When we endorsed Lana Keesling in 2015, we noted her strongest political asset might have been her lack of previous involvement with the city clerk's office, where Sandy Kennedy's 32-year tenure had just ended abruptly with charges of politicking on behalf of the deputy clerk seeking to replace her.
“I've got a new set of eyes,” Keesling said at the time. “I've got new ideas. You get complacent.”
Those new ideas have resulted in welcome improvements and efficiencies over the past four years. And while the first-term Republican didn't entirely avoid political missteps, she hasdelivered on promises to bring strong administrative skills to city operations. Keesling has solid proposals for a second term, as well, and has earned the opportunity to follow through on them.
For most residents, new parking meters downtown are the most visible sign of change. Aside from offering the convenience of credit card payment, the new meters have delivered efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
“When I walked into that office four years ago, there were no clear procedures and processes in place,” Keesling said. “We have created them for everything, which is one of the reasons we've been able to cut expenses and to collect better numbers for parking control.”
For example, a motorist who ignores a citation receives a past-due notice at 30 days; a second notice at 45 days; and a court date 30 days after that. Previously, a past-due notice might have been overlooked for as long as two years, according to Keesling. With an automated system and an increase in parking fees, parking control no longer operates at a deficit. The clerk's office covered a $60,000 shortfall, borrowed from economic development income tax revenue to buy the new meters and repaid the expense with parking revenue.
An analysis determined a rate increase from 50 cents an hour to $1 an hour would allow parking operations to break even, Keesling said. Those accounts have grown to $385,000 in revenue last year – a 54% increase.
“We're not writing more tickets – we're more efficient in collecting,” she said.
The clerk has used the same deliberate approach in her role as record keeper for City Council. Meeting agendas and related documents are faithfully posted by early afternoon on Friday, allowing ample time for council members and the public to review them before Tuesday meetings.
Going forward, Keesling said she hopes to finish a project digitizing historical records for the city to make them accessible online. She also wants to implement a program that visually records council votes for viewers watching meetings on TV or online.
“One night we had total chaos – it was the abatement night,” she said. “There were so many votes, and some (council members) were changing their votes. Which is why having the screen and having the votes up there in both the committee and regular session is imperative.”
Keesling's Democratic challenger, Katie Zuber, bears watching in local politics. Her enthusiasm for community service and can-do attitude are inspiring. An employee of Midwest Pipe & Steel, she returned to her hometown of Fort Wayne seven years ago after working several years in Florida. She said she “fell in love with the job description” for city clerk and would like to improve communication in the office.
“My goal is to bring bipartisanship back to the clerk's office,” Zuber said.
But aside from a very public run-in with Mayor Tom Henry regarding his city-owned vehicle, Keesling has fulfilled her largely administrative duties in a professional manner and delivered on all promises to improve operations.
“My goal four years ago was to make the office transparent, to make it effective, efficient, an office of integrity – an office the city can be proud of,” she said. “I think we've done that.”
We would agree. Keesling has earned a second term.
Thursday: Huntington school referenda
Today: Fort Wayne city clerk
Sunday: Fort Wayne Council at large
Monday: Fort Wayne Council District 1
Tuesday: Fort Wayne Council District 3
Wednesday: Fort Wayne Council District 4
Thursday: Fort Wayne Council District 5
Oct. 11: New Haven mayor
Oct. 13: Fort Wayne mayor
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