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Thursday, June 28, 2018 1:00 am

New pay-to-play ban approved

Political measure revised; council again overrides veto

ROSA SALTER RODRIGUEZ | The Journal Gazette

When the Fort Wayne City Council passed an ordinance last year to prevent the appearance of so-called pay-to-play practices in the awarding of certain city contracts, council members likely didn't expect to still be voting on the measure seven months later.

But that's what happened during Tuesday's City Council meeting, when the council faced one of the oddest situations longtime Councilman John Crawford, R-at large, said he'd ever seen.

In short, the council was put in the position of overriding, for the second time, Mayor Tom Henry's veto of the ordinance.

And this time, the measure included changes suggested by members of the mayor's own administration – but he had vetoed the updated ordinance nonetheless.

Crawford, who developed the measure with fellow Councilman Jason Arp, R-4th, said the changes were mostly to tidy the language and make the ordinance easier to administer.

“It was really a positive compromise,” he said of the changes hammered out in a committee meeting between a city attorney, the director of City Utilities and council members.

But among the dozens of substitutions, additions and deletions are substantial changes, including changing the definition of who is covered.

As approved Tuesday night, the ordinance prohibits “business entities” from bidding on city contracts if any officer, partner or principal with more than a 10 percent ownership share in the entity and subsidiaries controlled by it contributes more than $2,000 a year to a political campaign of someone with ultimate responsibility for awarding city contracts.

That includes races for mayor, City Council and other elected city officials. Covered individuals include principals' spouses and children living in the same household.

The latest version upped the ownership share from 7.5 percent to 10 percent. It also limits the affected “business entities” to those that provide “professional services” to the city – accounting, legal, engineering and architectural help.

A previous version included suppliers of goods, materials, equipment or suppliers, but that was changed because of the large number of affected companies, city officials said.

Another change gives those covered by the ordinance – candidates and their committees, party committees and political action committees – a year instead of 30 days to notify the council or the mayor of contributions in excess of the limit.

If the violation is not resolved, the entity is disqualified from future contracts for a year from the date of the resolution deadline. That period had been four years under the previous version.

The new language also specifies that disqualifications can be appealed to the city controller within 30 days. The ordinance also includes notification procedures.

The vote to approve the new language over Henry's veto was 7-2, with Geoff Paddock, D-5th, and Arp voting no. Paddock told The Journal Gazette his vote was in support of the version originally passed by the council. A call to Arp was not returned Wednesday afternoon.

In a June 21 letter to council, Henry stated he vetoed the latest proposal because he still found problems with it.

He believes the ordinance violates the state and U.S. constitutions and the state home rule law, which says local governments have no regulatory power over campaign finance, according to the letter.

The ordinance also potentially violates state law that says local governments cannot regulate actions delegated to other agencies, Henry wrote.

“I support the intent, but struggle with the legality and enforcement components of the ordinance,” the letter states.

Crawford said Wednesday the ordinance, which went into effect after Tuesday's passage, now covers the contracts that were most concerning – those for professional services that often are not subject to competitive bidding.

He earlier said he does not believe free speech is violated by the ordinance because contributions over $2,000 can still be made – it's just that contracts can't be awarded.

“If you look at the correlation between who gives the donations and who gets the law and engineering contracts, its almost an exact match,” he said, adding that doesn't necessarily mean pay-to-play is at work.

“It's just the perception is not good,” he said.

rsalter@jg.net