04/22/12 — Two candidates will compete for chance to lead Fremont

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Two candidates will compete for chance to lead Fremont

By Gary Popp
Published in News on April 22, 2012 1:50 AM

FREMONT -- After eight years in office, Fremont Mayor Devone Jones has decided against seeking re-election.

But in his absence, two longtime residents, W. Darron Flowers and Leroy Ruffin, are vying for the opportunity to lead the town.

Flowers, who has lived in Fremont since 1966, first ran for the seat in 2008, but said he is not letting one failed attempt at election stop him from chasing an opportunity to return the town to days when it was a coveted attraction in northern Wayne County.

"My platform is very basic: to give fair and impartial leadership to all the citizens of Fremont and to, hopefully, do more things to make it more attractive to people to move into Fremont," he said.

And his background in education -- Flowers served as superintendent of both Fremont City Schools and Wayne County Public Schools -- he argued, should serve him well, as those experiences provided him with opportunities to have an effective dialogue with the public and to comprehend often complicated budgetary matters.

"I have become fairly knowledgeable about budgets and most appreciative of the fact that you can have an ambitious agenda, but the agenda, to a great degree, is controlled by the amount of money you have coming into the system, and that is one of the issues Fremont has," he said. "Finances is always one of the major issues as we address the town."

Flowers added that he also understands the value of having working relationships with town officials.

"Any time you deal with any (person), whether it be a voting member or the mayor, you are dealing with relationships. If you build appropriate relationships and if you give sound arguments to your positions, I think people have a tendency to agree to make the right decisions," he said. "I don't necessarily think I might have every right decision, but I do think consensus can be met as we venture through this entire structure."

But while there are areas Flowers feels he can improve upon, he was hesitant to pass judgment on those currently serving on the Town Board.

"I learned a long time ago that old saying, 'If you don't wear a person's shoes, you don't know the steps he has taken,'" he said. "Until I get in and have an opportunity to work with the board, to work with the budget, to work with the paid staff, I think it would be almost foolish of me to criticize or praise."

Mayor Pro Tempore Leroy Ruffin is one of those currently charged with Fremont's success.

And as someone who has lived in northern Wayne County for 60 years -- and spent many of them as a public servant -- he also sees himself as the best candidate for the position.

In addition to his duties on the board, Ruffin also serves as both a special deputy with the Wayne County Sheriff's Office and part-time Fremont police officer.

Add to that 20 years as a member of the board, and, he says, that makes him as prepared to lead as anyone.

"I have a good rapport with the city manager, a good rapport with Public Works and the office staff and the people," Ruffin said. "A lot of people know who I am. They know that I am fair. They know that I am going to do what is right. I have served all those years, and I have a pretty good track record of doing what is right."

And that track record, he added, includes years of responsibly with the town's checkbook.

"(I) try not to spend a ridiculous amount of money because we are in the same crunch as every other little city," he said. "You try to be conservative as possible and stay within your means."

Ruffin added that by working conservatively and learning from other small towns in the state who have found success addressing the same problems found in Fremont, the town's fiscal restraints are not insurmountable.

"The whole deal in Fremont is to maintain what we got because we have a very small tax base, and if we don't maintain what we got, we are going to go under," he said. "That is what I see right now, is trying to stay above water with it."

As mayor, Ruffin said he would look for alternative sources of revenue as the current tax base does not cover the cost of town functions.

"You have to start reaching out to other places and try to find money to try to help keep Fremont afloat, because you can't keep charging your customers this exorbitant rate," he said. "You are going to run everybody away."

But by examining untapped resources, including large tracts of land on the east side of Interstate 795, that problem could be fixed.

So Ruffin wants to set up an advisory committee, one comprised of town officials and residents, to take the initiative of influencing those who own land near Interstate 795 to make their properties available to outside business, which, he says, are poised to build in Fremont.

"Get this committee together, talk to the land owners at 795 and try to talk them into taking a reasonable amount of money for their land," he said. "This might be a hard thing, but I feel we could all come together and talk about this thing.

"We have had quite a few people asking about building down there, over at the 795 interchange, but the price is just a little bit out of reach right now. That is going to be the main way to really get new revenue to Fremont."

And with more businesses opening in the area, fewer residents, he argued, would have to look outside the city limits for gainful employment.

"Right now we are at the point where we are losing a lot of citizens, and the reason we are losing a lot of citizens is because higher cost of living in Fremont. Fremont, as everybody knows is a bedroom town," Ruffin said. "A lot of people love Fremont because it is a slow, easy going town, but you have to go somewhere else to make your living."