With less than six months to go until the June primary, five of the six candidates for Fresno mayor faced-off in the first debate since they made their announcement to run for office.
Former councilmember Tom Boyajian, businesswoman Ashley Swearengin and current city councilmembers Mike Dages and Jerry Duncan, along with council president Henry T. Perea were asked a series of questions written by various leaders from around the region, ranging from economic development, to what candidates, if elected, would do within the first one hundred days of office.
But the issue of how to better ensure public safety was at the top of every candidates list.
"As mayor, I'm gonna add 150 police officers and continue the re-building of our fire department... and we're gonna get rid of gangs,’ said councilmember Jerry Duncan.
But Duncan also said that would cost $15 million a year and would not be easy.
Businesswoman Ashley Swearengin's approach was quite the opposite."I don't think its enough to just sit up here and say we're gonna be tough on crime, we're gonna throw money at something, we have to be tough on crime, but we have to be smart on crime. And what that means is we have to take our existing resources and get better outcomes for it."
Councilmember Mike Dages says Fresno is too management heavy, and believes many positions need to be eliminated.
“That money can be diverted, which would put the general fund money back into the police and fire departments,” said Dages.
Two departments that Duncan says are facing personnel cuts, if the city doesn't start doing something now about the $18 million deficit it’s facing in 2011.
Former councilmember Tom Boyajian says the key to improving public safety is economic development. "We have to induce companies to come to Fresno and diversify the economy, that's really important, so we can get more money for the general fund, which helps you know, prevent crime."
But council president Henry T. Perea asked,k what he referred to as the million dollar question, “How do you pay for increased public safety?”
He says it can be done through a combination of services that include growing the general fund, utilizing technology and capitalizing on government efficiencies.
"The hands on experience that I have coming in as a council member, I think this gives me a great opportunity to address this as your next mayor,” Perea said.
Jim Boswell, the sixth candidate to announce a bid for mayor sent an e-mail to KSEE 24 News saying that he was not invited or allowed to attend Wednesday's debate.
Bob Garcia, executive director of CEN-CAL Business Group, the company that put on today's mayoral debate told KSEE24 that Boswell was not invited to debate, because he announced his bid for mayor too late. However, Garcia says that Boswell was invited to attend the debate.