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Voters clean house on city council

By Lori Carlson editor@plamerican.com Nov 8, 2016

Two-term Prior Lake City Council Member Richard Keeney was ousted by voters Tuesday in a sweep of sitting City Hall politicians.

Newcomers Zach Braid and Kevin Burkart won the two open seats on the council.

Lifelong Prior Lake resident Burkart got the most support – 31.5 percent (6,398 votes). Braid, who spoke out against the city and county’s plans for routing an offshoot of County Road 42 through his neighborhood, took almost 27 percent (5,420 votes). Dave Thompson got 4,957 votes, for 24 percent, and Keeney came in last, with 3,460 votes, or 17 percent of the total. Another 103 votes were for write-in candidates.

Keeney was elected in 2009 and re-elected in 2012. On Wednesday, he attributed his loss, and the defeat of Mayor Ken Hedberg, in part to “three very conservative candidates saying same thing about being fiscally conservative.”

He said residents have been given “misinformation that confused some people about the history of taxes” in Prior Lake.

“I’m disappointed that that wasn’t able to be clarified to people,” Keeney said.

The fervor against proposed changes to downtown Prior Lake also drove the turnover at the ballot box, Keeney said.

“Clearly the issue of ‘Save our Downtown’ turned into a soundbite that people voted on and I don’t think the complexities of the situation are such that it’s really appreciated [by residents],” he said. “My biggest concern is not whether I’m in office, but that it will be a shame if Prior Lake loses out on a planned Highway 13/County Road 21 intersection improvement because we’re too short-sighted to see how valuable that will be to our community.”

Burkart got the most votes in all eight city precincts except 6B, where Braid lives. Braid won in that precinct by a 106-vote margin. Burkart said the council turnover likely stems from many residents who “don’t feel they’re being listened to.”

“I think that’s very reasonable and we need to carefully consider that as we move on,” he said. “We need to work as a team so we’re not putting out fires on the back end.”

City races are considered nonpartisan, but the finger-point of the presidential election seemed to divide Americans more than ever this past year, and it remains to be seen whether that divisiveness will trickle down to local government.

Burkart, who has belonged to both the Democratic and Republican parties and now considers himself “a ferocious independent,” said he thinks Prior Lake will work it out.

“We live in Prior Lake, so we won the lottery,” he said. “We’re just trying to make things better.”

Braid said he thinks all of the candidates ran good races and “each one should be commended for their sacrifice and willingness to serve.”

“I look forward to working with the upcoming council and serving the residents and businesses of Prior Lake … I have been humbled by the support of Prior Lake,” Braid added.

Thompson, who came in third, said he thinks Prior Lake is poised to have some open conversation about change.

“I think people’s voices are going to start being heard, and I think that was a common key as I was out knocking on doors,” he said, adding that he’s planning to turn his attention to a future referendum in District 719 schools. “I think valuable citizen input is very important, so I would really like to offer my perspective.”

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