Fort Wayne City Council members' political affiliations were clear Tuesday as they discussed a letter Republican councilmen publicly sent to the mayor.
The five Republican council members – Jason Arp, 4th; Paul Ensley, 1st; Russ Jehl, 2nd; Tom Dider, 3rd; and Tom Freistroffer, at large – signed the letter sent Friday outlining concerns about how Henry enacted a mask mandate in city buildings and promised $200 incentive checks for vaccinated city employees who report their status. Council members asked where the incentive money is coming from.
The mayor then released a letter of his own in response less than two hours before the Tuesday council meeting.
Henry explained in his letter that the voluntary vaccination incentive will come from the group health insurance fund, which provides funding for other incentives such as healthy life choices. It is not a fund that requires council-approved appropriations.
Henry said public health “is not and should not” be a political matter.
“I find it disingenuous for all of you to assert that offering this wellness benefit has injected partisan politics into this debate,” Henry wrote.
“Some of you have ridiculed public health measures since the beginning (of the pandemic), even though those measures, including the wearing of face coverings, social distancing and the need for vaccinations, were originally set forth by the previous federal administration, the previous/current state administration and the county administration, all of which are affiliated with your own party,” he said.
The topic was not brought up at Tuesday's council meeting until members' closing comments, and it wasn't one of the initial letter's authors who brought it up. Councilman Glynn Hines, D-at large, said some members use the word “bipartisanship” only when it benefits them.
“I just don't understand how we talk about bipartisanship, and when this letter was developed, I don't know of any Democrat on this council was apprised to such a letter,” he said, adding that he would not have supported the letter.
Councilman Geoff Paddock, D-5th, was also disappointed when he saw the letter written by some of his fellow council members.
“We must take this much more seriously than some are because people are still dying,” he said in response to a citizen's comment.
Jehl was the only Republican to comment on the letters during his closing remarks. He said he agreed with much of what Hines and Paddock said, but he had a problem with the mayor's release when Henry “conflated employee benefits with the national forced vaccination debate.”
County employees have a similar $200 benefit for voluntarily sharing their vaccination status, but Jehl said that decision wasn't made by the county commissioners in hopes it would influence private businesses to require vaccinations.