The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, April 26, 2017 1:00 am

Council, nonprofit spar over role

Renewal of contract with Greater Fort Wayne on hold

DAVE GONG | The Journal Gazette

An annual contract between the city of Fort Wayne and Greater Fort Wayne Inc. is on hold for two weeks as a review is conducted to determine whether the organization needs to participate in a competitive bid process for professional services.

“Our code of ordinances – specifically 37.18, 37.19, 37.20 – basically outline a process in which all the professional services contracts are put out to competitive bid,” said Councilman Jason Arp, R-4th. “If this is a professional services contract and we have a process that requires competitive bidding for professional services, why did we not go through the process for this?”

Additionally, Arp said if the contract with Greater Fort Wayne Inc. is not a professional services contract, the organization would be a governmental agency subject to the same open meetings laws as any other public body.

“It's something that, as far as the bid process goes, maybe it's something that we have to take a look at, because we do have that process,” said Joe Bonahoom, the council's attorney.

Greater Fort Wayne Inc. is not a government agency but rather a private nonprofit that provides a service for the city in exchange for a fee, said John Urbahns, executive vice president of Greater Fort Wayne Inc.

If the city took competitive bids for the services the organization provides, Greater Fort Wayne Inc. would likely be the only bidder for that contract, added Greg Leatherman, the city's director of community development.

Councilman Paul Ensley, R-1st, took the opportunity Tuesday to tell Urbahns that he does not believe the organization has acted in good faith to make clear the separation that exists between Greater Fort Wayne Inc.'s lobbying and economic development activities.

Per an agreement struck in 2016, Greater Fort Wayne Inc. must state in any advocacy materials it publishes that its lobbying efforts do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the city or county.

“This year, on Jan. 31, we had a … meeting in which Eric Doden, the CEO of Greater Fort Wayne Inc., and Jeff Turner from the Regional Development Authority gave a presentation on what is being called the riverfront tax,” Ensley said. “This presentation contained 11 slides of advocacy for a higher tax, ... and none of those slides contained any such disclaimer.”

Urbahns argued that the January presentation did not constitute advocacy material. Urbahns also wondered aloud why a discussion regarding the presentation was occurring now, when the meeting in question occurred nearly three months ago.

“As the board has put together their advocacy agenda for the year, it clearly states it does not express the opinion of the city of Fort Wayne or the county of Allen,” Urbahns said. “GFW is a business organization with members. The city of Fort Wayne contracts with GFW to provide economic development services. That is what we provide.”

Also at issue Tuesday was a four-page fact-check document drawn up by Greater Fort Wayne Inc. refuting some of Arp's proposals and statements, particularly his proposal to eliminate business personal property taxes in Allen County. Arp's proposal was voted down by his fellow councilmen in September 2016.

Councilman Russ Jehl, R-2nd, told Urbahns he entered Tuesday's meeting assuming “the truce no longer existed” between the council and Greater Fort Wayne Inc.

Urbahns said the organization was asked about Arp's facts and performed research to contradict those facts.

“They were not distributed to our board, they were not distributed to the press,” he said of the document. “It was just, some of our staff felt it was important to point out some facts being talked about and what they believe the real facts are.”

Discussion of the city's contract with Greater Fort Wayne Inc. was postponed for two weeks. It could be voted on at the council's May 9 meeting.

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