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Granite Shoals voters pass charter amendments, elect new councilor

Catherine Bell

Catherine Bell is the new Place 6 councilor in Granite Shoals. Staff photo

Granite Shoals has a new Place 6 city councilor after Catherine Bell decisively defeated incumbent Councilor Phil Ort in the May 4 election. Voters also passed all 19 proposed amendments to the city’s charter. These big changes were made in an election with the lowest voter turnout in the city since 2016.

Bell won the Place 6 seat with 234 votes, or 82.69 percent of total votes cast, to Ort’s 49 votes, or 17.31 percent of total votes cast. According to the Burnet County Elections Office, only 283 out of 2,782 registered voters in Granite Shoals, or 10.17 percent, participated in the election.

Councilors Brian Edwards (Place 1), Mike Pfister (Place 2), and Steve Hougen (Place 4), all incumbents, ran unopposed for their two-year terms. 

The councilors will take their oaths of office on May 14.

Bell is a Burnet County native who has lived in Granite Shoals since 2008 and been active at City Council meetings for the past several years. She worked for the Texas Department of Insurance Enforcement Division in Austin for 26 years before retiring in 2018.

“At the forefront of my mind is to keep Granite Shoals moving in a positive direction,” Bell told DailyTrib.com after her May 4 victory. “I want to hear from the citizens. I want to hear what they have to say.”

Ort was a two-term councilor, first elected in 2020. His tenure was eventful and, at times, controversial. 

Before he was elected, Ort spearheaded opposition to council members for approving a substantial raise for former City Manager Jeff Looney, who was later fired in 2022

While on the council, he was censured in 2022 for allegedly fabricating dozens of complaints in support of a dark skies ordinance in Granite Shoals. In 2023, he pleaded guilty to a 2021 vandalism charge for keying a car in the Marble Falls H-E-B parking lot. He also was the first person to publicly share a recording of former City Manager Peggy Smith discussing ways to kill the city’s feral cats, which eventually led to her resignation in January 2024

Ort was also an advocate for the city’s parks and residents’ property rights. 

“I believe that Catherine Bell will make a great counselor,” he wrote in a post-election statement to DailyTrib.com. “I have known her to be level-headed and strong. There are many difficult decisions that the council will have to make in the future and I feel the city is in good hands. For me, I now have more time to spend with my family and to catch up with the many chores that have been piling up. I want to thank my supporters and I want them to know they can always reach out to me.”

CITY CHARTER AMENDMENTS

Granite Shoals voters also approved all 19 proposed city charter amendments on the ballot. Many of the changes were clerical corrections or adjustments in language, but some could impact how the city is run. 

Proposition C was slightly controversial. This amendment removes the power to hire and fire the city secretary from the council and gives it to the city manager. Some councilors argued this could cause a rift between the city secretary and the council, while others said all city staff should be under the city manager’s administrative umbrella.

Proposition G was a win for government transparency. City staff will now be required to provide financial reports on a monthly rather than quarterly basis. This change was fueled by historically poorly presented financials from past Granite Shoals leadership.

VOTER TURNOUT

Despite big decisions on the ballot, Granite Shoals voters did not show up at the polls, totaling the lowest turnout in eight years:

  • May 2024—283 voters
  • May 2023—423 voters
  • May 2022—474 voters
  • May 2021—No order of election
  • November 2020—1,216 voters (presidential election ballot)
  • May 2019—No order of election
  • May 2018—351 voters
  • May 2017—368 voters
  • May 2016—191 voters

Bell regularly participates as an election judge for Granite Shoals but was unable to this time because she was a candidate. She acknowledged that low voter turnout is a problem.

“I don’t know how to get people to vote,” she said. “It takes five minutes. It is a freedom that each and every citizen who registers to vote has. You need to do your civic duty by going out and voting. That is you speaking for how you feel.”

dakota@thepicayune.com

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