TWIN FALLS — Residents of Gooding have decided to oust their City Council and mayoral incumbents, and bring in new blood to the city government.
Come January, Walt Nelson, Diane Houser and Mel Magnelli will vacate their seats on the five-member council. Jeff Brekke, Chuck Cram and Colin Smith will take their place.
The overall voter turnout for Gooding County elections was about 24 percent — higher than it was in Twin Falls County.
Although challengers say they were not sponsored by a specific group, they tasked voters with an all-or-nothing decision, to say with their votes that they either liked the current Council — or did not.
Brekke defeated Nelson with 236 votes, more than 56 percent of the total votes cast in the mayoral election.
The mayor-elect said his biggest push is to give voters what they said they wanted in electing the three challengers.
“They want openness, and they want the sense of optimism,” Brekke said.
He said the new Council will have no closed meetings, except regarding human resources or legal disputes. The members will also be open to new ideas.
“Our main commonality is we want to see things move forward,” he said. “The previous Council was known for shutting people down, shutting ideas down.”
A recent example, he said, was incumbents’ response in a recent candidate forum to the challengers’ ideas for improving Main Avenue. The incumbents had said roadwork couldn’t be done by the city because it was a state highway.
“We weren’t talking about the roadway,” Brekke said. “We were talking about the businesses.”
He believes the city of Gooding can work with civic groups to help beautify buildings in the downtown corridor, clean people’s yards and repair sidewalks. Even straightening and painting street signs can have a better visual effect for visitors, Brekke said.
He added that the challengers were more optimistic in the campaign about Gooding’s future for businesses and residents. Because of the city’s railway and access to major highways, he said, it’s well situated geographically for growth.
“We are excited that Gooding has faith in us and in the plans that we put forward,” Smith said.
Smith and Cram defeated Magnelli and Houser with 254 and 271 votes to their 209 and 211 votes, respectively.
Smith told the Times-News the city can be more transparent on its website and through a newsletter and social media.
But he and the other challengers’ goal, he said, isn’t to “take a 180” or “reinvent the wheel.” They plan to make good and informed decisions while being progressive go-getters.
With three votes on the five-member Council, the challengers have the ability to make change happen, as they come to the table with similar goals for the city, Smith said.
Nelson, who failed a bid for a second term, said he was somewhat surprised by the outcome of the election. However, he felt confident that everything the previous Council has worked on will still get accomplished.
Cram did not return calls for comment.