Home > Political Animal > Conflicts, trains, and Boy Scouts

Conflicts, trains, and Boy Scouts

By Jim Sack

Fort Wayne Reader

2013-12-19


Conflict of interest

You can imagine how Belinda Lewis must have felt when she walked into court and saw Mitch Harper. Belinda runs Animal Care and Control. Mr. Harper is a powerful councilman. They were there to argue the shooting of a raccoon by a cranky old codger named Jim Sechler who had delivered the coup de grace to what he diagnosed as a terminally sick raccoon. Sechler is a blow-hard who will quickly tell you he is smarter than anyone in the room, including you; and, now he can add amateur veterinarian to his Who’s Who bio.

So, there sat Sechler and Harper, across the table from Mrs. Lewis and ACC attorney Larry Shine, the brother of Steve Shine, the Republican County Chairman, the party for which Mr. Harper hopes to be the party nominee. No need to go into the crime and punishment details, suffice it to say that Mr. Harper lords it over the various city departments during annual city budget hearings, including the various budget lines of Animal Care and Control. Department heads, including Mrs. Lewis, have to grovel before council to avoid big cuts in their budgets. Mr. Harper, as a councilman, has one of those nine deciding votes.

I guess you can see the potential for intimidation. I am sure Mr. Harper has good reason to defend his constituent, the shooter, but the unspoken message to Mrs. Lewis was obvious and should have been avoided by someone seeking the mayor’s office. Certainly, Mr. Harper is one of the brightest minds in Fort Wayne, and certainly he is eminently fair, but from the other side of the table the view must have been somewhat different?

“I hear that train a’ comin’”

The tide has turned concerning high speed rail (HSR). Perhaps, I should amend that to read, the engine is out of the house on to the main line. After getting his comeuppance from fellow council members in November, Geoff Paddock was warmly received as he made his formal presentation for $200,000 in city money to fund a study.
After all, as one councilman put it, the vote was only to voice the sense of council, not appropriate the first dollar. That little spat will come later, perhaps as you read these words.

The comeuppance came when Mr. Paddock all but blindsided his fellow councilmen with a proposal to take $200,000 from the Legacy Fund. Nope, sang the Greek chorus at the table in front of everyone. Undaunted, Mr. Paddock pressed on and, surprisingly received encouragement and counsel from penny-pincher Councilman Russ Jehl who delved into city ledgers and found money already allocated for such efforts.

The revised resolution — not a spending bill, just a resolution — was unanimously cheer by his fellow councilmen.

And, the sentiment voiced by councilmen at the table and afterwards suggests that they believe Mr. Paddock’s assessment that HSR will bring a bit more prosperity, and more travel options to Fort Wayne. Expect the spending authorization to pass soon and for HSR to come to Fort Wayne sometime this century.

Movin’ on down the line

John Urbahns is leaving the city after decades in community development. He will be sorely missed for his quiet demeanor, his grasp of planning and his vast experience. He was poached by his former boss, former Deputy Mayor Mark Becker, to work at Greater Fort Wayne Inc., whence current Mayor Tom Henry poached current Deputy Mayor Karl Bandemer. Perhaps this is all a waste of time, this game of musical chairs, or political incest, perhaps the “most business friendly city in the galaxy” should just annex Greater Fort Wayne and make it a city department.

Mr. Ball State Cardinal Urbahns leaves either at either an inopportune time or the perfect time, depending on one’s perspective: he has been largely responsible for shepherding the Legacy process through what looked two years ago rather like the No-Man’s land of the Westfront. Instead, he and his staff turned the process into a walk in the sublimely beautiful Foster Park. So who will shepherd the Legacy forward and who will bring down the “transformational” plans espoused by the administration? There is certainly one excellent candidate within the department who has served since the dismal Armstrong years. But, the mayor may wish to go outside for a fresh perspective, albeit with a long learning curve.

Boy Scout of the Year

And the winner is….Russ Jehl. The recent red hand across the table to Mr. Blue was just one of many instances when Russ Jehl offered a life-line to some one in trouble or seeking direction. Another instance came recently when he interceded on behalf of “Fluoride Free Fort Wayne” in their attempt to reduce the levels of that chemical in City Utility formulas. CU simply wasn’t returning calls, so Mr. Jehl brokered a meeting.

Before that, he teamed with union leaders, Democrats and county Republicans to reform the overly generous and sloppily managed tax abatement system. Then, during the budget reform process of the spring he played a pivotal role in developing the various options that have since become law, again working with both sides of the table and with the administration. And, for a rank newcomer, he has become as expert in matters of city finances as the old dogs. Furthermore, while a conservative, he does not play the spoiler or gatekeeper, Mr. Jehl listens and learns and then formulates a position while ever open to a better approach. Give that man a merit badge.

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