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Bonsib, Biggs, and Aboite for Aboite

By Jim Sack

Fort Wayne Reader


John Bonsib died a giant.

Tall, round faced, speaking with a slight impediment, John was the man who brought a communications revolution to Fort Wayne. In the 1960s Fort Wayne was considered the Golden Egg for cable television franchising because of our demographics and relative geographic isolation. Bonsib founded Citizen’s Cable and won the New Haven franchise, then competed in tandem with Cox Communications to win the Fort Wayne franchise in the late 1970s against some of the greatest cable companies of that era. The group later sold to Comcast. Winning the franchise was significant in itself, but it is what he did with his franchise that set him apart. John always believed in vox populi. He listened to the people around him and loved a thoughtful discussion. He believed that we all had something important to say, so early in the franchise process John established the Citizens Council for Program Development to promote public access to the cable
system. CCPD then proposed not one, but three access channels, and thanks to John’s vision, Fort Wayne now has five channels open to community programming, not just one which is the norm around the country. Not only did he offer an abundance of spectrum to the community for its free use but he also worked with IFPW to establish a college channel and helped Fort Wayne Community Schools build out the schools channel. An even greater accomplishment was to institutionalize the public access channels inside the solid institutional framework of the Allen County Public Library with all its incumbent resources. Then, John went a step farther and worked to establish a dedicated funding stream within the franchise fee structure to provide each channel with sufficient funds to maintain studios and staff. Over the years hundreds of thousands of Fort Wayners have watched, produced or voiced their perspectives on local matters thanks to John, and in that regard he stands among the Freimanns and Fosters, the Bass, Bowsers, Foellingers, Thiemes, Hannas and Hamiltons as the great builders of Fort Wayne.

News Sentinel

John also helped kill the News-Sentinel. But he wasn’t alone. The new medium, cable, took away just a bit of the advertising lifeblood of the paper, as well as offering an alternative to a subscription, but the real killer was the advent of the internet. Cars.com took away a big chunk of revenue, as did Zillow and Craig’s List and a dozen more specialized advertising pages. What was a thriving paper in the 70s had shrunk to the size of a neighborhood newsletter just before all but one of the remaining staff were jettisoned. But, don’t blame the demise on staff or the editors or the stringers, blame it squarely on the owners. They never quite figured out how to adapt to the changing media landscape. In the newsroom they won a Pulitzer Prize, in the board room they failed not only their shareholders, but our community as well.

Now we are left with but one real news source in Fort Wayne, the Journal-Gazette. None of the TV or radio stations produce more than superficial stabs at the news. Most of our local electronic reporters are new to town, are recent graduates of college, have but rudimentary life experiences, spend much too much time covering parades and festivals, and too little time on the funding and policies that make our city work. Sadly, what Helene left for Fort Wayne has been squandered by a series of owners, but even sadder is that nothing of commensurate value has replaced the News and Sentinel.


Kevan Biggs has been negotiating hard to get you and me to pay for the majority the restoration of the GE property, now redubbed Electric Works, which belongs to Biggs and his partners. He says that without significant community funding the cost will be too high for the developers and they will not be able to show a profit for their investors. Meanwhile, with the help of a department of local government, HANDS, the Housing and Neighborhood Development Services, Biggs is quietly accumulating properties around the GE. Some properties have been bought at market rate suggesting Biggs has more money that he could toss into the deal to relieve taxpayers of the $100 million burden of financing his project. But, interestingly, in one case some 25 properties were essentially given to Biggs on a no advertise, no bid contract for free by the previous HANDS director. Free. Additionally, during the June 2018 HANDS board meeting Biggs announced that former Economic Development Director Greg Leatherman offered him a couple properties to compliment Bigg’s GE project. Certainly, with the ballooning rents and property prices in the surrounding neighborhoods it was all but a gift from government to the poverty-striken Biggs, at taxpayer expense.

Aboite $ only for Aboite

Jason Arp, the councilman from Aboite, demanded one night at council that money collected in taxes in Aboite stay in Aboite. It is an old, divisive and destructive argument often proposed by the Right. In short, they earned it, they pay the taxes, and they want it spent on themselves and only themselves. The old line from the John Donne poem, no man is an island, is relevant. The good citizens of Aboite also drive on roads that lead through West Central or the near south side. They may visit a park, or call for a police officer, a surveyor, use a water line or chat with someone educated in the FWCS. In short, our community is a tapestry of neighborhoods all contributing to the well-being of every other neighborhood, we all pay taxes into a system that paves streets, purifies the water, monitors the health and provides for the welfare of every other citizen. When Jason uttered his comment Glynn Hines was quick to retort that “it doesn’t work that way,” and then explain the concept of community. Let us hope it sunk in.

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