By Bud Gillett, CBS 11 News

IRVING (CBSDFW.COM) – Irving’s four mayoral candidates, all of whom are political veterans, believe the election’s largest issue is how the city is handling a host of projects designed to enhance its newly opened convention center.

Beth Van Duyne and Tom Spink are former councilmembers. Joe Putnam was the mayor in Irving before Herbert Gears.

Gears, the incumbent mayor, is proud of his record and touts his experience, saying that all major issues go through the mayor’s office.

“There’s a whole lot of management that’s required to provide good, quality neighborhood city services and safe neighborhoods and things like that,” he said.

He points to a citywide reduction in violent crime during his two terms as a positive development during his tenure.

The biggest controversy this election season, candidates say, is city handling of projects designed to bolster its eye-catching convention center.

The candidates agree that a hotel is needed on to support the new convention center, but there’s wide disagreement over whether an Entertainment Complex is needed as well.

Gears said it is.

“We blew up our entertainment destination when we lost the Cowboys, so if you live outside of Irving now there’s no real destination that would bring you into Irving,” he said.

“I believe it needs to be canceled,” Putnam countered.

Putnam is critical of the $23 million the city has given to a developer’s group headed by Billy Bob Barnett, who is also Gears’ biggest campaign contributor.

Putnam said all the other candidates were in office for all or part of the Entertainment Complex problems.

“I think the city staff, the City Council and the mayor all share responsibility for lack of oversight in the expenditure of $22 to $23 million in hotel tax money for the project,” he said.

Though development has been stymied by lawsuits, Putnam thinks that further change is needed at city hall.

“Enhanced citizen input in council decisions and more open government, less secrecy, and more transparency,” Putnam said.

Van Duyne is also critical of the Entertainment Complex so far.

“We’ve spent $23 million and the only thing we have to show for it right how is pretty drawings,” she said.

She supports the entertainment concept, but wants competing project partners.

“Try to incentivize a couple of different builders, come in and compete for that property, compete for the access to business there,” she said. “Once they are somewhat successful, others will follow.”

Tom Spink also thinks private enterprise is the only real answer.

“I’d like to see that hotel financed 100 percent with private funds to support the convention center. I’d like to see the Entertainment Center financed with private funds to bring business into the city,” Spink said. “I think private enterprise is the way to go, not public funds.”