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By Jim Sack
Fort Wayne Reader
Coup de Council
In short, concerning the public safety director position and three other recent issues, city council has tried to grab responsibility inherent in the executive.
Councilman Arp’s failed repeal of the personal property tax on local businesses was the first of the grabs. In short, he proposed to raise your property and payroll taxes in favor of lowering taxes on business. He promised, hoped, dreamed, fantasized that maybe, given the right winds and an ascendant moon, that corporate savings would trickle down as high paying jobs, enriching us all. The abatement system promised just that and has broadly failed to produce either jobs or increased wealth.
The second effort was to bring an outside consultant to assess whether each of Fort Wayne’s 2,000 employees is working to their highest efficiency. It was guessed a mere $50,000 would cover the tab. Add a zero, maybe two.
As Councilman Tom Didier noted, Fort Wayne’s population has grown by tens of thousands over the past decades while staff count has dropped by a third. “The city,” he added, “is already doing more with less.” Additionally, there is an internal audit office tasked to study every department to increase worker and departmental efficiency. At previous budget hearings that office was the target for elimination by the thin-skinned former Councilman Marty Bender for doing just what was proposed; assessing efficiency, listing recommendations for greater productivity, then assessing improvement.
The third attempted coup was to freeze expenditures from the Legacy Fund until the price tag for the Riverfront is announced. Council already has the final vote on Legacy grants; any expenditure has to be approved by a council “super majority”; and finally, three members of council, including two Republicans, sit on the Legacy board, as was noted by Councilman Geoff Paddock. The resolution was a waste of time and seemed more to embarrass the mayor.
Make that Four…
Then, a councilman bubbled that eliminating the public safety director’s position would pay for three beat officers. PSD Rusty York makes $132k, in comparison the lowest paid officers bring down +/- $45,000, so our councilman was technically near the mark, but simplistic in his rationale. The real questions are whether the value is comparable and the position commensurately benefits public safety. Are three worker bees really the equivalent of a queen? Cynics would agree, and would thereby miss the point that a leader coordinates duties, produces the budget, requisitions the equipment, sets the schedule, as well as the motivation and structure that allows those three officers to be effective within the team. Think UCLA without Wooden; even council elects a president. The public safety director position is responsible for coordination of police, fire, EMS, Animal Care and Control and Neighborhood Code, and other occasionally competitive agencies. It is coordination and decision-making, leadership and responsibility that gives purpose and structure to the labors of those three patrol officers, not to mention the other few hundred.
There were no cogent arguments made at the council table for cutting the position, none, only a superficial comparison of numbers. And, yes, a Republican councilman mumbled, backed by a chorus of murmurs from a couple fellow Republican councilmen, that the job had years ago been vacant. So what?
One wonders why Republicans on council, who want detailed evaluations of all other employee positions, are so enthusiastic to strike this position without the same due process.
Don’t Fix What Ain’t Broke
It was Councilman Arp’s second sophomoric move in as many months. Previously, as noted above, he moved to slash a tax without sufficient consideration for the consequence. Now, he proposes to “fix” the rules governing park usage by reminding us all, including gun-nuts all across cyberspace, that we can carry six-shooters through McMillan without fear of flower-sniffers disarming us. His is a solution in search of a problem; in fact it is worse, it is an invitation to some gun-toting idiot somewhere in cyberland to come here to test the law by meandering through Lakeside, say just after the kids are let out of Lakeside, with an AK at the ready. “Try me, dude!” Mr. Arp seems more concerned for gun-nut-rights than for our kids. This is a case where logic is trampled by dogma. Jason loves the Second Amendment so much that he would rub our noses in it. Really, how would you feel if a heavily armed guy wandered into Glenbrook just behind you, or five or six folk in camo appeared in the bread aisle at Meijer, or among the tulips in Foster, or Saturday night at Henry’s? Hmmm? It is an example of an ideologue putting his chest-beating philosophy above your safety. Dogma seldom trumps common sense, and in this regard leaving well-enough alone is the wisest and more politically mature approach.
FWFD v. TRAA
As for the fire department assuming EMS responsibilities in the city, it makes sense. TRAA has an inherent conflict of interest: their scheduled, non-emergency runs are their bread and butter, thus leaving too few vehicles on the streets to serve emergencies. Lumbering fire trucks usually arrive “at the scene” before TRAA, thanks to proximity. It has been noted that the FWFD will also need those milk runs to break even, so the question is whether any advantage will be gained, or whether one agency’s conflict of interest will be transferred for another’s. I am promised by a FWFD leader that an additional four emergency vehicles will be purchased to service the milk runs so that all the stations are fully equipped, but council has been known to be penny wise and pound foolish. Full staffing and equipment, one councilman noted, must be the overriding consideration.