Four of the five candidates for the special June 17 mayoral election in Dover met in debate Tuesday night.
Four of the contenders in next week’s special Dover mayoral election fielded questions Tuesday before an audience of about 70 city residents during a candidate’s forum at the Mt. Zion AME Church on North Queen Street.
Topics during the three-and-a-half hour session ranged from the city’s recreational needs to the role of the mayor in city council deliberations.
The candidates in attendance included Chevis R. Anderson, David L. Anderson, Robin R. Christiansen and James P. Webster. Fellow candidate R. Jefferson Reed said he was unable to attend due to prior commitments.
In opening statements, David Anderson, a current city councilman, and Christiansen, a member of council from 1983 to 2001, each cited their knowledge of city government as reasons voters should support them. Chevis Anderson noted he garnered 30 percent of the vote during a campaign for Capital School Board in 2010 even though he campaigned only for two weeks. Meanwhile, Webster cited his business acumen as a factor he could use to encourage economic development in the city.
In discussing issues related to the city police department, all four candidates said Dover police do an outstanding job. However, Webster said he talked to one officer who pointed out problems within the department, but declined to go into specifics when he discovered Webster was a mayoral candidate.
As mayor, who is responsible for the police department under the city charter, it would be his job to “get to the bottom” of any morale issues within the law enforcement community, Webster said.
David Anderson said the mayor’s role should be limited to setting policy and making sure the police department is accountable to city residents.
“I would make sure people are treated with respect and dignity and that there is a connection between the police department and the citizens,” he said.
All four candidates said police officers who are placed on administrative leave should reimburse the city for pay received while they were not permitted to perform law enforcement duties.
Regarding the role of the mayor, who can veto council actions but otherwise has no vote in council or committee decisions, Christiansen said he feels the mayor should not even sit in on council meetings.
Participating when legislative action is undertaken raises questions about the validity of any veto action, Christiansen said.
“If we are indeed going to move the city forward, the mayor should be the chief executive officer,” he said.
Chevis Anderson concurred, saying council members are the legislative representatives of city residents and the mayor’s veto, while a powerful tool, should be used sparingly.
“I think the mayor needs to lead by example,” David Anderson said. “I have no problem with the mayor sitting in council meetings and listening so he understands the arguments before he makes a decision to sign or veto a council decision.”
While taking questions from audience members, three of the four candidates said they would not support a proposal to change the city’s government to eliminate the mayor’s position in favor of a city manager.
The people of the city need an elected representative, not an appointed one, to serve as a point person, said David Anderson, Chevis Anderson and Christiansen.
Webster said he would keep an open mind on the subject.
All agreed they would address any racial discrimination claims made by city residents.
Christiansen, Chevis Anderson and Webster said they would not be adverse to property tax increases, particularly if they were genuinely necessary, advertised in advance and slowly implemented.
“A gradual increase with notification can solve a lot of these problems with taxes and with taxes going up,” Chevis Anderson said.
David Anderson said he was against the idea of raising taxes to balance the city budget, particularly if there is money reserved elsewhere.
He had made a similar statement during a June 9 city council meeting when proposing a $1.5 million transfer from an electric reserve fund to help balance the general fund budget.
“I’m not going to tolerate tax increases being the first resort,” Anderson said. “They should always be the last resort.”
The group also agreed on the need for additional recreation opportunities, particularly with calls to demolish a former recreation building in Dover Park.