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Assuming you’re elected…

Five questions with the candidates

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2007-11-01


We asked Republican Mayoral candidate Matt Kelty and Democratic Mayoral candidate Tom Henry five questions on what they would do if they were elected. Here are their answers.

Tom Henry (D)

Assuming you’re elected, what are the first five things you’d want to do as mayor?

Throughout the campaign I’ve had four several distinct areas of concentration. Within those areas of concentration are some initiatives and I would certainly like to have at least five of those initiatives implemented. The first one would be the employer/educator summit that I’ve been talking about, where I’m going to attempt to have the educators in our community sit down with a good cross section of our employer base and discuss ways of meeting the educational needs and providing opportunities for our graduating students.

The second thing I’d like to do is creating the economic development coordinating council which will be a council made up of representatives of the half a dozen or so groups that are meeting now that are working in the areas of economic development, whether it’s the retention of current businesses or the attraction of new businesses or the marketing of our area as the place to do business. We have a number of different groups meeting and I’d like to do is put together a coordinating council made up of representatives of each one so we can sit down at the table and make sure we’re all on the same page, all moving in the same direction.

The third thing I want to do is to implement my safe homes program. That’s where I’d be working with the police department and the school systems and neighborhood associations and identifying homes — it doesn’t even have to be homes, it can be businesses — but places where our youth can go if when they’re on their way to or from school, or while they’re out playing, if they feel they are in danger that they can seek a safe haven in one of these homes or business. We used to have that program back in the 80s and it kind of went away, and now over 600 communities in the country have brought it back. I think it would raise the comfort level of families and the comfort level of neighborhoods knowing that they’ve got that tool available in their neighborhood.

The fourth thing is the purchasing cooperative effort, where I’d like to join the purchasing program of our city and county. The purchasing directors would all sit down together and identify products that we could purchase together to recognize economies of scale. That’s what Wal-Mart does, Other big box stores buy in huge quantities and pass the savings on to customers; in our case we can do that and pass the savings on to tax payers.

The final area is the re-establishment of the small and mid-sized business liaison out of the mayor’s office. Back in the (Win) Moses administration, he had a small group of individuals who worked for the city, and their job was to go out and work with small business and mid-sized business — actually, they worked with larger ones, too but their primary concentration was small and mid-sized businesses — to not only thank them for their contribution to our community, but to also let them know what was available to them from the city to help them grow their businesses, everything from educational grants that are provided at the state level for training in certain areas to small business loans… there’s a number of tools that are available to help businesses grow and a lot of times because the businesses are working so hard they don’t know what’s available to them. So, those are the five things I’d like to implement as soon as possible.

Who are the first three business and community leaders you’d like to meet with?

This is really a tough one because… I’m meeting with a lot of them now, and I’d hate to leave someone off the list. You gave me a tough one there, only because there’s so many people who contribute to this community in so many different areas that I wouldn’t want to leave anyone off, and I wouldn’t want them thinking they’re less important than someone else. On the other hand, there are certainly a number of people that I need to meet with. For instance, the new head of the Chamber of Commerce, whoever he or she ends up being, I certainly need to speak with them. But in conjunction with that person, I also need to sit down with Rob Young from the Alliance. That can probably be a combined meeting (laughs). Because of my interest in social services in our community, I’d certainly meet the head of United Way. I’m going to have to meet with our county commissioners and the new president of the city council. And there’s no particular order as far as priority. I don’t mean to be evasive; that’s just a real tough one.

What would be your policy on media and public requests for information?

Certainly, I want to be open as I possibly can. Now, looking at this issue, there are certain state and federal regulations governing what people can have access to, particularly in the area of personell matters, certain security matters, certain financial matters that apply to contract negotiations in the midst of those negotiations so you don’t put somebody in a position where they wouldn’t have an equal playing field. So, where I can, I want to have a very open administration, but there are some areas that are either protected by state or federal law, or that we have to be very sensitive to because of the partnerships we’re working with. But outside of that, it’s going to be very open.

What do you think would be the biggest threat to your administration achieving its goals?

I’ve thought about this for quite some time. I think — and I’m going to get in trouble for this — but I think it’s the continuous amount of unfunded state and federal mandates that we get as a community that puts us in a very awkward position financially. They’re telling us “you have to do this and you have to do that” and “you’re mandated to do this and you’re mandated to do that,” but they don’t give us any funding. Which puts us in one heck of an awkward position. That in combination with legislation coming in from the state and federal level where we lose local control.

FWR: Can you give me an instance of one of those mandates?

