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The Long Range Plan
By Jim Sack
Fort Wayne Reader
Greater Fort Wayne has advanced a long-range plan for the community that is excellent! Who wouldn’t want an innovative park downtown along the river, or an arena, or water front promenades, or multi-use development of the GE campus, or revitalization of the Landing? Really, think about it. These are all attractions that will benefit each of us, and our children, for decades to come. At the moment, they are but untapped resources, so many Durers in the attic. The major question is how to pay for it all. GFW’s price tag is over $640 million, before overruns, of course. Typically, debt is levied on taxpayers as beneficiaries of the new attractions. And, most of us are willing to pay taxes for services or facilities that will benefit us. Headwaters Park is a good example. Oops. Headwaters was funded in great part by private money. Well, then how about the ballpark. But, that deal went bad in the way it was formulated sending most of the profits to a developer in Atlanta and saddling the local taxpayer with all the upkeep to make sure the ballpark would continue to be a source of revenue for the developers in Atlanta. But, as promised the ballpark spurred growth; note mushrooming Cityscape Flats next door, a large apartment complex whose primary beneficiary is Eric Doden who heads GFW. That is the rub that irritates many in the city, that economic development has become an insider game in Fort Wayne where “community leaders” push for projects, saddle the average worker with taxes, and then reap the profits for themselves or allies. The many benefit the few. So, we look at the new proposals skeptically, combine them with the scores of projects proposed in the Regional Cities confusion, as well as the Legacy portfolio of projects and wonder how much it will cost and who will pay for it, but dreaming is key to turning fallow fields productive.
One of the wisest things Mayor Henry did in the Legacy process was to invite us all to participate with ideas and advice, then he created broadly based panels to assess those myriad ideas. Since Greater Fort Wayne has gotten involved in the process, that sense of participation has evaporated. GFW is a top down organization with little interest in the taxpayer, except when it comes to funding their projects. That is certainly one source of the push back we are seeing in the city on matters such as annexation, Brightpoint and Regional Cities, that when the public is left out of the process there is confusion, misunderstanding, less support and organized resistance.
Recently, the local school district in Cleveland, Mississippi, agreed to desegregate their bi-furcated school system featuring one school for whites and one for the others. Cleveland had been fighting desegregation for 50 years. For those old enough to remember President Dwight Eisenhower’s order to desegregate the schools in Little Rock, and his use of the National Guard to execute that order, for those who remember the willful act of Alabama Governor George Wallace in defying court orders to allow black students to attend the University of Mississippi, this news item may come as a shock. It reminds us that there are still people on the local level who would penalize their neighbors for no reason other than hate – blacks in schools, women in board rooms, gays in the cake shop. Those who have been cheated or denied basic rights have eventually turned to the federal government and the Constitution as the final arbiter, and have most often won. Naturally, the losers vilify the federal government.
The same goes for the environment, when companies regularly flushed their trash into the rivers and poisoned the air it is often the federal government that ultimately intervenes to impose standards that infuriate those in power. Often pro-business politicians will protect polluters saying that clean air and water standards kill jobs, while preferring to overlook filthy air and toxic water kill people. Indiana is near the very bottom in US air and water quality measurements, but we are near the top in cancer.
Ensley’s Twisted Sense of Government
During the hearings about annexation Councilman Paul Ensley caused a stir among the attending suburbanites when he charged the city planned to plunder the to-be annexed areas. “That’ll be five and a half million dollars sucked out of this community to be spent at the mayor’s discretion,” he charged, forgetting his own role in budgetary oversight and council’s Republican super majority. The great majority of new taxes collected in that area would have been reinvested right back in that area in the form of infrastructure and services, but some $5.5 would have been put in the general fund to benefit the entire community, including that area. His comment was either ignorant or malicious, probably both. Here’s why: every taxpayer contributes to community infrastructure, parks and administration beyond those services that benefit only themselves. We all contribute to streets and roads throughout the community, not just to the specific paths we trod daily, not just to our neighborhood park, but to all parks. Apparently, Mr. Ensley doesn’t understand that simple principle of civitas, or perhaps he simply chose to twist reality to suit his false indignity and pander to the Suburbanistas. We all contribute to the broader community or there would not be police, fire, schools, an airport, library and the rest. Apparently, Mr. Ensley, who has had his problems recently with the law, has even more to learn about the fundamentals of government and community and the responsibilities of citizenship.