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Into the valley of death…

By Jim Sack

Fort Wayne Reader


Sometimes our legislators just don’t think. In this case it is newbie city councilman Paul Ensley, a Republican.

Ensley, in an effort to fulfill a campaign promise, introduced a bill, co-sponsored by the otherwise thoughtful John Crawford, that would have eliminated the public safety position for a savings of $160,000 from the city’s budget. After much debate it was tabled, for now.

Problem is, the budget is approved by council in the fall of each year for a year’s duration. The wise old men of council have plenty of time during the October budget hearings to study the mayor’s budget, to ask key questions and then vote. Council did try last fall to delete the position, but failed.

The real concern, which the Republicans in their 7-to-2 super majority should consider, is the implication for the balance of power; in short, whether they can usurp the role of the administration’s HR department.

Should Mr. Ensley someday have a beef with the head of right-of-way, Ensley or any other vindictive councilman could simply eliminate the budget line and thus the employee. The councilman would just have to style it a campaign promise to cloak himself in that higher authority. He could do the same all the way down to the clerks in the most obscure of departments. Furthermore, because council removed job protection from hundreds of city workers two years ago by eliminating collective bargaining, no one, except the elected mayor, would be safe.

The implication is ominous, but perhaps it is part and parcel of the dogma of small government Ensley favors. If his ilk can’t control the mayor’s office — which they haven’t done in decades — they can just make a campaign promise to delete all city staff and then blame the mayor for failing to plow the streets, treat the water, and walk a beat.

Ensley reasoned ultimately that his bill would save the city money. That argument was sunk during discussion because the mayor rightly threatened a legal battle that may well have been supported by nearly every other municipal government in Indiana. That Ensley made a campaign promise means absolutely nothing. We all make stupid promises and this is one of them, and to go forward with a bad promise is exactly what the Light Brigade carried into the Valley of Death. That Councilman Dr. Crawford joined him in support of the bill is a head-scratcher, but it was Crawford in the end who led the effort to table the motion.

Now, it is upon the administration to either eliminate the position from their coming budget or to produce convincing arguments as to why the position is adding value to our community. In five efforts to date they have failed to offer a convincing case for the position.

The Arena

One of the men from Ruth’s Chris Steak House embarrassed the mayor a bit at the recent news conference when Mr. Henry announced the world renown restaurant chain would site a 10,000sf eatery in the proposed Skyline Tower development on Wayne Street.

After the rep had offered kudos to the mayor for his relentless determination to secure the coup the rep went on to describe some of the promises Mayor Henry had made to the Ruth’s Chris team to lure them downtown, most notably, promising the Arena. The mayor took away his mic.

It is clear the administration wants to nestle an arena between the library and Parkview Field and the Grand Wayne. No doubt about that. A neatly orchestrated sales campaign has been building for a year with the formation of a blue-ribbon study group, with the project’s inclusion in the questionable Regional Cities package, and with trial balloons on how the estimated $68 million price tag might be funded, but to promise the arena to the Ruth’s Chris team is going well out on a limb.

The aforementioned city council, 7-to-2 Republican, including two new tea party types alongside the ever tax-averse Russ Jehl, makes taxpayer funding of the arena unsure. Promising the tony restaurateurs that hoards of well-healed carnivores will pour out of an yet-to-be approved arena into their million dollar investment is audacious.

But, as the Ruth’s Chris people said, Mayor Henry just wouldn’t give up on them, so let the arm-twisting begin.

The arena should neatly compliment the library, the Embassy, the ballpark, the Grand Wayne, the hotels and restaurants. The question is how to pay for it. Is the local taxpayer expected to pay the full cost? Will the “no-reported-income” rich put their money in? How long will taxpayers be expected to support the building? What is the real cost? Shouldn’t those who whose businesses will benefit most chip in at the “platinum” level?

The mayor often speaks of “creative financing” for projects, but that usually means
marrying different tax funds, most of which are derived from the wageearner’s paystubs. Given the recent increase in taxes, the ballooning cost of water, and the Regional Cities push to raise $500 million in new taxes, a taxpayer revolt is in the making. The two new fiscal conservatives voting on to council prove the point. So, those who most want the arena should also contribute from their companies, their expense accounts, and their trust funds to show the way by raising half the cost. That’s leadership.

As a footnote, council has approved public funding for the Skyline Tower putting taxpayers on the line for more than half of the $40 million cost of the project. Socializing cost, privatizing profit. Creative financing, indeed.

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©2018 Fort Wayne Reader. All rights Reserved.