The CSO mandate right now, the Combined Sewer Overflow. That’s probably going to cost us, oh, $400, $450 million ultimately over a 20 year period. I don’t have any problem with the mandate. We certainly need to make sure that we don’t dump raw sewage into our rivers. But, they’re telling us “okay, here’s the mandate. You’ve got to clean it up, and you’ve got to pay for it yourselves.” There have been other things like that. And a lot of it has to do with the environment, and that’s wonderful that we’re cleaning up the environment. I certainly don’t have a problem with that. But what concerns me is that they give us all these rules and regulations and no way of paying for them, except for going back to our citizens.

Four years from now, name three things you should have accomplished to make you worthy of re-election.

The first is, I want to make sure that the projects we have in place now are completed. For instance, Harrison Square, the Renaissance Pointe project, Southtown Center, the public safety academy, and the north river property. Those things are all on the table now and ought to be completed.

The second one is the implementation of those things I talked about earlier — the safe homes, the business liaisons, the group purchasing effort, the employer/educator summit.

The third is to continue to work with the state on property tax relief. Again, I think some steps have already been taken by the governor recently, and I know the state legislator is very concerned about it, and understandably so. But they need tools to the city to help us manage that problem better, give us some more local flexibility to address that whole property tax issue.

Matt Kelty (R)

Assuming you’re elected, what are the first five things you’d want to do as mayor?

One of the first things I would want to do is sit down with members of city council and discuss with them the ramifications of spending money the way we’ve been spending money. All property tax dollars collected essentially go to pay for local borrowing and local spending. It’s not just the City of Fort Wayne, it’s the County of Allen, the four school districts — all of the property taxing entities, whether it’s the Downtown Improvement District or the Fort Wayne International Airport or the township or whomever, I think it’s important that we understand that the more we spend and borrow, the more we have to tax. That’s one of the first things I’d do, is to convey to my fellow elected officials the need to control what we spend and what we borrow.

One of the axioms of my campaign is to reduce the regulation and burden of government. So I’d want to overhaul those city regulations — again, working with council so that they are supportive and understanding of what I’m doing and why — and try to remove the obstacles which sometimes impede private sector growth. Whether it’s the process of gaining an improvement location permit or applying for a tax abatement or whatever the case might be, we have to reduce those impediments. My goal is to establish Fort Wayne as the most business-friendly place in America; it becomes so profitable to own a business in Fort Wayne that Lincoln National Corporation (for example) has no choice but to return to Fort Wayne to maximize profits and return on the investment of their investors.

I want to explore ways to give incentives to city departments to spend less money based on performance. In other words, if we establish performance criteria and allow ourselves to be graded in the delivery of those services by the public — if the public has a place to go on the website where they can actually grade the city garbage pick-up, for example. If they can grade the city, and we get, say, a ‘B’ or better, and we save $10, then why not give $2 of those $10 to the employees of that department as a bonus for (a) performing their job well and providing a high level of service to the public; and (b) doing so in such a way that saves money? (That way) we can actually project into the future savings not based on ‘hey, I better put in the same amount of money (into my department) this year that I got last year plus a cost of living increase so that I can increase the size of my department…” If we can instead give department heads and their employees incentive for spending less money, I think we’ll be far better off.

I think we also need to look at how many things are being done by government that are outside the cluster of core services that are the legitimate uses of tax dollars, so that we begin to trim spending in areas that are really not the responsibility of government. I think we could save a surprising amount of money just based on that. For example, Harrison Square is the easy one. Is it the role of government to go out and leverage property tax dollars from two miles to the west to do something in downtown Fort Wayne that the market ought to do? If there’s an opportunity to make money, the market will take advantage of it. If there’s not, there won’t. Should government force it? I’m not convinced that it should.

And then even beyond that, how many contracts in the private sector are lost because government cannot respond quickly enough? The government has to move at the same pace as the private sector, and that is remarkably fast. We have to increase the speed of government. For instance, why can’t I fill out my application for an improvement location permit on the web? I’ve sort of taken a winding, circuitous path with this answer…

Who are the first three business and community leaders you’d like to meet with?

Bob Hinty (one of the founders of EMG Consulting) is one of the first, because he understands what it takes to be successful in the private sector. I would also want to meet Don Schenkel, who helped found a bank here in Fort Wayne (Tower Financial Corporation) and is the incoming Chamber of Commerce president. And then the third business person I would probably seek an audience with would be Pat Miller from Vera Bradley. You didn’t ask why, but for a variety of reasons I’d want to talk to her.

Also, John Popp is an interesting person, because he owns a bakery of all things in downtown Fort Wayne, which… in this day and age, an urban center is not the contemporary site most frequently sought by bakeries. I would want to find out from him what sorts of things he has to deal with as a manufacturer in downtown Fort Wayne. If I can find ways to make him more successful in downtown, then maybe I can find ways to bring other companies into our urban core, which I think is part of what we all want.

