Tuesday, October 3, 2023

A ‘train wreck’ — Flower Mound mayoral candidates debate ahead of runoff

Flower Mound mayoral candidates Itamar Gelbman and Derek France.

Derek France and Itamar Gelbman, the two remaining candidates for mayor of Flower Mound, participated in a debate at Flower Mound Town Hall on Wednesday night.

It was … uncomfortable.

How we got here

Current mayor Steve Dixon chose to not seek reelection, and five candidates filed to succeed him. To win, a candidate needs more than half the vote, which was unlikely with five people on the ballot. France came in first with about 41% of the vote in the May 1 General Election, and Gelbman came in second with about 24%. The top two finishers head to a runoff election on June 5, giving Flower Mound residents a choice between two men, one with little town experience and the other with a controversial history.

Gelbman served on Flower Mound Town Council from 2015-17, during which he 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. A grand jury ultimately decided to not indict him on a charge of violating the town’s ethics code. Gelbman is currently being sued by actor Charlie Sheen in a case in which the judge found Gelbman “intentionally took advantage” of Sheen’s chronic inebriation when Gelbman briefly worked as his bodyguard.

Gelbman runs the 25,000-member Flower Mound Cares Facebook group when he’s not running for public office, and when he is, the group’s sole admin is Terri Shawn. In 2018, when Gelbman was running for Denton County Commissioner for Precinct 4 — he ultimately came in fourth of four candidates in the Republican primary — 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.

During this election period, the town of Flower Mound asked Gelbman to not use the town logo on his campaign signs because it “could be construed by the public as an endorsement of a candidate for office by the Town,” the town secretary said in an email to the candidates. Gelbman refused to do so, citing first amendment rights.

France does not have nearly as much history in the local public eye or in public service, but he was recently appointed to the town’s Veterans Liaison Board and Animal Services Board. However, the Flower Mound Town Council acknowledged that it broke its own rule when it appointed him to serve on its new Veterans Liaison Board. The council then changed the rule to allow France to stay on the board. France has the endorsements of Dixon, the Greater Lewisville Association of Realtors, and the Flower Mound firefighters and police associations. He said in the previous mayoral forum that he didn’t vote in local elections until the November 2020 General Election.

The debate

Most local candidate forums are structured to have a moderator ask questions about local issues, and each candidate provides their answer. The format was changed for this debate, however, because there were now only two candidates and they had already participated in the previous mayoral forum. Instead, France and Gelbman posed questions to each other.

The first few questions revolved around the issue of apartments and other developments in Flower Mound. Gelbman continues to be staunchly against any more apartments in the town, and generally opposes dense development in Flower Mound, particularly the proposed Furst Ranch development in far west Flower Mound. France, on the other hand, has supported the Furst Ranch plans and is more open to development and growth.

Little new information was revealed during the debate. Few voters’ minds were likely changed in the process.

Both candidates sniped at each other throughout the 50-minute debate and brought up each other’s past, personal and business finances and each other’s supporters. Nothing, though, topped Gelbman’s question to France about a “sexually oriented” Facebook post he made about his (France’s) wife a long time ago, a question that prompted a “what does that have to do with anything” groan from the crowd and a laugh from France.

At one point, a France supporter stood up and yelled in response to Gelbman, and there was a brief verbal confrontation in the audience between two older men, and someone called the police. Officers stood in the back for a while but didn’t take any action.

After the debate, residents in Flower Mound-centric social media groups called it a “train wreck” and lamented their options for mayor.

“I’ll never get that time back,” one resident said. “I don’t think we should ever again have a Flower Mound mayoral debate,” another quipped. One new resident may have summed it up best when he posited “Hi my family just moved to Flower Mound and I joined both community groups and was just wondering wtf?”

Watch the debate below:

When and where to vote

The runoff election will be held June 5 at the Flower Mound Senior Center, 2701 West Windsor Drive. Early voting starts Monday and runs through June 1 at the Senior Center and several other locations in Denton County.

Tarrant County residents can vote at the The REC of Grapevine, 1175 Municipal Way, Grapevine.

Find more voting information here.

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

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