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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, November 28, 2017 10:00 pm

Councilmen uneasy about North River vote

DAVE GONG | The Journal Gazette

As the Fort Wayne City Council considered approval of the purchase agreement for the North River property near Science Central on Tuesday, several council members mused about the difficult position the proposal placed them in. 

The measure was given final approval in a 5-3 vote. 

Councilman Russ Jehl, R-2nd, said he contacted his father for advice on the measure shortly before the meeting. Jehl voted against the agreement. 

"Those who are in the gallery might have seen me on my cell phone as we started. I was actually talking with my father, 'Hey, what do you think I should do with this,'" Jehl said with a chuckle. "Which I think all of you know is very unusual for me. I usually get an idea of what I think is right and try to do my best." 

In his own statement, Councilman Geoff Paddock, D-5th, also acknowledged Tuesday's vote as one of the most difficult he's had to make this year. Paddock voted for the agreement. 

"Yes, on a scale of 1 to 10, this is a 10," Paddock said. "This is a tough one. This is about the hottest potato we've had and I must say in my six years in office this is the most uncomfortable position I've been in and that's unfortunate because I do agree with some of the comments that have been made that if this ever comes forward again, we ought to re-frame this or I don't think this council will entertain any kind of a future agreement."

Councilman Paul Ensley, R-1st, said there were no good votes Tuesday and placed the blame on Mayor Tom Henry's administration for putting council in such a difficult position. Ensley ultimately voted to approve the agreement.

"On one hand we're being asked to indemnify millionaires and if we say no to that, then we're going to just have a piece of prime real estate in downtown Fort Wayne that ... in all likelihood will continue to sit there and grow grass," Ensley said. "And then on the other hand, we can vote yes and accept the indemnity and hope that we can recover when we sell the property when we do an RFP, and hope the environmental remediation is in the dollar amount that's been described."

City officials plan to close on the property by Friday.