Council veritably whoooshed through a lengthy agenda of code changes, spending approvals and special meeting that presented for “final” vote that list of initiatives collectively called the Legacy Process.
Parking costs will go up in downtown Fort Wayne, and fines, as well. Anyone who has parked in Chicago or Indianapolis knows that our $.25 an hour rate is a remarkable deal. Anyone who has gotten a ticket in most any other city knows our $5 fine is half to a quarter that would be incurred in other cities, and we all learned last night that fully a quarter of fines go unpaid, some 5,000 tickets in 2011. So, the city is upping fines, and got approval last night to institute an internal court to deal with scofflaws who are finally dragged into court. The current system, according to the city attorney, is cumbersome for both the city and the scofflaw and requires much more formal processes in conjunction with the prosecutor’s office and the county court system. Stringent rules of law must be observed. The new traffic court will be much less formal. And, prepare yourself to see the old meters downtown replaced by any one of many newer systems already long in use in Germany and some American cities that take credit card, or issue a paper strip for your dashboard. There may be only one automat in a block and they may be controlled with radio frequency devices. No more finding free time on a recently vacated parking meter. Change comes even to Fort Wayne.
The big deal, however, was final passage on nine projects under the rubric of the Legacy Process. Councilman Dr. John Crawford asked for a “division of the question” meaning he wanted votes on each of the nine initiatives individually, rather than as a package; and further, he asked for a roll-call vote on each project so as to put every vote by every councilman on record. Each of the nine initiatives passed as they had last week during committee discussions. No changes of heart or of votes. I imagine that the lead dog on this process, John Urbahns, the head of community development and planning, is already in the office wearing his version of combat fatigues, preparing to issue orders to get his troops and their projects quickly rolling to the front.
The first front will be the river front. A study will be initiated in preparation for a comprehensive development scheme of promenades, grassy areas, kayak launches and much more. Can the “words scenic’ overlook and Fort Wayne find their way into the same sentence? The intersection of Fairfield and Ewing will be converted to a roundabout and the streets restored to two-way. Overpasses leading into town will be jazzed up to excite visitors to the downtown, gateways to our city will be redesigned to look, well, welcoming, and a few other projects will receive go ahead funding. Grocery store, retail, more attractions, they are promised… The most controversial initiative was the awarding of funds to help a private, religious school, St. Francis, expand its presence downtown. Russ Jehl, Dr. Crawford and Mitch Harper all voted against it. You can bet they will pour over the contract to protect our “investment.” Perhaps an equity stake, rights of use, lowered fees for locals, something. Had Tom Didier not voted in favor the “grant” would have failed to obtain the super majority to initiate and to carry forward each aspect of these many projects. Six votes, not five. He almost did, but despite the philosophical and practical objections of his fellow Republicans he voted to spend the many millions because he felt it would be for the overall good of the community…
By the way, Mr. Didier is likely to be elected president of council for 2013. He has a very big heart and has done the job before. Last night Councilman John Shoaff and others lauded the work in 2012 of outgoing president Tom Smith. Smith was given a bottle of Chateau Smith by Shoaff to the applause and accolades of the others. Smith, to be sure, has run council with a firm hand, has presented dozens of creative ideas during the course of the year, as he did last night on a bill, and offered more than a few moments of tension-breaking humor to keep the process congenial. His lasting legacy, to choose a worn word, has been the institution of the 5th Tuesday Forum. Under Smith that night that comes quarterly, previously a vacation night for all councilmen, became a forum for thoughtful presentations and discussions of important matters facing the community, such as tax policy, of the screwy abatement system, as well as the Legacy Process recommendations. Mr. Didier would be wise to follow that lead, Smith’s initiative informed the public and greatly improved respect for council.
Councilman Mitch Harper also made another of his many points concerning PILOT last night. Mr. Harper can be likened to that bulldog that takes a bite and won’t let go. PILOT is “payment in lieu of taxes.” City Utilities pays PILOT into the city’s general fund each year as if CU were on the property tax rolls and a tax payer, instead of an appendage of government. It goes into the general fund and that is a big part of the problem, according to Mr. Harper. When City Utilities is millions behind on infrastructure repair, as was testified last night by a CU administrator, it makes no sense to divert rate payer money to the hundred other budget lines comprising the general fund. Mr. Harper reminded the official that Mr. Harper had long ago asked for a report on the matter, but has yet to receive it months and months and months later. One could hear the word “stonewalling” murmured in the house. The bureaucrat gave a round-about excuse, the obfuscation waltz, that did not answer the councilman’s question, but did confuse most everybody in the room… Mr. Harper will remind and remind and remind until the budget process next fall and then he will extract a painful consequence from the administration because each example of “stonewalling” cuts into support the administration has at the table and will not suffice in the coming months heading into the fall budget process.
Meanwhile, Mr. Urbahns is pouring over his maps in a dimly lit basement “war” room, big changes are coming and after years and years of doing less with less, of begging for cash, of disappointment and patient waiting Mr. Urbahns has the money to make transformative change to the city. Council will be watching, will have many more chances to voice approval and concern, but the hour is Mr. Urbahns’ and Mayor Henry’s. They have a mandate to transform Fort Wayne.