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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, June 11, 2019 5:18 pm

Judge rules against Fort Wayne's Pay to Play ordinance

Dave Gong | The Journal Gazette

An Allen Superior Court judge has ruled against the city of Fort Wayne in a case regarding its controversial Pay to Play ordinance.

In her 13-page ruling, Judge Jennifer DeGroote blocked the city from enforcing the ordinance that restricted how much money the owners of a company could give elected officials and still bid on city contracts.

The ordinance forbid any company from bidding on a city contract if any owner, partner or principal who owns more than 10% of that company gave more than $2,000 to the political campaign of a person with responsibility for awarding contracts.

"The city of Fort Wayne attempted to address legitimate concerns regarding quid pro quo exchanges or pay to play arrangements that tie contracts for professional services to contributions made to elected government officials who have authority to influence the awards of such business," DeGroote wrote. "However, the court finds that efforts by Fort Wayne, as well-intentioned as they may be, to address such practices in the 2018 ordinance is not permitted under current Indiana law as no such authority has been extended to municipalities."

Specifically, DeGroote's ruling stated that the ordinance was superseded by state law, specifically the Home Rule Act, which grants municipalities the ability to self-govern in areas not covered by the state. Elections, under state law, are the domain of the Indiana Election Commission.

The lawsuit challenging the ordinance was filed in April by Kyle and Kimberly Witwer of Witwer Construction Inc.

DeGroote's ruling specifically states that the city of Fort Wayne "is not precluded from adopting an ordinance to regulate the purchasing of professional services," but the challenged ordinance goes too far.

"The 2018 ordinance, when taken as a whole, intertwines the city's ability to regulate purchasing of professional services with its inability to regulate campaign finance," DeGroote wrote.

dgong@jg.net