Less than one month before the Fort Wayne Municipal election, allegations have surfaced that longtime Fort Wayne City Clerk Sandy Kennedy threatened employees’ jobs if they did not contribute to Democratic Party election efforts.
Former Parking Enforcement Supervisor Colin Keeney said he and other employees were told they were expected to contribute to Deputy Clerk Angie Davis’ campaign to replace Kennedy, who is not seeking reelection after 32 years on the job. Keeney, who resigned his $45,000 a year job last month, secretly recorded several conversations between Kennedy and staff members about participating in and contributing to Davis’ campaign.
To document his claims, Keeney recorded and edited together a series of videos centered on discussions Kennedy had with her staff in the City Clerk’s office and Parking Enforcement department. Keeney and other employees say they felt intimidated, fearing for their jobs if they did not contribute or participate.
"During my tenure with the City Clerk’s office, I’ve witnessed countless examples of an elected official who routinely engages in employee intimidation, petty partisan harassment, and a City Clerk that frequently ignores the law and the city’s official rules in favor of her own demands. As a supervisor, I’ve endured for years without the leadership of a coherent department head," Keeney wrote in a Sept. 8 resignation letter addressed to Mayor Tom Henry.
The videos, which Keeney said were recorded between May and September, appear to support his claims.
Kennedy is seen in several frames in her office at Citizens Square discussing the election with a few staff members about splitting the cost of a fundraising dinner among the employees at the clerk’s office.
"This is just a suggestion, as I said, you know, I’m not telling you what to do but I would make out a list and give to everybody and tell them that each and everyone’s responsible for paying for this dinner because it’s their job in jeopardy," Kennedy says in the video.
When asked if making such a list was legal, Kennedy said, "No, no, but let them try to turn it in to an attorney, they’ll be fired before the end of the year."
Keeney, a Republican, is shown in his video contributing $22 to the fundraiser, however he said he had no desire to contribute to her campaign.
The video also shows Kennedy telling Parking Control employees that if Republican candidate Lana Keesling wins the election, their jobs will be outsourced to a private company. She notes that the employees are no longer protected by a union.
"I hope that doesn’t happen, I’ve tried to save you all these years," she says. "So we’ve got to get Angie elected … I think if a Democrat gets in we’ll be OK."
A message left for Keesling late Saturday was not immediately returned.
A few frames later, Kennedy is seen criticizing Parking Control officers for what appears to be a lack of interest in the campaign.
As for Davis, she is present throughout some of the video, where she discusses participation in an upcoming fundraiser. However, she does not appear to demand money from any of the employees.
In a phone interview Saturday, Davis said she did not have a comment on the video, but noted that she was not aware that such activity was taking place with regard to her campaign. However, she did say the revelations would not affect her campaign.
"I’m still going to be out there working hard and continuing our campaign," she said.
Mark GiaQuinta, attorney representing Kennedy and a former city councilman, characterized Keeney’s videos as a "fundamental mischaracterization" of Kennedy’s words. He described the conversations as "lunch room banter."
"When she says they better work on this campaign because their jobs are in the balance, she’s expressing the political reality that without collective bargaining and unions, a new clerk can privatize, can bring in a whole new office and probably would," GiaQuinta said. "And Sandy Kennedy has seen that before there was collective bargaining, she’s been an employee at the city of Fort Wayne for decades and she saw what collective bargaining brought to employees, and she sees what it will be like now that it’s gone."
GiaQuinta added that Kennedy has never fired an employee in 32 years as clerk.
It’s not yet clear if Kennedy violated any laws, but there is a state statute that does prohibit government employees from engaging in certain political activities, said Zachary Klutz, former Republican chair of the Allen County Election Board and a partner at Barret McNagny LLP. Klutz said elected officials are sometimes not classified as government employees. He was unsure how Kennedy’s position is classified.
"I would say this falls more closely with an ethical violation or a situation that just shouldn’t happen," he said. "If you’re an employee with the city of Fort Wayne, you should be able to go into work each day and not be intimidated to vote for a particular candidate."
Speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of losing their jobs, several of Keeney’s former co-workers spoke out about the video, stating that it represents just a snapshot of the conditions in Kennedy’s office. All of the employees who spoke to The Journal Gazette said they’re unsure of what will happen moving forward.
In a phone interview Saturday, City Council President John Crawford, R-at large, said he did not have a comment on the video, but said his job as council president will be to conduct a thorough investigation, uncover the facts and make sure the City Council acts in an appropriate manner.
In an email late Saturday, mayoral spokesman John Perlich said Henry’s office is aware of the situation.
"If the allegations are accurate, we’re very troubled by the reports. The mayor’s office and the City Clerk’s office are separately-elected offices that are independent of each other. The mayor’s office does not have jurisdiction over the City Clerk’s office," he said.
Though he identifies as a Republican, Keeney said politics was never his intention, stating that his only hope is that the employees still working in the clerk’s office will see some relief as a result of his action.