The five members of the Fort Wayne Police Merit Commission administer testing for promotions and hear appeals on performance evaluations of the department’s officers. The mayor and police department each appoint two members, and the commission makes the fifth appointment.
Beginning Jan. 1, the Fort Wayne City Council will choose the commission’s fifth member. Council voted 6-3 to make the change Tuesday – the latest salvo in the council’s efforts to get more appointments on the city’s 59 boards and commissions.
“The mayor as the executive branch has appointments on all 59 (local boards), comprising 180 appointments,” said council member Russ Jehl, R-2nd, on Tuesday while introducing the merit board ordinance. “Council as the legislative branch has appointments on only 32 of them, comprising only 49 positions.”
In the past, inequities on board appointments have led to friction between the mayor’s office and the City Council – such as last year, when the Three Rivers Ambulance Authority declared a state of emergency due to slow response times from its contractor, PatientCare EMS Solutions, based in Tyler, Texas.
Had there been a City Council appointment on the TRAA board, Jehl believes council members could have assisted in the crisis. Instead, the City Council was the body that revealed the emergency.
“It was inappropriate to declare an emergency and not decide that in public,” he said.
Additional City Council appointments could foster more collaboration between the administration and council members. At the very least, it should ensure that council members are kept “in the loop” on important policy matters. And the primary focus of new council appointments should be more diversity and broader community representation among the members of committees and boards.
In 2020, after the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, former City Council member Tim Pape pushed for more people of color on city boards and commissions.
“The energy that has ignited the Black Lives Matter movement presents an opportunity to correct an injustice in appointments to four of the most powerful boards within local government: Redevelopment Commission, Legacy Fund, Capital Improvement Board and Plan Commission,” Pape wrote in a letter to Mayor Tom Henry. “These boards make choices on community direction, strategy, policy and funding. This is where inattention and insularity can lead to disconnection and denial.”
The same day we published Pape’s appeal for more diversity, City Council members appointed Quinton Ellis as their representative on the Economic Development Commission. Attention to ingrained practices that too often result in all-male, all-white boards is making a difference.
The mayor released a statement acknowledging Pape’s criticism.
“Currently, we do not have enough minority representation on City of Fort Wayne boards and commissions,” Henry wrote. “It’s a top priority of my administration to have more diversity on the volunteer boards and commissions. We’ll continue to be proactive in encouraging minority residents to submit applications to be considered for future opportunities. We welcome their participation, and our city will benefit as a result of having diverse voices at the table making important decisions.”
Thursday, the city administration defended the current allocations of executive and legislative appointments to local boards.
“Indiana state law has protocols and policies in place that give the executive, in our case Mayor Henry, the ability to lead the city with making important appointments to boards and commissions,” Director of Public Information John Perlich told The Journal Gazette. “City Council already makes a number of appointments, and we believe the current process is working well.”
That doesn’t mean it couldn’t work better with greater involvement by City Council. With more appointments, council members could help get new, more diverse voices involved in serving the city and its residents.
The community benefits when its leaders look like the community. A greater commitment to diversity and inclusion on city boards and commissions can begin today, with the mayor and council members as partners in this important endeavor.