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The bad news is, there is no bad news

By Jim Sack

Fort Wayne Reader

2013-02-14


Before a couple hundred people — mostly cheering city employees, camp followers, the media and an occasional concerned citizen — the Mayor delivered 31 applause lines in a 30-minute speech ending with a rousing call to “work together” to “engage each other in thought, in activities and by working together,” to ask not what your city can do for you….

The mayor does need our help and it is out community, so we do need to be leaders and doers in our own community, as most of us are, so he was mostly preaching to the choir. Tens of thousands of Fort Wayner’s volunteer each day at churches, youth sports, neighborhood associations, service clubs, sister cities programs, festivals, or just picking up the trash our less thoughtful citizen brothers and sisters toss from car windows.

A State of the City address should be a review of what is going right balanced with what is not so right in our community. However, Mayor Henry barely touched on what troubles the city: crime, neighborhood streets, infrastructure and indifferent governance.
So, here are just a very few of the pats on the back the mayor gave himself:

*national awards bestowed for our recycling program and the management of our city vehicle fleet management; for being a Bike Friendly City, A Playful City, and A Tree City USA.

*he touted his lead in jobs creation;

*the permitting process has been streamlined;

*city finances are strong;

*the head count in government is shrinking;

*the city budget remains flat:

*our local economy is diversifying

*tax policy is under official review, recommendations soon;

*revitalization of downtown, a Mecca for engagement” is rushing forward;

*Renaissance Pointe is a success;

*Infrastructure improvements abound;

*The Legacy process is moving rapidly forward;

*Our Trails network has grown like topsy;

*Indiana Tech and the University of St. Francis are expanding downtown; while Ivy Tech has taken the lead at the Public Service Academy.

Quite a list. Let us examine a few. First, he praised Vera Brady for creating jobs. They did, but at a net loss of 110 to 150 jobs to the community. They dropped suppliers employing 600 workers, brought the work in-house and hired 450 workers. Not the most shining example of job creation. And, as for a diversifying economy Mayor Henry cited insurance, defense and health care as if Lincoln National, Raytheon and Parkview were new to town.

His plaudits for Renaissance Point begs the question of old Eden Green a few blocks away, a nursery for crime and a showplace for neglect. Southeast neighborhood leaders also point to overgrown lots, tumble down buildings, dangling wires, barbed-wire accented industrial enclosures, missing sidewalks, crumbling curbs and neglected streets and wonder how the mayor can paint such a rosy picture.

The Public Service Academy, mentioned as a bright spot, was all but given to Ivy Tech after the city failed to make a go of the remarkable facility. Certainly, it was oversold in the first place, but it has languished without effective leadership for a decade, six of those years on this mayor’s watch.

Congratulating our excellent police chief on all of the new technology in cars overlooks the sharp rises in crime in the city. Then he congratulated himself for appointing the first female fire chief then listed the achievements of her predecessor.

And city finances are most certainly “challenged.” State caps on property taxes and council’s levy policy have prompted the city controller, as our reserves drain away, to convene a blue ribbon panel to advice on a new mix of revenues that probably will mean higher payroll taxes.

Then there were the Legacy comments. Give Mayor Henry full credit. He shepherded the process from wresting an honest sale price, to empowering citizen participation, to moving the award phase through a skeptical city council.

But “transformational” a roundabout at Ewing and Superior is not. No one can quite explain why that “problem” is now so pressing. It was on no participating citizen’s top ten, top twenty or top 100 list of pressing community problems. It was not recommended by anyone during the Legacy Process and its inclusion taints the process.

Behind Legacy lurks the question of the Rifkin dumpsite, the old Omnisource grounds now euphemistically called North River, that is saturated with toxic chemicals and metals. The mayor let an option to buy expire, but won’t explain why. He is leaving much to conjecture suggesting that that his allies, the Rifkins, will get a sweetheart deal and taxpayers will foot clean up expenses.

The mayor ended his speech by asking us to innovate, create, to be imaginative and bold. One could hear echoes of John Kennedy’s “ask not” 1960 inaugural speech. Cheerleading, motivation, moral persuasion and prioritization, are the essence of his job, and the part Mayor Henry relishes.

But our challenges, our significant problems, which he skimmed over, are daunting: we pollute our rivers with reckless abandon; we have roads that are in disrepair, unemployment among drop-outs and high school grads runs between 12 and 20%, crime is spiking, south central neighborhoods and south eastern quadrant of the city are in woeful disrepair; government still dictates “solutions” on unsuspecting citizens; quality jobs are being replaced by part-time work; our parks are neglected; and sprawl overstretches our lines of supply.

Perhaps next year, it would be nice if the mayor had a heart-to-heart with us, to inform us of what the real state of the city is, of both the successes and the significant problems to we must confront.

And perhaps the Republicans on council should present their own State of the City to give us some idea of their priorities, if they have any.

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