A former Madison selectman is challenging a Starks selectman in the race to represent District 2 on the Somerset County Board of Commissioners.

Cyprien Johnson, 66, of Madison, served three years on the Madison Board of Selectmen and six years on the Skowhegan Board of Selectmen while Paul Frederic, 74, is the current chairman of the Starks Board of Selectmen and is in his 11th year as a board member.

The commission sets policies for the county and oversees departments such as the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office and the court system. District 2 includes Anson, Madison, Mercer, New Portland, Smithfield and Starks. The seat was previously held by Robert Dunphy, who is not running for re-election.

Both candidates said if elected they will focus on issues of the economy, particularly how it has been affected by the closure of Madison Paper Industries.

Frederic, a former director of the state Land Use Planning Commission, said his background in state and local government would provide good experience and he would focus on ways to attract other business to Somerset County.

He is also focused on the issues that stem from a loss of jobs, like drug abuse and crime. “We need to improve access to education to fight the drug epidemic and reduce rural crime and domestic violence,” Frederic said. “A lot of these things are tied together, and that’s the strategy we need to have to move forward.”

Johnson, who served on the Madison Board of Selectmen until June when he did not run for re-election, said he also agrees with the need to focus on economic development and said he would like to bring more workers to Backyard Farms, now Madison’s largest employer, and work on developing a Somerset County Chamber of Commerce.

“Economic development is one of our sore spots in central Maine,” Johnson said. “The closure of the Madison mill put a big hole in our economy, and we need to focus now on drawing more people in.”

Frederic, meanwhile, said his experience in agriculture and land use planning would also help him as a commissioner. Agriculture, he said, is one area where Somerset County can grow its economy, and he has insight as a dairy farmer into how that could work. The Land Use Planning Commission also oversees spending in the unorganized territory, which makes up a large portion of Somerset County, so Frederic said he also has familiarity in the areas north of Bingham.

Johnson, meanwhile, said an additional focal point for him would be the dispute between the state Board of Corrections and Somerset County Jail over whether the now-defunct board had the right to withhold state money from the county after it used federal funds to pay off debt on building a new jail in East Madison. Johnson said it will be important to continue working on the issue and provide support for the sheriff’s office.

“I like to participate, I always have,” Johnson said. “I think I have the experience to back it up, too.”

Frederic would have to give up his seat on the Starks Board of Selectmen if elected, since the county charter prohibits commissioners from also holding municipal office.

“I think I have something to offer based on my experience and am interested in addressing a number of what I consider to be very significant challenges for the county,” Frederic said. “I think I understand how government is put together at the local level and also to some degree at the state level.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm