Clerk-Mayor email exchanges
Petty. Partisan. Sexist. An abuse of power. A hostile environment.
Those were the words Fort Wayne City Clerk Lana Keesling used during a news conference Monday regarding behavior she says Mayor Tom Henry exhibited last week over a $100 citation he received for driving a city-owned car with expired tags.
Henry was ticketed by parking control officers last week while his car was parked in the Citizens Square lot.
Keesling said in response to how she handled the ticket, Henry has stripped her of a parking space in the basement garage at Citizens Square.
“He believes he holds all the power in this building and can retaliate against another elected official and against a woman,” Keesling said during Monday's news conference, sometimes as she choked back tears.
In a statement Monday, mayoral spokesman John Perlich characterized the issue as a disagreement between two elected officials.
“Mayor Henry and City Clerk Keesling have had a positive working relationship since she became clerk. This most recent situation involving a parking ticket to a government vehicle and a change in parking arrangements is a disagreement between Mayor Henry and Clerk Keesling,” Perlich said. “We do not see this as an abuse of power situation. Both are committed public servants.”
Henry was ticketed shortly after 2 p.m. Feb. 6 for having expired plates on his city-issued car. Keesling said the vehicle's VIN was sent to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, which had no record of the vehicle's registration.
“The parking control officer had no way of knowing who actually owned the vehicle,” Keesling said. “Doing his job, the parking control officer wrote the citation at 2:01 p.m. for a vehicle with expired plates.”
News broke Feb. 3 that Henry was driving a vehicle with an expired tag. Keesling said she talked to the mayor about the situation at that time and believed Henry understood he would park in the Tower Garage until the plate was renewed.
“Mayor Henry was disappointed by a recent ticket that was issued to a city of Fort Wayne vehicle that's been assigned to him. The city took possession of the vehicle in November 2017 with a temporary license plate. The plate had an expiration date of 12-24-17,” Perlich said. “The city did not receive the permanent license plate until after the temporary plate had expired.”
Perlich said the clerk's office was aware of the situation and that the permanent plate was delivered Feb. 6, the same day Henry's car was ticketed.
Keesling said shortly after the ticket was issued, Henry visited her in her office.
“I could tell he was angry about it. We discussed our prior conversation the Friday before where we discussed where he should park, knowing he had an expired plate and again we discussed how we apply the laws consistently across the board,” Keesling said. “The mayor of this city put parking control in a bad situation. The mayor had been informed not to drive the car until it had valid plates or if he felt he needed to drive it, not park it in a public place.”
Keesling provided several emails that she said underscores the mayor's alleged retaliation.
The first of several email exchanges between Henry and Keesling shows the mayor complaining that his car “just can't stay out of the news.” In the same email, Henry said to avoid further coverage of the issue, he would begin parking the car in the garage located in the basement of Citizens Square.
Inside that garage are four spaces that until Monday were designated for the mayor, deputy mayor, city clerk and city controller. Believing Keesling had the garage door opener assigned to his garage space, Henry requested she return it to his office.
A day after Keesling responded that she did not have his garage door opener, Henry sent an email to several top city staff, including Deputy Mayor Karl Bandemer, City Attorney Carol Helton, Keesling, Controller Len Poehler, Police Chief Steve Reed, director of intergovernmental affairs Stephanie Crandall and city spokesman Perlich, stating that the assignments for the four reserved spaces was to be changed.
As of Monday, those spaces were reserved for the mayor, deputy mayor, controller and city attorney. Keesling said during her Monday news conference that her space was previously assigned to former City Clerk Sandy Kennedy.
Keesling also said she had a meeting with Henry on Thursday to try to resolve the issue. However, Keesling claims she was told explicitly that the mayor was retaliating against her.
“I have built a reputation for upholding the ordinances and laws and doing what's right. My job is bipartisan, I treat everyone equally and I work equally with all branches of city government,” Keesling said Monday. “I will not compromise my values, my work ethic and my principles for a mayor who believes he is above the law and holds all the power.”
In a Friday email, Keesling asked Poehler for an additional space in the Town Center garage, which Poehler refused. Keesling said she initially gave the Town Center garage space to Deputy City Clerk Stacy Reed, since Keesling did not need two spaces. In his reply, Poehler said Reed would have to obtain a parking pass, for which she would be charged a biweekly fee through a payroll deduction.
“The only free parking for city employees are the 4 executive spots, your spot in Town Center, senior fire and police officers at Roussou (sic) and low income assistance at Club Soda,” Poehler wrote Friday. The mayor also has a free space in the Town Center garage.
Poehler also said via an email to Keesling that Henry controls who receives a free space.
“(Henry's) preference is to have the city-assigned vehicle he drives move back into a space (in the Citizens Square garage) to protect it against wear and tear and felt since the city clerk already has a designated/reserved spot in the public parking/city employee garage attached to Citizens Square, that it made the most sense for her vehicle to be parked there,” Perlich said Monday.
Perlich also said the clerk's space under Citizens Square wasn't specifically assigned to the clerk.
“I believe former City Clerk Sandy Kennedy used it for a period of time and then when Lana Keesling became clerk, she began to utilize the space as well,” he said.
Keesling said Monday that Henry could have avoided the whole situation by not driving a vehicle with invalid plates. Instead, Keesling claims Henry used his position “to intimidate others into looking the other way and not hold him to the same standards as others.”
“He is now using his power to harass, threaten, retaliate and create a hostile environment. To retaliate against me by taking away my parking spot is petty, partisan, sexist and an abuse of power,” Keesling said. “This retribution against another elected official is wrong. This retribution against a female is very wrong.”