Michael Barranda is an at-large member on Fort Wayne City Council. He is serving his first term.
When I ran for office, I did so with a commitment to transparent, collaborative and accountable government. During my tenure I have been most critical about those ideals consistently eluding the city's budgeting process.
My concerns persisted when the mayor announced a $3.25 million supplemental appropriation bill without eliciting any feedback from a single member of council in the months before the bill was introduced. Therefore, readers of The Journal Gazette may have been left perplexed by the following statement by the mayor's office, in the Sept. 3 editorial “Messaging mess,” regarding their dealings with council: “Leading up to the discussion at council on Tuesday, we offered briefings to all nine members,” (city Director of Public Information John) Perlich said in an email. “We met with seven members in person. We had a phone conference with Councilman (Tom) Didier. Councilman Barranda did not meet with us.”
It is, in fact, true that all members of council were invited to attend a series of meetings regarding the proposed bill. The invitation came after the bill was introduced and one week prior to the public presentation scheduled for Aug. 27. Unfortunately, attendance at any such meeting (in person or by telephone) would have been in violation of Indiana's Open Door Law, which prohibits “serial meetings” on pending legislative matters.
Among other things, members of council are not allowed to “receive information” or “make recommendations” on the pending bill behind closed doors. Even those who may not be concerned with government transparency can certainly appreciate the administration's lack of collaboration with the fiscal and legislative body of the city. Indeed, the obvious question is whether the mayor truly sought meaningful input from council when such input was only sought after the bill was introduced – when different appropriations are not permitted.
On Aug. 27, Council cut $1.25 million from the mayor's supplemental budget bill and voted to hold the remaining funds pending an opportunity for council members to perform due diligence on the bill. In the meantime, I am proposing that Mayor Tom Henry double the $1 million investment toward the neighborhood improvement initiative.
I further request that he engage in meaningful discussions with members of council regarding the best use for the remaining $250,000 and resubmit a new appropriations bill for council's consideration.
The editorial encouraged better communication between the administration and council. I could not agree more. As for the neighborhood groups dismayed by the delayed vote? Good things come to those who wait. Hopefully that includes better communication.