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Of Council, Works, Helene, and You

By Jim Sack

Fort Wayne Reader


Usually, when a bill is brought to city council it is blandly read into the record and perfunctorily voted forward for discussion in committee the following week.

Not so with John Shoaff’s bill to establish a plan for binding arbitration for city employees.

The measure was aggressively attacked by Dr. John Crawford and other members of the Republican city council super majority. It looked as if their goal in stifling discussion was more an effort to protect themselves than to debate a key community question. Crawford and company simply refused to consider the bill, a very, very, very rare thing, indeed.

Criticisms ranged from Councilman Shoaff’s poor writing skills to a suggestion by Republicans that the bill would undermine of the work of the Democrat mayor’s task force that labored on the same matter. Really?

Beyond the subterfuge, the problem is there is still no method by which employees can feel safe enough to object to bad management. A hundred or so employees who attended the council meeting made that abundantly clear. A dozen or so of that number of city employees used the open mic time to explain how vulnerable they feel.

One employee noted that during a previous city council meeting he was harassed by a city supervisor who demanded to know what he was doing at council in his free time. That’s rare, chimed in one council member, and his comment was met with derisive laughter from the workers in attendance.

Regardless of the details of Shoaff’s proposal and Crawford’s criticisms, the head butting between employees and management underscores the need for a system that clearly welcomes the objections of employees and protects them from retaliation. Think the Toyota system where every worker is expected to call out problems.

In general, management makes mistakes like the rest of us. Occasionally, management cheats or commits crimes. We read those sorts of stories from around the country all the time, and Fort Wayne managers are no better or worse, just human. And all of us have run into a bullheaded manager who won’t listen to ideas from those who have been doing the work.

Sometimes the result is an expensive rework that could have been avoided.

So, if you want a work force that helps improve the city, workers have to feel free to express themselves without fear of retaliation.

Think of it as a check and balance of sorts that protects taxpayers.

That balance does not exist in the relationship between the city and its employees. Council made sure management would have the upper hand and employees would fear for their jobs. Council members said as much.

Naturally, Mitch Harper, a candidate for mayor, tried to play it down the middle by politely saying Mr. Shoaff’s proposal was crap, but adding that something needed to be done “to protect workers.” The other Republicans solemnly nodded at the disingenuous comment. Shall we hold our breath until their proposal if presented?


The plans for the Riverfront and associate venues are rolling quickly ahead but not without words of caution. The public expects elements of the plan to quickly materialize, and say so every time a city official presents an update on the project

The promenade has been selected as the first phase to be built. Now, the question arises as to how to pay for it all.

Recently, officials announced that the Lilly Foundation has committed millions in matching money toward the project. Matching money. The Foellinger Foundation, Helene’s Legacy, has already promised $250,000 toward the Lilly challenge. Roll out the tote board.

That leaves $1.75 million to go, on the first of many fund raisers.

There will be other foundations that will give. But, the rest of us have to chip in.

Considering how many abatements have been given to the likes of Parkview, Vera Bradley and Dana, one has to expect a city official is already on the phone, going down the list of the companies that have gotten hundreds of millions in tax cuts and encouraging them to contribute. They most certainly can and should.

Candidate Harper might organize a Run for the River.

Perhaps Dr. Crawford could buy naming rights for Shoaff Park as his way of showing his special brand of appreciation.

Those who do give will get their name plastered here or there on the most prominent of places in the park. Certainly, once all contributors have mailed in their checks, a time capsule will be stuffed with lists of names immortalizing us all.

Perhaps Mayor Tom can lure Shelley Long back to FW for a VIP fundraiser with stand up photo ops with contributors and their spouses for $500 each. Is Frank Burns still alive? Wasn’t a recent TV show supposedly set in FW? Ideas.

Don’t be surprised if cowboys and cowgirls are invited to a barbeque at $200 a head.

Send your fund raising ideas to Tom Henry, Mayor, 300 East Berry Street, 46802. Enclose a check.

The Riverfront project has momentum, thanks to Mayor Henry and the hundreds of you who have worked on the idea. It has been very well managed to date.

A friend who is involved with one of the largest initiatives within the Riverfront plan recently noted that a major area company seems prepared to pay for the majority of his dream, in exchange for naming rights for decades into the future.

That is the way the Riverfront is going to develop with individuals, companies, foundations, naming rights, galas, car washes and fund drives. The idea behind the Legacy Fund, to act as a catalyst, not the sole funder. The Legacy is designed to get ideas well off the ground with the expectation that others will fund the projects forward.

The new Riverfront will not be cheap and it will develop over years, and it will take significant on-going, long term, institutionalized community involvement to make all of the projects come to fruition.

Somewhere along the line, responsibility for implementation of the plan might best be moved from city hall and vested in a non-profit along the lines of the old Headwaters Park Alliance that was so ably led by the aforementioned councilman John Shoaff.

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©2018 Fort Wayne Reader. All rights Reserved.