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Perspective, Wages, and Caveats

By Jim Sack

Fort Wayne Reader


It’s a Matter of Perspective

Council members mostly living in the suburbs. Messrs. Barranda, Jehl and Didier live with a walk of each other on the far north side of Fort Wayne. Mr. Hines lives far southeast, Dr. Crawford lives in tony Buckingham well northeast, while Mr. Ensley lives with one foot in the county. Aboite’s Mr. Arp hails from the southwest edges of the city. Only Mr. Freistroffer and Mr. Paddock live in “the city,” respectively Lakeside and Wildwood Park, hardly the core of the inner city. Additionally, the mayor, the clerk, the city attorney and most of the senior staff of city government look out of their kitchen windows upon the putty colored landscape that is suburbia. Perspective has consequences, so when councilmen vote, or officials plan they are only vaguely aware of the lives of fully half of their constituents.

Consequently, you can’t blame central neighborhood leaders who feel local government is indifferent at times, patronizing at others. The attitude of council toward the center of town is based on drive-by observations. To see a councilman walk Fay Drive, Caroline or High Street is rarer than a Sasquatch sighting. Consequently, they can’t be expected to know how to improve the appeal of our older neighborhoods. Part of the problem comes from our gerrymandered council districts, mostly pie shaped slices reaching from the wide suburbs to cut narrowly into the central city. Consequently, three districts dilute the core city vote, one is nothing but suburbia, while two districts are nothing but core precincts. That makes for six safe districts where the only debate is held in the primary. It is called crackin’ and packin’, you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

During the last local councilmatic redistricting, the two “line drawers,” two councilmen appointed by themselves, agreed to draw a line between incumbents Mr. Didier and Mr. Jehl to avoid Republican-on-Republican violence. In short, our politicians pick their voters as opposed to voters picking from among candidates. The result is a collection of safe districts where the core of the city has muted voice.

Pumping Up Wages

That has been the state purpose of our economic development strategy for years. Fifty years ago local workers earned wages well above the national average, but then the recession of the early 80s hit, Harvester left, other businesses closed, and our economy began to shift away from Fort Wayne’s once potent manufacturing base. Local wages dropped to well below the national average. After forty years of business-luring abatements, grants, incentives and giveaways we are still well below the national wage average, but…but, our Economic Development team would note the downward spiral has been arrested and we are finally keeping pace. Maybe, if just barely. Note that we are listed on national surveys as a cheap place to buy a home, with a low, low cost of living and the like. All of those indicators suggest we are not all that attractive so we have to lure jobs with tax giveaways. But, don’t blame the ED people for not trying. We
taxpayers invest hundreds of thousands every year in marketing the city through Greater Fort Wayne and the Regional Partnership, they are road warriors trying their best to sell Fort Wayne to any growing business, anywhere. They’re trying their best, and one could argue, as they often do, that without their effort we would be in a much sorrier state. The
mayor would rightly add that the significant investment in our downtown is just now beginning to pay dividends. After building a ballpark, adding a few hundred thousand square feet of housing and business floor space, and starting what will be a quite attractive riverfront, anticipating the GE redo we are enjoying a significant improvement in self-image, if nothing more. But with all that we are just keeping up.

Two Yards and Pile of Caveats

The mayor’s announcement of an agreement with RTM Ventures is in principal only. It’s hardly a done deal and is filled with so much lawyerese that the unraveling could begin at any clause. This is where the hard part looms, where nerves will fray and fingers point. The mayor was the big winner in the announcement, showing to the community that he is, indeed, if ever so cautiously, behind the very expensive rehab of the GE facility. In matters of the next mayoral election he shored up his base in West Central and from those who live in the neighborhoods surrounding the GE, areas that are fundamental to his reelection. In short, the “deal” in principle adds a number of conditions that favor the city/taxpayer who is on the hook for hundreds of millions. The false deadlines the developers had previously waved in the city’s face have been replaced with a new set of deadlines imposed by the city. But the documents are filled with uses of the conditional tense in strings of lawyerly sentences, with plus size wiggle room, all balanced on precarious piles of caveats. The hard part is just beginning.


Recently, Councilman Barranda introduced a resolution at council based on the Repower Indiana petition to hasten the closure of the coal-fired Rockport power plant, one of the biggest air polluters in one of the most polluted states in the country. Barranda’s resolution died 7 to 2 on a procedural vote. Repower people addressed council, but were all but ambushed, were babes at the table, had little idea of the procedure of council or how to present their message. The result was a slaughter. Interestingly, Mr. Barranda voted against his own resolution, but added that he didn’t want to embarrass Repower, which he most certainly did. Meanwhile, Dr. Councilman Candidate John Crawford circulated a letter that amounted to a much softened version of the petition which council recalcitrants merrily signed. Curiously, he went on to add that he didn’t have the expertise to weigh in on the Rockport matter. One smells old fish.

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