Larry Bergeron, Lee Dragna, Frank “Boo” Grizzaffi, Bart Mancuso and Kevin Voisin squared off before a panel of three consisting of Howard Castay from KBZE 105.9 FM, Jean Kaess from The Daily Review and Jeremy Callais, chairman of the St. Mary Chamber of Commerce.
Topics ranged from how to foster trust between the community and police department to how to diversify the city’s economy and dependence on the oil and gas industry.
KWBJ News Director Danika Foley moderated the debate. In addition to predetermined questions, candidates also answered questions submitted by the public.
On the issue of decreasing reliance on the oil industry and diversifying the economy, Grizzaffi proposed, if elected, creating a website to help people find jobs. “I want to promote business. I don’t want to harass business,” he said.
Voisin said as mayor he would “get out of City Hall,” and that he would promote the Young Memorial Campus of South Central Louisiana Technical College.
Dragna said the oil industry itself can help diversify the economy. “The oil field brings other businesses with it,” he explained. Mancuso said “we need something like a Mulate’s (restaurant)” to encourage people to come to the city.
Bergeron said he would try to “seek and find one kind of industry we don’t have here.”
Due to a recent fatality that was a result of a high speed police chase, the candidates were asked to state their thoughts on bringing police and the public together.
Bergeron said, “I want a better communication between the two groups.” Bergeron added that the city may benefit from a kinder police department.
Grizzaffi said, “We need to talk about the 40 good things” the department does in addition to the one tragic accident.
Voisin said he wants to get the police department back to being “the backbone of the city.”
Dragna said, “If you raise morale, there’s no conflict (between groups).”
Mancuso said he wants “to have a police department that is fair to all and tough on crime.”
All the candidates agreed that the mayor should continue to appoint the police chief and fire chief because the mayor has to work closely with both chiefs.
Candidates were asked how they have prepared to replace a four-term mayor who has extensive experience working with FEMA and the Corps of Engineers.
Grizzaffi said he has followed closely what Matte has done in working with the two organizations.
Mancuso said he “worked with the Corps of Engineers to construct Lake End Park” as the city’s Recreation and Culture director.
Dragna said he visited the “No. 3 man in charge of FEMA” and discussed emergency preparedness with him. “It’s really not hard for me to call them (FEMA),” he said.
Bergeron said he also has worked with FEMA and the Corps of Engineers throughout his career.
Some candidates touted their own experiences as small business owners giving them the ability to help grow small business in the city.
Dragna said, “There’s not really anything the city can do to help me (as a small business) owner, but in certain instances the city can help.” He referenced a time when a water line broke at his business, and the city got the state to move the line at no cost to him.
Grizzaffi said he knows first-hand what small businesses need, as the owner of Grizzaffi’s Appliance and Furniture. “I’m the only candidate that owns a small business that depends strictly on citizens to stay in business,” he said.
Voisin said, “You can’t penalize small business owners with too much regulation” and that “city hall must cooperate with business.”
Each candidate addressed why he wants to become mayor and what he would do as mayor.
“There’s a perception that there’s a wall around City Hall,” Bergeron said. “I’m going to knock that wall down.” Bergeron also noted his experience in local government serving as chief administrative officer of Morgan City for 20 years.
Voisin said, “we’re going to clean up this city and use that inmate labor.” He said he would “take the door off the hinges to City Hall and put it in the closet.”
Mancuso said he has the experience serving in city government for 37 years, as recreation and culture director. “I’m running because I want to make Morgan City better,” he said. “We do have some troubled areas (of the city). We need to help them.”
Dragna said his business experience will allow him to run the city effectively. “I started my business from scratch,” he said. “It (the city) needs to run like a business (generating revenues).”
Grizzaffi said he is the “difference maker.” “I think I am the candidate who has the most customer service experience.”
KWBJ TV station will broadcast a replay of the debate at 7 p.m. Thursday.