Home > Political Animal > Corruption, Cronyism and Construction: That was 2012

Corruption, Cronyism and Construction: That was 2012

By Jim Sack

Fort Wayne Reader


In 2012, the biggest stories in local politics were about Corruption, featuring Paul Moss, county councilman, standing at center stage; Cronyism starring another county councilman, Larry Brown, whispering from behind drawn curtains, and Construction, which saw the lengthy and very public Legacy process take its biggest steps forward.

The Legacy Process was certainly the most important story of the year and the previous year and probably for years to come. A Legacy of some $80 million dollars promised to us by former Mayor Ivan Lebamoff and won for us by Mayors Graham Richard and Tom Henry is now set to cause transformative change in our city. City Council has passed it in principle and the City is prepared to commission studies and draw up plans. Over the past year groups of citizens worked in the open with the administration to recommend the best uses of the money. River front development will be the highest priority.

The growth of Tom Henry in 2012 was remarkable. Not unexpectedly he stumbled through his first four years with significant personnel problems, perceived lies concerning a casino for downtown Fort Wayne, and a dozen other missteps. After the people of Fort Wayne chose him over the Republican challenger late in 2011, Mayor Henry firmly took control. A major step forward was the appointment of Mr. Congeniality, Mark Becker, a longtime public servant with wide-ranging experience and a warm personality, to be the City’s number two and Mayor Henry’s point man in negotiations with other government entities. Additionally, Mayor Henry has taken the leadership mantel with his endorsement of Controller Pat Roller’s blue-ribbon panel to study and restructure our tax system.

Speaking of leadership and legacies, Tom Smith, the 2012 president of City Council, has earned kudos for both. He is a congenial, but firm, president who has kept eight other enlarged egos pulling in tandem, a promising comparison to 2011. Certainly, the voter’s choice of constructive personalities over contentiousness has aided his job, but Smith is tough, strong and knows how to lead. He also consistently offers his own ideas from the bully pulpit for the betterficiation of Fort Wayne. Smith’s legacy is the Fifth Tuesday forum. The previously wasted Fifth Tuesday of each quarter is now used to openly discuss the most important matters of the day.

The title of Mr. Corruption goes to County Councilman Paul Moss who used his bullying attitude and his buddy-buddy status with the Sheriff, Ken Fries, to avoid a possible DWI charge. The story is well known by now: a young officer stops a swerving Moss in the early morning hours, and Moss calls the sheriff hoping to cover up the mess. It goes public and Moss spends thousands, he says, defending his sooty reputation. Moss then has the audacity to blame everyone but himself and promises to use his power so that he won’t have to suffer the same indignities in the future…

The Cronyism Award goes to another county councilman, President Larry Brown. After two labor leaders raised a sheaf of questions concerning the efficacy of the local tax abatement process, local government was forced to publicly reconsider the policy. Brown took control and formed a working committee that held public discussions that were simply not publicized to the general public or to the people who had raised the questions in the first place. In fact, Brown made an effort to keep the public out. Brown, however, did invite his cronies from the Chamber of Commerce and other groups who are at the tax-avoidance trough to advise the committee. In January 2013 Brown and Cronies will reveal their “sweeping” changes that will not be changes at all, just the proverbial rearranging of deck chairs. Brown savors tax breaks for company owners as a feather in his re-election cap; economic development staff can show they are “productive” every time they hustle a tax break; and the Chamber sees tax avoidance as their favored form of redistribution of wealth. Recently, the Pew Center for Research in the Public Interest published a national study showing there was no evidence that abatements contribute to local economic development, just the point the labor leaders made and exactly what Brown has worked so hard to obscure.

Oh and Mitch Harper, perennial potential candidate, announced his intention to run for mayor in 2015. He did so in banter at a backyard barbeque. The news of the “declaration” was leaked, with permission, by one of his fellow grilled-pickle gnoshering friends. Talk about springing out of the starting gate. But all kidding aside, Mr Harper would make an excellent mayor.

Oh, and surprise, surprise. The Democrat grass roots candidate for State Superintendent of Education beat the favorite of the governor and the rest of the Red State political establishment. She earned a hundred thousand more votes (remember, she is a she and she is a Democrat in a male dominated Red state) than the Republican candidate for governor. The Reds quickly closed ranks and tried to figure out how to sideline her by changing the office from elected to gubernatorial appointment. It is reminiscent of how they changed the rules after their candidate for Secretary of State was convicted of vote fraud, where they thought they held the moral high ground. Ritz, however, is not rolling over.

The gerrymandering Republicans did vanquish Win Moses, the longtime state representative and former Mayor of Fort Wayne, by transferring out hundreds of Democrats from his district to another and replacing them with hundreds of Republicans. Despite the crude manipulation, Moses came close to retaining his seat. He was one of the few representatives who spoke for people, not a set of corporations, so he will be missed.

Sure, there were other political stories in Allen County in 2012, but the most brazen were the shenanigans of Moss and Brown, and the most promising that of the Legacy. We could have added efforts by John Shoaff to involve citizens at the beginning of planning processes, the mature showing of debutant councilman Russ Jehl and redevelopment in downtown Fort Wayne. All were important stories and all predict the future, but the ying and yang of Moss/Brown backroom dealing juxtaposed with the openness of the Legacy Process is the story of the year.

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