‘I’m not a politician’: Mayor-elect Bern ready to tackle growth and traffic after no-campaign victory

BERN, Texas – The newly elected mayor of Berne is a political newcomer in every sense of the word.

Despite not campaigning, Frank Ritchie overwhelmingly defeated the longtime city councilman.

“I agreed not to take any campaign funding, no finances. I didn’t take a dime or a penny from any group or organization,” Ritchie said. “I just put my hat in the ring and said, ‘I love Berne and I want to make a difference in this community.’

Ritchie won 76% of the vote to Nina Woolard’s 24% in Saturday’s mayoral election. Outgoing mayor Tim Hendren did not run for re-election after four years in office.

Richie is a local businessman, assistant pastor and youth football coach. He owns Ritchie Automotive Repair & Alignment Inc. on the I-10 access road in Bern for 15 years. It gained support primarily through social media grassroots efforts and people concerned about the city’s rapid growth.

“I wanted the community to come together and support me, which they did. They rallied around us, around me. They made their own signs and ran their own campaigns. It was successful,” Richie said. “I am not a politician. I am a mechanic, I have a business here in Bern.

The Hill Country city has experienced a population boom over the past decade. The city’s population increased from 10,471 in 2010 to 19,109 as of July 2021, according to the US Census Bureau. This growth has led to traffic and congestion problems.

“At one point it was a small town. It doesn’t have the infrastructure to serve another (15,000 to 20,000 people), Richie said. “One of our top priorities is to work on infrastructure that makes getting around easier, whether it’s footpaths or bike lanes or anything else that planning and zoning and community leaders can decide. We need to sit back and see what are the best routes, all the best avenues, redirecting traffic to some neighborhoods and not through people’s property.”

Ritchie also prioritizes water conservation, conservation and responsible land development.

“Population growth is putting more pressure on our first responders, our police, and so there is a lot of concern about how we can have fast response times when our community is getting so big,” Ritchie said. “To be transparent, to ask what will happen, whether it is a residential complex or a business. What benefit will this bring to Berne? Will he invest in our school district? Will it improve the community, or is it just a place where developers go to earn some money and then move on to the next development?

Richie said he understands he can’t stop development, but wants to keep the small-town charm that made Berne what it is today. He will be sworn in at a May 23 city council meeting and said he will continue to run his auto shop.

“We can change with the times, but we need to do it wisely and responsibly,” Richie said. “I’m going to be transparent. If I don’t know, then I’ll tell you, I don’t know. But I will work my best to make sure I give you the answers you are looking for and that we work together.”

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