The Journal Gazette
Friday, June 11, 2021 1:00 am

Council no place for national debates

Michelle Chambers, Glynn Hines and Sharon Tucker

It's hard to pinpoint the exact time rhetoric in America started declining, but it is reasonable to recognize that it has hit an all-time low.

From dialogue about birth certificates to finger-pointing about patriotism, we're no longer debating facts, but instead pointing out why one side is right and one side is wrong.

It's no longer constructive dialogue; it's base-level bickering, the kind you would have been sent to your room for as a child. Unfortunately, we can't collectively send America to its room for a timeout.

The three of us have been lucky, in our time as elected officials, to have productive dialogue with our colleagues across the aisle. At our Council table, we work together more often than we work against one another, and even though we may have different paths on how to reach our goals, the end goal has always been the same – to build and sustain a community where all people can live safely and thrive.

We have historically done that with thoughtful yet strong-willed leaders such as Dr. John Crawford, John Nuckols, Don Schmidt, John Shoaff, Tom Henry, SamTalarico and Tim Pape – all people who would debate the issues, but ultimately be focused on the greater good.

Recently, however, our conversations have been more national politics and ideological posturing.

As citizens, national issues impact our lives. From protests surrounding George Floyd's murder to distribution of federal stimulus money, national issues are always going to permeate our consciousness. But there's the inevitable permeation, and there's intentional virtue signaling, which is what is occurring more and more.

We have all lived through the COVID-19 pandemic. We have all experienced quarantines, masking up and supply shortages. We have all made choices, for ourselves and our families, on how to deal with vaccinations.

We know different people have different perspectives on these topics – and that's perfectly fine. As Americans, we can have different beliefs. And having different beliefs doesn't make one person right and one person wrong. It just makes our beliefs different.

But many have forgotten that in a rush to vilify those who think differently.

Which brings us to the Fort Wayne City Council, the legislative branch of government. Council members are responsible for passing the municipal budget, voting on contracts for city services, passing civil regulations, making sure citizens have basic city services and advocating for our constituents. We are not the testing ground for national issues, which is why we are so frustrated by the discussion about vaccine passports being brought forth by our colleagues.

We have no say on many topics, including vaccine passports. We recognize many people feel very, very strongly about mandatory vaccines, but bringing the topic before City Council is unfair to the people who feel strongly about this issue. We have no say, not because we don't want to but because, at the local level, we have not been granted the authority.

Bringing this topic to the Council table does nothing but inflame the base, people who feel strongly about this issue, which we gather was the purpose of bringing any mention of vaccines to Council. It is disappointing that this is a misrepresentation of fact.

We have to stop leading people to believe the proposed resolution does anything or provides any protection. It's a lie. It doesn't provide freedom, it is a false narrative to get people angry and further divide.

Council members could be spending their time meeting with their constituents, discussing how to improve access to city services, reaching out to improve quality-of-life activities and genuinely help people. But instead, we are scheduled to debate a national issue on which we have no standing or ability to implement change. We will hear from residents about how they want us to vote on a nonbinding resolution which has the same power as a gold star on a child's school assignment.

No one is saying they are for or against this resolution; we are only saying that the lack of effective ability is simply a way to virtue signal and waste taxpayer dollars to get people back into the mindset of us vs. them. One side is right and one side is wrong. And the nasty rhetoric continues.

All that said, we should note that asking someone to wear a mask is not discrimination. At Citizens Square, currently, masks are recommended. Yet, every person who spoke at the June 8 meeting of Council did not wear a mask. Nor were they asked to. They were provided every courtesy.

Furthermore, no governmental entity in Allen County is trying to pass anything to restrict any freedoms. It's all theater.

We would respectfully request that our colleagues who wish to debate national issues find a more appropriate forum than the City Council table. We were all elected to serve our constituencies by addressing the needs of Fort Wayne, not the issues of Indianapolis or Washington, D.C. We want to serve the community, and bring residents together, not drive them further apart with poisonous rhetoric.

Let's create, not destroy. Let's all focus on serving our community and building the best city possible and leave the national politics to the national politicians.


Michelle Chambers and Glynn Hines are at-large members of Fort Wayne City Council. Sharon Tucker represents the Sixth District.

Subscribe to our newsletters

* indicates required