City mayor, council candidates engage in final forum
Editor’s Note: This is the second and final part of a report on Monday’s forum for candidates in Saturday’s Franklin mayoral and city council election.
Candidates for Franklin mayor and city council gathered Monday in the Franklin Senior High School auditorium for a public forum in advance of Saturday’s election.
The event was sponsored by 100 Black Men of St. Mary Parish Inc.; Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., Franklin-Jeanerette Alumnae Chapter; Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., Iota Eta Omega Chapter; NAACP, St. Mary Branch Unit 6091; Martin Luther King Committee of St. Mary Parish; and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., Phi Rho Omega Chapter.
After brief opening statements, moderator Danika Foley asked 10 pre-selected questions that were given to the candidates in advance.
Foley asked the candidates what measures they would take to improve relations with city police and address crime in neighborhoods.
Brandan Trahan, Council District B candidate, said retaining officers is important. He said a high turnaround rate in the police force doesn’t allow officers time to get to know the community and its people.
Trahan said more police presence in schools would show students that police can be called “for trouble and also provide support.” He said neighborhood involvement in keeping watch would help solve crimes.
Mayor Raymond Harris said it is important that law-abiding citizens work with the police department to solve and prevent crime. “The reason I emphasize law-abiding citizens is because oil and water don’t mix,” he said.
Harris said the relationship between police and the community is not where he wants it to be and proposes a citizen’s council that would meet with him and the police chief regularly to discuss issues “rather than attacking each other on Facebook.”
Mayoral candidate Kenny Scelfo said if there are problems he doesn’t need to meet with a committee, he will take care of it himself. “That’s the mayor’s job,” he said. “He’s in charge of every department including the police department.”
He claimed that police engage in harassment of certain individuals. “I’m going to do my job not wait six months to form a group,” he said. “It would be my responsibility to do it.”
At-Large district Councilman Lester Levine said neighborhood watch programs would help with crime. He said reporting crime to police will help keep neighborhoods clean and safe.
At-Large district candidate Kerry Martin said the key to a relationship between police and citizens is dependent on the public image set by department heads. He said a visible decrease in crime will encourage that relationship and community watches help keep a neighborhood safe.
Foley asked next if candidates would support a citizens’ advisory committee to address other issues in the city.
Harris said he has always had an open door policy to discuss issues and ideas with the community. “It gives us an opportunity to work toward a resolution rather than get people all in a panic,” he said. “We need to be talking to each other and working toward resolutions to a problem.”
Scelfo said he was also in favor of such a group. He said he would have a group working on recreation, job creation, youth and other areas to advance those areas. He also suggested group meetings with local clergy to hear their ideas of the needs of the community as well as encourage the clergy and church members to help others who might have personnal problems that could become community problems.
Levine said he is always out and about in the community and “if I see several people sitting out under a tree, that’s my committee.”
He said talking to people often helps him identify what the community’s needs and concerns are.
Martin said he also would support an advisory group and it would “provide the council with the opportunity get insight that they might not necessarily get on an everyday basis.”
He said such a board might be made up of a representative of each district.
Trahan said he also supported the idea and believes it would “mend a broken system in our community.” He said city officials should get out into the community to get feedback from persons of various walks of life.
The next question was how candidates would encourage volunteerism and public service.
Scelfo said he would be in favor of fire department volunteers increasing membership with training and appropriate hours. He said other volunteer groups might include assisting with hurricane preparations such as sand bagging and delivering water.
He said police and fire personnel could hold community interactive events such as barbecue functions where citizens could get to know personnel from both departments.
Levine said volunteers require programs that they can wholeheartedly support. Those programs need to fit the needs of the community, he said, and that will draw volunteers.
He encouraged volunteerism in existing programs such as sports programs currently held in the city.
Martin said strong volunteerism increases the sense of community, something Franklin does not have now. He said “Franklin is not divided by a track, there is only one Franklin.”
He said the city can recruit people to help with certain tasks.
Trahan said volunteers could be vetted to see where their talents would be most useful. He said the community should address issues they often complain about and become proactive in achieving those goals with “activities that cultivate every child, the whole child.”
Harris said the city has arts, dance and other programs. He said there is a new Girl Scouts troop in the city that is in need of volunteers and he hopes to see formation of a Boy Scouts troop as well.
He said local citizens pick an area of the city to clean up every month.
Foley asked if candidates thought it was important to be visible in the community.
Levine said that isn’t a problem for him because he’s “always in the community.” He said “you voted for me, and I need to be visible.”
Levine said he is accessible and cares about the community.
Martin said visibility of elected officials lets people know “they really do care.” He said it also shows willingness to be involved in city affairs and “not just show up and vote and collect their check once a month.”
Trahan said elected officials should be seen by the community often “not just during the time leading up to an election.” He said they should be easily accessible throughout their term.
Mayor Harris said he attends ribbon cuttings, beauty pageants, Chez Hope trivia night, the senior’s monthly luncheons, baseball games, dance recitals, community achievement banquets, speaking engagements at schools, events at the nursing home, veterans’ programs, Martin Luther King Day programs and more.
Scelfo said of his former terms on the city council he was “out there when we needed it most,” that being during hurricanes. He said he checked on people during storms and during the year kept up with city employees and their jobs, including those who might have been injured at work. He said, “If we’re not visible then we’re not there to see what people are going through.”