The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, March 15, 2016 4:40 pm

Future uncertain for whistleblower

Dave Gong | The Journal Gazette

His release of two videos may have altered the course of history for the Fort Wayne City Clerk’s Office, but the future is now a little bit uncertain for Colin Keeney. 

At two separate times in October, Keeney, the city’s former parking enforcement supervisor, released two sets of video that appeared to show improper political activity within the office of the city clerk. The resulting controversy may have had influenced the Nov. 3 municipal election and may have implications as Keeney tries to move on with his life.

Keeney, who will start his second year in law school at Indiana Tech in January, said he’s still unemployed after leaving Parking Administration, where he had worked for eight years. 

"I really haven’t thought that far ahead. Quite frankly here lately, I’ve been so darn busy, I really don’t know what the future holds for me," Keeney said. "I’m sure I’ll be OK, I’ve figured it out this long."

Keeney said it’s been a fairly anxiety-filled time since he quit working for the city Sept. 30. 

"I have a mortgage just like everybody else," he said. "When you leave a job, it’s not just the mortgage. I don’t have health insurance, I don’t have anything like that. I’m just out there flying without a net, basically, and that causes anxiety, I would expect, for anybody."

With law school and few other obligations – he’s unmarried and has no children – Keeney, 48, said he’s not too worried about his financial future. He’s been able to put aside savings that will help him cover living expenses and school costs with the help of some financial aid. However, he did say the prospect that some employers may not want to hire him does bother him.

"Whistleblowers are perceived as troublemakers. They’re most of the time blackballed from the industry that they work in," said Sal Barbera, a consultant in Florida who routinely works with whistleblowers and potential whistleblowers. 

Barbera, a whistleblower himself, said potential employers are sometimes wary of hiring whistleblowers. The best advice he can give a whistleblower returning to the job market, he said, is to be forthright about the situation.

"If he has the opportunity to interview with somebody, I would tell them and let them know upfront," Barbera said. "It’s better to be forthright than have it spun from some other totally inaccurate perspective."

Amid controversy resulting from the video releases, longtime City Clerk Sandy Kennedy resigned her position Oct. 13, citing health concerns and the advice of her neurologist. Her deputy, Angie Davis, followed suit Oct. 29 after Keeney’s second video release. That video appeared to show Davis and her campaign treasurer, Patricia Stahlhut, using the police database Spillman to retrieve contact information for potential campaign donors. Stahlhut also resigned her position Oct. 29.

Throughout, Keeney has maintained that he had no political motivation. The motivation, he said, was concern for his colleagues in Parking Administration.

Several employees, speaking on condition of anonymity, have said they felt intimidated by Kennedy, Davis and Stahlhut and that they feared for their jobs if they did not adequately participate in the campaign. 

"There’s a lot of people who are working for the city that need their medical insurance, they’re just lost without it, so I understand that part of it," Keeney said.

"I don’t have as many concerns as a lot of people, so maybe it was a little easier for me to come forward and make that decision to speak up."

Davis lost her election bid for city clerk last week. She was defeated by GOP candidate Lana Keesling, who will take over the office Jan. 1. 

Kerry Yates, an officer in the Parking Administration Department for almost 14 years, said she has a lot of respect for Keeney and what he did in releasing the videos. 

"We’ve talked about it here in the office, and I don’t think any of us would have been able to go to the extent of leaving our place of employment for so many years and doing what he did," she said. "We’re pretty proud of him for doing what he did. It was something the taxpayers needed to learn about." 

Yates also described Keeney as a great, hands-off supervisor who was "always there for you, which is kind of nice, especially in parking control since we’re out of the office a lot and on the road.

"I can’t thank him enough for what he sacrificed," she said. 

Keeney said he hadn’t thought about running for public office before the story broke. However, he wouldn’t be opposed to entering politics one day. That’s especially true, he said, because he plans to focus on either business or constitutional law once he graduates and passes the bar exam. 

"I think it’s a very noble thing – to me, it’s right up there with being a schoolteacher or something like that," he said. "I wouldn’t mind (running for office), but we’ll see where it goes."

Keeney describes himself as a Republican but noted that most of his family tends to lean Democratic. A look into Allen County Voter Registration information shows that Keeney voted in the Democratic Party municipal primary this year.

Whistleblowers such as Keeney sometimes do make for attractive political candidates, said Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at IPFW. 

"Obviously, (Keeney) might be viewed quite favorably within the Republican Party because he helped to unseat a Democrat – and a long-serving Democrat who ended up getting a lot of votes over the years," Downs said.

Keeney would be a welcome addition to the Republican Party, said Allen County GOP Chairman Steve Shine, assuming he has the experience, ideas and credentials to make for a good candidate. Any decisions related to his ability to run for office would not be determined solely on the fact that he blew the whistle. 

"I’m not saying Keeney doesn’t have (those qualifications), but that one element alone would not be sufficient to hold an office," Shine said. "You have to have other things going for you, which I’m sure he does and will. But if it was nothing more than a whistleblower, that to me is not enough of a reason to run for office."

John Court, chairman of the Allen County Democratic Party, agreed. 

"There’s other qualifications than just being a whistle­blower," Court said. "That’s why you have a primary and a general election, to give the public a chance to pick if they have trust in this individual and their activities."

Court said that if Keeney chooses to run for office, there would likely be some scrutiny on the timing of his video releases. 

When asked why so much time had passed between when the videos were recorded and when they were released, Keeney said he spent a significant amount of time financially preparing to leave his job. Keeney recorded the footage between May and September.

After his resignation Sept. 8, Keeney said he spent most of the next 33 days preparing to release the videos.

Downs noted that though some Republicans might look favorably on Keeney as a candidate for public office, there probably wouldn’t be many crossover votes from Democrats. There may even be some Republicans who didn’t agree with Keeney’s methods in exposing alleged corruption or scandal, he said. Keeney’s candidacy would likely be something party leadership would have to put some thought into.

"Every candidate has so-called minefields, and several of his are better known than most folks’,?" Downs said. "It wouldn’t be a no-brainer. Because no-brainers get beaten quite a bit."

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