Political Notebook

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Mayor’s new digs derided as too lavish

Wheat
Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
The opulence of the fourth floor at Renaissance Square has some City Council members seeing red.

Apparently, Fort Wayne just can’t have nice things, or at least things that are too nice.

During last week’s City Council meeting, Councilman Tom Smith, R-1st, lambasted the “opulence” of the new executive offices for the mayor’s staff when they relocate to Renaissance Square.

“It was the most opulent and ostentatious setting I have ever seen,” Smith said. “I felt it was very inappropriate for the city to have those type of offices.”

The offices, of course, are the former executive suites of Lincoln National Corp., including that of former CEO Ian Rolland. The large decorative atrium across from the elevators opens into a long corporate corridor marked by 12 Romanesque columns and plush carpet down the middle. To the side are several platforms on the wall where it appears busts or other art used to sit. At the end of the corridor are eight additional columns in a circle surrounding a pedestal, where it is rumored a statue of Abraham Lincoln used to stand.

Councilwoman Karen Goldner, D-2nd, made the key distinction that the city did not add those amenities, but she was in agreement that they were too extravagant, noting that the carpet was difficult to traverse wearing heels. She and Smith agreed the city should spend more money to remove the niceties because they might be off-putting to city residents.

But instead of hiding from the opulence, the city should embrace it and be proud of the building it bought and the history it represents, Councilman Tim Pape, D-5th, said.

“It’s quite time to get over thinking of ourselves as small,” he said of Fort Wayne.

Joe Fox, spokesman for Mayor Tom Henry, said the city is trying to get reasonable renovations done for as little money as possible. Removing some of the features would cost “tens of thousands of dollars, at least,” plus he said some of the columns are load-bearing and cannot be removed.

Fox added that Smith has long demanded the Renaissance project remain on budget, which he found at odds with the council’s latest request regarding the executive office area.

“I’m utterly perplexed at how his outrage by our being responsible with taxpayers’ dollars is consistent with his insistence that we be responsible with taxpayer dollars,” Fox said.

The antelope

It was evident from last week’s Indiana Supreme Court interviews that the state’s legal bar has a few characters.

One of them is Steuben County Circuit Court Judge Allen Wheat. He opened his interview with the judicial nominating commission explaining that one of the reasons he applied was out of curiosity.

And he explained that his wife thinks it might be part of a midlife crisis.

Wheat also told the group he isn’t “the sharpest knife in the drawer” and ended his interview with the following monologue.

“How about a story, if that’s OK,” he said. “About an hour ago I was terribly nervous. For some reason I envisioned this antelope running across the African savannah. And he was going just as fast as he could. His heart was pounding and his nostrils were flaring and then all of a sudden there appeared a lioness that went right for the antelope’s throat. The antelope screamed in pain, rolled over, died. It’s over.

“I don’t wish to be that antelope.”

Giving back

State budget officials will likely close out the 2010 fiscal year next week, and one of the areas to watch is how much money individual offices and agencies revert to the General Fund.

This is money that was appropriated to an entity but not spent. These reversions are necessary for Indiana to have a balanced budget when tax revenues are coming in lower than expected.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, got out front of the news last week by announcing the Indiana Senate sent back nearly 14 percent of its fiscal year 2010 budget.

Total Senate savings were $1.9 million. They were found through operating efficiencies, eliminating non-essential expenditures, going without pay raises for two consecutive years and suspending new hiring for all but essential personnel.

By comparison, the Democratic-controlled Indiana House reverted about 11.5 percent of its budget, saving $2.1million.

That was a massive improvement over fiscal year 2009, in which the House overspent its appropriation.

Daniels’ books

Gov. Mitch Daniels recently helped fivebooks.com kick off a series on American conservatism by naming his favorite books in the genre:

“The Road to Serfdom” by Friedrich Hayek; “Free to Choose: A Personal Statement” by Milton Friedman; “What it Means to be a Libertarian” by Charles Murray; “The Rise and Decline of Nations” by Mancur Olson; and “The Future and Its Enemies” by Virginia Postrel.

To reach Political Notebook via email, contact Benjamin Lanka at blanka@jg.net or Niki Kelly at nkelly@jg.net. To discuss this entry of Political Notebook or others, go to the Political Notebook topic of “The Board” at www.journalgazette.net.

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