FWR: Why don’t you tell me why you’d like to meet with Pat Miller of Vera Bradley. I think I know why, but I’d like to hear it from you.

Well, she’s one of those intrepid entrepreneurs who 20 years ago was stitching together scraps of fabric in her basement with Barbara Bradley Baekgaard trying to figure out whether they could make a business out of this thing. Sure enough, they did. They built their corporate headquarters just outside the city. I think that is something we should pay attention to. Here is a woman who started her company in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and yet she chose to build her corporate headquarters outside the city, kind of like Chuck Surack did with Sweetwater, kind of like Parkview Hospital did with Parkview North. I think we need to understand why, and if it’s not obvious, I want to understand all the reasons why, because it should be our goal to have them inside the city of Fort Wayne. What would it take to make building their headquarters inside the city so advantageous that they would choose to do so?

What would be your policy on media and public requests for information?

The spirit of the Kelty administration will be completely open book, full access, full transparency. City government, municipal government, local government… you know, this level of government should be completely accessible to the average citizen whether they take the time to come downtown and ask for a copy of some document, whether they go on the web, whether they call on the phone. Constituents ought to be able to track the way dollars are flowing through the City of Fort Wayne’s government. Enough of the back room deals.

Information should be sent out expeditiously, so that if I want a copy of a document and today is Monday, I ought to be able to get that copy in my mailbox in a week. It shouldn’t take weeks. It took me 10 days to get a copy of the city’s option to purchase the Omnisource property. Not bad. But I told them when I called “I’m waiting to make a statement on this issue until I get a copy of the option. If it’s possible, I’ll come over this afternoon and pick it up. I’m right across the street.” I didn’t get it for 10 days. Come on, what’s the big deal? It was a brief document; make a copy and send it out, same day. I don’t understand why that’s such a challenge. When I worked for Dan Coats and Dick Lugar, any constituent who called wanting information, they got that information faster than we can get information from the city today.

What do you think would be the biggest threat to your administration achieving its goals?

Well, we’ve come through a generation where I think the predominant way of thinking was that government had the answers, it was in control, it was the master. I think we really have an important need today to understand that government is the servant, not the master. It doesn’t have all the answers. It can’t create jobs. There is an important need to re-cast the culture and the chemistry of city government. It needs to be “how can we help? What is it we can do to make your job as a neighborhood association president easier? How can we make your neighborhood stronger? How can we in the police department serve the neighborhood better? How can we make it easier for private sector business men and women to make money?”

Again, the government doesn’t create jobs, the private sector does. We need to get out of its way and do what government can do in terms of making sure basic services are properly provided — good roads, good sewers, good water. Zoning should be attended to in order to maintain the health, safety and welfare of the public, but not so cumbersome that if I want to re-zone a piece of property I can’t get it done.

Why is it that government doesn’t reach out after someone has gone through the process of getting a special use or a variance to say “was that a successful process for you? What could we have done to make the process smoother?” This is what the private sector does. It follows up and says “hey, did we do a good job? What should we do the next time you and I work together to make your project more successful?” So, again, I think changing that culture and chemistry of city government is an important step that’s going to be a challenge. But it can be done, it needs to be done, and the sooner the better.

Four years from now, name three things you should have accomplished to make you worthy of re-election.

We should have moved into a new class of city where we are now evaluated based on how easy it is to do business, not only with government, but how easy it is to do business as a private sector company. End of the day, companies can make more money for their investors in Fort Wayne than anywhere else in the US.

If we can do that, we will have provided a critical answer to this fundamental problem of our eroding property tax base. I would posit that the reason we’ve had to annex, the reason we’ve had to go out and grab areas that have developed adjacent to the city of Fort Wayne is because we have not attended well to our own property tax base. It has eroded. And as individuals in charge looked down the road, they saw that revenues were not going to keep pace with anticipated expenditures, so they have preemptively reclaimed areas out northeast and out southwest and out northwest.

So, I should be evaluated four years from now on how well we’ve stabilized and begun the process of re-building Fort Wayne’s property tax base. If you’ll notice in the current mayor’s claim of a billion dollars of development in the urban core, he’s including Sweetwater clear out on 30 outside the city. Vera Bradley out by the airport, outside the city. No. Let’s not pretend. Let’s not fall into the Orwellian “if I tell you something, you’ll believe me even though it’s not true.” Let’s actually paint a clear picture of how well we’re doing, and be willing to accept responsibility.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I do claim to have some basic understating of what businesses want. Fort Wayne will not become a thriving place for high-paying jobs because we have a baseball park that we’re going to be paying $80 million in interest over the next 30 years. Fort Wayne will become a thriving place with better-paying jobs because it’s a place where companies can increase their bottom line. Period. End of story.

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