Consumer Affairs Department calling Dartmouth Plan “the granddaddy” of “equity scams.”

In 2007, the Pennsylvania Department of Banking issued a consent order requiring Fairway Funding to pay a $2,000 fine for illegally closing loans. Fairway Funding is headquartered in Charleroi, PA, with a branch in Coral Spring, FL, where Straub worked.

“Bob Straub had nothing to do with any of that,” Straub said. “I’m so sorry that (the campaign) has come to this.”

Straub said he left Dartmouth Plan because he “could see the handwriting on the wall” of a struggling business. High interest rates in the late 1970s and early 1980s made it very difficult to issue loans, he said, and the company declined from 300 employees when he started in 1976 to 125 when he left in 1983. By the time actions had been taken against Dartmouth Plan, Straub had been gone for years.

Straub, 60, said back injuries resulting from an accident eventually forced him to retire from Fairway Funding. A triple spinal fusion resulting from the accident also ran up his medical bills to the extent that he had to file for bankruptcy.

The issues have found Straub along the campaign trail, damaging his chances in today’s election, he said.

“It has cost me votes,” Straub said. “Before all this came up, I thought I was going to win. Now, I think it’s going to a run-off.”

On his campaign website, Straub lists as his priorities adequate police and fire departments, attraction of business and industry, senior citizens facilities and improved roads with shoulders and sidewalks. Straub, who has lived in Kyle for a little more than a year, said his 40 years of business experience would benefit the Kyle council.

Ron Barrera, 52, is a three-year resident of Kyle who has worked for 22 years in the state comptroller’s office. His website lists his priorities as revitalization of downtown Kyle, transportation alternatives, support for local law enforcement and oversight for homeowners associations that are controlled by homebuilders.

Lucy Johnson, the 24-year-old daughter of local philanthropists Bill and Kate Johnson, is the only candidate who can claim to be a life-long resident of the city, having graduated from Hays High School before earning a Bachelors of Fine Arts from Parsons School of Design in New York. She is working towards a Masters in public administration at Texas State. Johnson is campaigning on a program that emphasizes controlled growth, budgetary restraint and downtown vitalization.

Chad Benninghoff, 34, is a three-year resident of Kyle who is a charge nurse at University Medical Center Brackenridge. Benninghoff’s campaign emphasizes police and fire protection, traffic flow and stable economic growth among his top priorities.

On the web:

Ron Barrera’s campaign website: http://vote4ronbarrera.com/

Chad Benninghoff’s campaign website: http://chadbenninghoff4kyle.com/index.html

Lucy Johnson’s campaign website: http://www.lucyjohnson.com/

Bob Straub’s campaign website: http://bobstraubforkyle.com/

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