Saturday, September 30, 2023

Candidates field questions at Flower Mound mayoral forum

Flower Mound mayoral candidates: Stephanie Bell, Derek France, Itamar Gelbman, Cheryl Moore, Jehangir Raja

Flower Mound mayoral candidates discussed ways to improve the town and traded some jabs during a candidate forum hosted by The Cross Timbers Gazette on Thursday night.

The current mayor, Steve Dixon, chose to not seek reelection, and five residents filed to run to succeed him: Stephanie Bell, a business strategist; Derek France, owner of Cross Timbers Consulting Group; Itamar Gelbman, a former town council member and local business owner; Cheryl Moore, a physical therapist; and Jehangir Raja, a financial executive.

A hot-button topic was addressed with a simple question, “Do you support adding more apartment buildings in Flower Mound?” Moore and Raja said no: “I think we have enough apartments right now.” Bell suggested that she is probably more pro-apartment than the other candidates, but said she doesn’t want to see any new ones soon. France said he’s “not entirely opposed to apartments.” Gelbman pointed out that he voted against apartments when he previously served on Town Council, and is still staunchly against them.

The candidates were asked for their positions on Furst Ranch, a huge proposed mixed-use development at the corner of FM 1171 and Hwy 377 in far west Flower Mound. Bell said she’s “100% in favor of Furst … this is going to be a huge financial benefit for Flower Mound.” France said he “absolutely” supports it, praising the planned parkland on the Furst land and the tax benefits for the town. Gelbman said that as a proponent of limited government, he supports the right to develop the Furst Ranch land, but “it has to be built according to our town vision … to make sure it will be sustainable for future generations.” Moore said Furst Ranch needs to be re-evaluated and she’d prefer fewer apartments, and Raja praised the Furst plan, “but it can be improved.”

Another simple question was about how often has each candidate voted in local elections. Gelbman said he’s voted in every election since moving to Flower Mound eight years ago, while every other candidate only said they voted in the November 2020 election, which included local races in addition to the presidential and other national and state races. Raja said he only moved to Flower Mound in 2019, so he didn’t have the chance to vote locally before then.

Sometimes throughout the forum, the candidates’ inexperience showed. Gelbman is the only candidate who has been elected to office before — as a Town Council member from 2015-17 — but he was a controversial figure in those two years, and was found in an outside investigation to have potentially used his position for financial gain and threatened to “bankrupt this [expletive] town” if the investigator’s report was released. Before serving on council, Gelbman also served as a Planning & Zoning Commissioner.

France is the only other candidate who has served on any Town of Flower Mound board or commission, on the Town’s Veterans Liaison Board and Animal Services Board, but it turns out he should not have been appointed to the Veterans Board. Gelbman brought up during the forum that the town requires Veterans Liaison Board members to be currently serving in the military or be a veteran, but France is not. This was addressed during Monday’s Town Council meeting, when two council members and the mayor acknowledged the mistake. Mayor Dixon said that the applicant stated in his application and before the council that he is not a veteran, but the council failed to follow its own criteria, and it will address it at the next council meeting.

During the candidate forum, France criticized Gelbman’s track record for missing many council meetings when he served on Town Council. Bell — who has said that she only decided to run because she saw that Gelbman was running — provided the first opening statement, coming strong at multiple other candidates, saying “they’re not here to serve you or the town, they’re here to serve themselves.” She continued to criticize Gelbman throughout the forum, at one point calling him Terri Shawn, the sole admin account for the 25,000-member Flower Mound Cares Facebook group, which is run by Gelbman when he’s not running for public office and Shawn when he is.

In 2018, when Gelbman was running for Denton County Commissioner for Precinct 4, the Terri Shawn account asked The Cross Timbers Gazette to take down letters to the editor that were critical of Gelbman, and if the CTG did so, it would be allowed to bid to be the exclusive news provider for Flower Mound Cares. The CTG declined, and was subsequently banned from the group. The group also blocked current Mayor Steve Dixon from posting.

Click here for more information about the five candidates.

Mark Smith
Mark Smith
Mark Smith is the Digital Editor of The Cross Timbers Gazette.

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