Ballentine to seek seventh term as Alma’s mayor
story by Marla Cantrell
Alma Mayor John Robert Ballentine is not finished yet.
The city’s top leader will run for reelection in November, and if he wins it will be his seventh term.
“I took over for Manford Burris, who stepped down 1993,” Ballentine said. “I had just come back from Desert Storm where I was a battalion executive officer in the Army Reserves, and I had a few people approach me about running. I’d served on the Crawford County Quorum Court for ten years and on the Alma City Council for four years. I thought I could do some good and make a difference.”
Only once since then has he run unopposed, and although no one has announced plans to seek the office this time, he suspects he will have competition. The filing period of municipal offices in Crawford County will run from Aug. 4, through Aug. 24.
“With 17 years in office, you hope you’re doing what most people like, but there are always going to be those who don’t,” Ballentine said. “I’m sure somebody’s going to step up to the plate and try to unseat me.”
Ballentine, 57, believes his work while in office will be enough to convince residents to vote for him. The Alma Aquatic Park, which was Ballentine’s idea, opened in 1999. The city is also getting ready to unveil its new $4 million water treatment plant.
The mayor’s position is part-time; Ballentine earns just over $21,000 a year. He runs cattle, leases farm land and owns several small businesses, such as car washes and a convenience store. No one, he said, would take the job for the pay.
For the past two years, he’s been fighting to keep costs under control. He works monthly on the city’s $2.5 million budget, making sure Alma stays in the black. He thinks managing the budget will continue to be the city’s biggest challenge in the next few years.
“When I took over, the city was in the red,” Ballentine said. “Taxes just wasn’t there. … I’ve streamlined departments. The council and I have taken away some of the mayor’s power and gotten away from some of the ‘good ole boy’ stuff. For example, I don’t make decisions on which streets get paved, because I just don’t think that’s right. … We turn it over the department head and then the council votes on it. It keeps the politics out of it.”
Alma has grown significantly since Ballentine took the reins. In 1993, approximately 3,000 lived in the Crawford County town. The new census estimates there are now 5,100.
Ballentine has a few projects he wants to see to fruition before he leaves office. He wants further improvements to the water park, tennis courts installed, and the new community center — which is still just a concrete pad at this point — up and running.
If there were no limits on what could be accomplished, he’d like to see something a little more drastic happen, although it would likely ruffle a few feathers in Van Buren.
Ballentine leaned back in his chair and smiled. “You know, we ought to be the county seat. We sit here at the crossroads. Everything runs through here. If I had my way, we’d eventually annex Van Buren, and move it all to Alma.”