Central mayor candidates debate finances, government size

With just a month left to go until election day, financial responsibility and the size of Central government have surfaced as campaign issues in that city’s mayoral race.

Dave Freneaux, a CPA who co-owns a transportation business and weekly newspaper, has accused his opponent, Jr. Shelton, a Realtor, of trying to hide his personal bankruptcy from Central voters four years ago when he attempted unsuccessfully in 2010 to unseat incumbent Central Mayor Shelton “Mac” Watts.

Freneaux and Shelton are vying for the mayoral job because Watts, the city’s mayor since the city was created in 2005, decided not to seek re-election.

Freneaux told an audience during a mayoral debate at Central High School Thursday that he is a responsible business owner who pays his bills. But he said he had concerns about Shelton’s ability to run a city with a $6 million annual budget, given that Shelton owed approximately $1.9 million in debt when he filed for bankruptcy.

Shelton responded that his family business ran into problems in the 2009 recession. Shelton said declaring personal bankruptcy isn’t something he’s proud of but said he learned lessons from the experience.

“I would never disparage anyone in Central for having a bankruptcy or business failure,” Shelton told the audience, scolding Freneaux for raising the issue.

Freneaux and Shelton also disagree on the size and configuration of the Central City Council. The council is made up of five members elected at large.

Freneaux said he thinks the size of the council is fine but that the at-large seats should become specific district seats instead, so members will come from all points in the city.

Shelton said he wants five districts seats as well but believes that two additional at-large seats should be added, bringing the total number of City Council seats to seven.

Shelton said his plan for seven seats was approved by the Central City Council in the past but vetoed by Watts.

But Freneaux disagreed with Shelton’s proposal.

“Bigger government is not the answer,” Freneaux said.

Freneaux and Shelton also have slightly different ideas about the future of a proposed City Hall complex and community center.

In addition to a building for City Hall, the city is looking for space that could encompass meeting rooms, a walking path or possible park, as well as enough space for expansion that could add other amenities and provide an area for some commercial projects.

The state has earmarked almost $2 million in capital outlay funding for a new Central municipal complex. Other funding could be pulled from the city’s general fund reserves of more than $8 million, Central Chief Administrative Officer David Barrow has said.

Shelton said he doesn’t have a problem using the state money for a new complex but thinks it would be financially irresponsible to spend any city reserve money on the project when there are more pressing needs, including infrastructure upgrades.

Freneaux agreed that there was no need to spend a lot of money on a city center. But he also said Central has no downtown area and a city center could help the city become an economic driver for development.

Early voting for the April 5 Central municipal election starts on March 22 and extends through March 29, with the exception of March 23, which is a Sunday.

Two other Central municipal elections are being held April 5, including one for police chief. Candidates Kerry Clark and James Salsbury are running for Police Chief Doug Browning’s job. Browning decided not to run again.

The third election is for Central City Council and features 11 candidates running for the city’s five at-large council seats. City Council members Aaron Moak, Ralph Washington and Wayne Messina are running for re-election.

The eight new candidates for the Central City Council are June T. Dupuy, Mike Gardner, Jason Ellis, Shane Evans, Kim Fralick, Eric Frank, Harry Rauls and John Vance.