Jason Arp has a reputation for voting no.
He's voted against budgets. He's voted no on utility rate increases and proposals to spend public dollars on planned developments such as the Electric Works project.
A review by The Journal Gazette of 2018 City Council votes shows Arp, a Republican who represents Fort Wayne's 4th District, voted against the majority 82 times – the most of any council member.
In the May 7 primary election, he faces GOP challenger Rachel Lott, a political novice who argues her approach to municipal government is more nuanced.
But Arp wants you to know he's not against everything. Instead, Arp, 45, maintains his no votes are evidence he keeps a keen eye on expenditures and developers' plans for projects he says are unfairly helped by the city at the expense of other businesses or builders in Fort Wayne.
“It's very difficult to get a lot of the information out,” he said in a recent interview. “People see Arp's voted no 80-something times, but a lot of times they don't see why I'm voting no. They see us vote on something and they say, 'Gosh, that guy doesn't want us to do anything.' Well, there might be more to it than just that.”
Arp runs a company where he manages proprietary investments and was elected to the council in 2015 on a platform of low taxes and limited government; he's seeking a second four-year term based on similar themes. He wants city leaders to rethink how some infrastructure improvements are funded and for the city to stay out of private development.
Lott, 29, describes herself as a fiscal conservative who's open to learning more about others' points of view. Asked whether local dollars should be spent on developments such as Electric Works, she is cautious and says the expense must be weighed against the future value of the project to area residents.
Public money was spent to build Parkview Field, she said, and now the baseball stadium is the site of a thriving business that proved profitable for investors including the city.
“I look at net gain for taxpayers. Nothing should be rubber-stamped, ever,” said Lott, a former Greater Fort Wayne Inc. staff member who is a vice president for a public relations firm. “We have to work together on the council to make decisions. I don't think every deal is bad, I don't think every deal is good.”
The 4th District covers a large swath of the city's west and southwest, from about Pleasant Center Road in the south to just north of Illinois Road.
While large-scale projects such as Electric Works and riverfront development dominate headlines, the incumbent and the challenger seeking to unseat him each say the issues residents are most concerned about hit closer to home.
“A lot of people I'm talking to, it's stuff like that – it's street repair, it's stormwater,” Arp said. “It's not the glamorous things that are fun to talk about – it's what's going on in my neighborhood.”
Lott, too, has made infrastructure a pillar of her campaign. Filling potholes, building sidewalks and installing streetlights are among the first priorities listed on her campaign website.
She and Arp would both consider shifting funding from other areas to pay for those projects.
“I think we're going to have to get creative with ways to fund that,” Lott said.
Arp also would study using less expensive materials – asphalt instead of concrete – to construct neighborhood roads.
To create and keep jobs in Fort Wayne, Arp favors a market-driven approach that does not include things like tax abatements he argues creates a system of winners and losers.
That and helping to fund public-private initiatives such as The Landing can lead to businesses being leery of setting up shop in Fort Wayne because they don't want to someday pay for their competitors' construction or expansion, he said.
Lott is less specific about the issue and said she would carefully parse details of any proposed agreement or contract. A “professional communicator,” she said she would work to build relationships among council members, other city officials and developers.
“Nothing gets accomplished without great relationships,” Lott said.
4th District Republicans
Current job: President, J. Arp & Co.
Education: Bachelor's degree in finance from East Carolina University
Political experience: 4th District city councilman; precinct committeeman
Current job: Vice president, Group Stellar
Education: Bachelor's degree in journalism from Baylor University; master's in integrated marketing communications from West Virginia University
Political experience: None