Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry conducted a news conference Monday. These are his comments, as supplied by his office:
Before I begin, I’d like to say a word about the passing of Ben GiaQuinta yesterday morning. With Ben’s death, Fort Wayne lost one of its great sons, a man who shone brightly wherever he went and who represented the very best of this city and this state. I am proud to have called Ben GiaQuinta a friend, and I know I am joined by many around Indiana when I say that my family’s thoughts and prayers are with him and his family today. Ben, you will be missed.
I am speaking today as mayor, resident, and concerned citizen of Fort Wayne.
I was stunned late last week to read that a member of Fort Wayne’s City Council believes that we as a community should simply throw in the towel on the nearly 1,100 quality, well-paying jobs currently at Navistar in Fort Wayne.
In the words of this council member, “If the girl doesn’t want to date you, move on.” With all due respect, I could not disagree more.
I am more than just the Mayor of Fort Wayne, Indiana – a job I could not be prouder to hold. I am also a third-generation life-long resident, with many family members living here, including my two children and both of my grandchildren.
There is nothing more important to me than doing everything within my power to ensure that Fort Wayne continues to offer to our future generations all of the opportunities it offered to my parents’ generation and to mine.
To that end, nothing could be more critical to the economic future of our city than the protection of current jobs and the creation of new job opportunities for the creative and hard-working residents of Fort Wayne. For me, this is not just a matter of the right policy for the city; it’s personal. I know a lot of my fellow citizens feel exactly the same way.
The City recently hired a nationally recognized expert for $95,000 to assist the City’s efforts to retain over a thousand jobs that inject over $100 million into our economy every year. Some call this wasteful spending. Again, I respectfully, but strongly disagree. To the contrary, this is a wise investment in our economic future that is not just good policy, it is good business.
I am as proud as I can be of how enthusiastically our community has stood up in recent weeks to express its support for the impressive men and women currently working at Navistar’s Fort Wayne location, and I would be derelict in my duties as Mayor if I did not make every responsible to fight to keep those jobs here in Fort Wayne.
Second, I have noticed in recent days an alarming misrepresentation by some people regarding consultant contracts. The impression has been created that the City, under my direction, has entered into numerous new contracts with various consultants for amounts just under the $100,000 threshold, which would require Council approval. This impression is simply false. Let me be crystal-clear: the City has an annual operating budget of over $200 million, and in the two and a half years since I took office, these contracts account for less than one percent of the City’s budget.
I take my responsibility as the chief steward of the taxpayers’ dollars extremely seriously. I also take very seriously the responsibility of our city council – a body I served on for twenty years. It is therefore of the utmost importance to me that the facts be made available to our citizens, our Council, and our media in order to have an honest discussion about how the City conducts its business. My office will continue in the weeks and months ahead to assure that people have better access to these facts than ever before.
Third, and finally, I am an enthusiastic student of Fort Wayne government, its process, and its history. I served on City Council for two decade, and have seen that body change many times since I began my service in 1984. In that time, the relationship between the Mayor and the Council has ebbed and flowed, and thanks to technology and personal preferences, how things get done has changed too.
In 1992, as Council president, I worked with then Councilmember Don Schmidt and others to dramatically change the process for Council review and approval of City contracts. At the time we had a Democratic Council and a Republican Mayor, and Council was responsible for approving every single consultant contract signed by the City.
This struck many of us as an unnecessary obstruction to the smooth working of City government, so we set a threshold of $100,000, under which the Mayor could enter into financial agreements without the consent of Council.
This arrangement has worked very well for 18 years, and some councils have even considered raising that threshold amount to a significantly higher number. Since I took office in 2008, it has become clear that some members of this current Council have a very different approach to, and idea about, how City contracts should be considered.
It is incumbent upon me, as Mayor, to help find solutions that make sense, honor our system of local government, and – most importantly of all – honor the trust and responsibility Fort Wayne’s residents have placed in its elected officials.
I have therefore asked the City’s Clerk, Sandy Kennedy, to serve with my deputy mayor, Beth Malloy, Council President Marty Bender, and two members of the City Council – to be appointed by Council President Bender – on a working group to present to the City Council and me a workable, agreeable approach to City contracts. Additionally, I am personally requesting that Council President Bender strongly consider appointing Council members Liz Brown and Glynn Hines as the Council’s representatives to this working group. I have no doubt that working together, these five people can reach consensus on an approach that will work well for all of us, and I look forward to seeing their recommendations.