City mayoral candidates joust at Chamber forum
Mayor Raymond Harris
Mayoral Candidate Kenny Scelfo
Candidates for mayor of the City of Franklin spoke to voters at the Teche Theater in a forum sponsored by the St. Mary Chamber of Commerce Monday.
Incumbent Mayor Raymond Harris and challenger Kenny Scelfo offered opening statements before taking questions preselected by chamber staff.
Jessie Breaux, emcee for the evening, asked both candidates their stance on public safety and whether they supported an elected or appointed police chief.
“Public safety is a paramount concern of mine and my chief’s priority,” Harris said. “If you don’t have public safety the community will not grow. Instead of attracting businesses you will repel them. So it is with tourism and everything else.”
Harris said he supports the current appointed chief method. He said an elected police chief might be unqualified, and “who would they answer to? I believe in accountability. Why do you want to bring politics into the police department? Once you make that an elected position you will politicize that department.”
Harris said the chief would make decisions to assure re-election. “Justice is supposed to be blind. The chief may not want to make arrests, or arrest people that are well connected politically and I do not think that’s the best situation. No community in Louisiana that has gone from an elected chief to an appointed chief ever went back to an elected chief. Why? Because the appointed chief works better. I favor the one we have.”
Scelfo said public safety is “tops on my agenda. I would prefer to keep the chief of police position as appointed. Why? Because if we have a problem there it’s the mayor’s job to correct that problem right away, and as your mayor, you have my word that I will do that.”
He said voters must have trust and confidence in the mayor to do that. “You have to not play politics. Believe me, politics can be played with it as an appointed position. Don’t be fooled. The candidate you vote for you need to be able to trust. You look at the record and you see what you have in a person.”
Scelfo said the police department will receive “the training that they need, not only for their safety but the public’s safety. If they’re not trained properly how can they protect us and how can they protect themselves? We’re just lucky nothing’s ever happened… I will put forth every effort to make sure that nothing ever happens because we don’t have a police officer that is trained properly. Put the dollars in the budget. They’re willing to be trained, everybody benefits.”
Breaux then asked the candidates to list five priorities for the city.
Harris said he wants to meet with FEMA officials now that the Franklin Canal Flood Control Structure has been completed. “Have the flood maps changed,” he said. “We need to lower our elevation requirements that will retard growth, it will keep businesses from coming and homebuilders from building. It’s expensive to buy the land and then build it up. I’d like to see that change.”
Drainage improvements are next, Harris said. “I like what we did out in Pecan Acres and later this year we have the south Willow Street drainage project scheduled,” he said. “That will relieve (many streets in that area) from water accumulating during rain events. Also we have the Yokely Bayou drainage project scheduled to begin next spring. That will relieve a large portion of our town, the area around Walmart, Barrow Street, Cayce Street, all those neighborhoods will have some relief after this project is put in place.”
Street repairs totaling $1.6 million have been made, Harris said, with more to go, and there are plans to work with the city council to continue that.
“We’ve got some economic momentum now,” he said. “The best way to keep that going is to keep the town safe. I will continue to back our police department, which is a strong and effective police department, and continue to work with businesses when they are trying to come in and they run into problems. We were able to help Walgreens, we were able to help Quality Inn… those projects that looked like they would have been stopped were able to continue. That’s what we do and what we’ll continue to do.”
Downtown improvement plans include rehab of the Center Theater, Harris said.
Scelfo said public safety, economy, drainage, recreation and street maintenance are his priorities.
“I will work with every police officer and any chief that is in that position to get our officers trained and get them the equipment they need,” he said. “Our city is not safe. I’ve walked this city. A lot of things that happen never make the newspaper, don’t ask me why. We had a girl, someone was trying to get into her house and someone forced their way in. She was attacked, she screamed for her husband, she used her head even though her husband wasn’t home and the attacker left. Never in the paper. No police report.”
He said the public should be notified when an incident like that happens.
“I will be aggressive trying to get businesses to locate here,” Scelfo said. “We’ve just been lucky some businesses found Franklin and came here. Hopefully they’ll stay here. But we need to do more to get out there and get them here. We can grow on our historic district but I’d also like to take Highway 90 and that area and have it as an industrial site where we’ll have good paying jobs. Everybody wants the same thing out of life. People not only want money to pay their bills they want to have extra so they can take their families to Disneyworld, get some of the luxuries in life. That’s not happening in every family. I’ve been in a lot of homes. It’s a sad situation. First we have to admit we have a problem and then tackle that problem because we’re all the same.”
The next question Breaux presented was how the candidates believe the possible I-49 designation will affect Franklin.
Harris said economic momentum is evident with recent arrivals of Metal Shark Boats, with Gulf Craft, with a potential tenant for the industrial park and a new tenant at the old Superior Fabrication building. “Franklin is now gaining an industrial base it has never had before,” Harris said. “That corridor from Lafayette to Houma started as America’s energy corridor. I-49 will make this concept a reality. Franklin because of its desirable location along this corridor will see an influx of new jobs and businesses come into Franklin.”
Expanding infrastructure to accommodate new businesses would be prudent, Harris said.
Scelfo said the I-49 completion is “probably a long way off but we are moving in that direction. We already have the overpass, service roads, and I can see that area as an industrial site. I’d like to see the other parts of town, Main Street going back, sort of as a retirement community. Around Highway 90 we do have the railroad track, we need railroad spurs laid there, and it would benefit because of the interstate there. I think we’d have more traffic going through knowing that they wouldn’t have to make all the stops that they make now.”
He said, “Morgan City took a big lick when the highway was built. I think we have a different situation here.”
City council candidate forum coverage will continue this week.