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What is conflict of interest?

By Jim Sack

Fort Wayne Reader

2014-07-31


What is conflict of interest?

• Is it when Deputy Chief and City Councilman Marty Bender votes on his own pay package, those of his bosses and buddies on the force as he did for years and years?

• Is it when Toms Smith and Didier, both devote Catholics, voted to give the University of Saint Francis a $3 million gift from public funds?

• Is it a conflict when the Catholic mayor, and former “Alumnus of the Year” at USF, packages, presents and endorses the religious school’s application for public funds and the City Council attorney, also a devote Catholic, finds a philosophical way around the obvious violation of the Separation of Church and State?

• Is it when the city controller helps craft the budget of the Fire Department when her husband was the chief?

• Is it when aspiring out-of-town contractors make hefty gifts to the Mayor Henry for Mayor-Henry-Just-One-More-Time-Cause-I’m-on-a-Roll Committee then bid on lucrative contracts?

• How about when Mitch Harper, city councilman, puts on his private attorney wig to represent a citizen against Animal Care and Control over whose budget he has the ax?

• How about our lean-running EMS making its real money on scheduled runs?

• Is it also a conflict when Councilman Geoff Paddock hustled $200,000 from Legacy money for a committee of which he is a leader?

• Is it a conflict when council members vote on their own pay raises?

• How about when Councilmen draw their own district boundaries, protecting each other, creating safe districts…?

We are reminded of these “confilicts” in light of Kevin Leininger’s excellent reporting in the News Sentinel a few weeks back where he explains, thanks to Indiana’s Open Records Act, why Amy Biggs, the former fire chief, was forced to resign. One of her more enterprising, if also sleazy, battalion chiefs was moonlighting as a salesman for a fire truck company. He was using his leadership position to pump more than water and, it seems he was not and is not the only double-dipper.

Certainly, in a small town like Fort Wayne where there are hardly two degrees of separation among any of us, it is rare when a conflict of interest does not exist. But, politicians have a higher standard called the public trust.

In the information Kevin uncovered he quotes Amy as saying the conflict was nothing unusual in the office, that the same thing had been done for years and years and years, back to the days of legendary Chief Heinrich Hilbrecht.. She is certainly correct, unfortunately, and it is not just the fire department where conflicts exist.

Was Chief Biggs the sacrificial lamb so everyone in “the building” would know the old system of nods and winks would no longer be accepted?

Or, perhaps, the mayor is just makin’ darn sure no festering scandal screws up his shoe-in re-election.

But, management sets the tone and it is management to does the big-time winking and nodding, not the average worker. Rank and file workers are the ones most likely to blow the whistle on corruption, if they are protected, which may explain why council Republicans are in such a big hurry to destroy the unions. Big wigs savor kick-backs, if only a drink or two on the house or a small gift befitting their standing in the community.

So, the next time you read council has handed out another abatement you might wonder whether a campaign contribution will not be far behind. Or, perhaps the kickback will be in a more subtle form, say a special invitations to the Club for shrimp or prime rib, on the house, of course, or a drink or two, or tickets to a Fighting Irish game, or help with a loan?

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