In an effort to exert some control over the Allen County Republican Party, Chairman Steve Shine dissolved the party’s executive committee the same day its president resigned because of concerns over Matt Kelty’s mayoral candidacy.
Shine said a group of about 150 Allen County precinct workers applauded his decision at a meeting Thursday evening called to discuss Kelty.
“It was very clear the precinct committee people did not want the executive committee to be in existence,” he said.
Kelty spoke to the group for about 5 minutes before meeting dozens of supporters waiting outside Republican headquarters on Main Street Although he wouldn’t comment on what he told the precinct workers, Kelty urged his supporters to keep working for him.
“Continue to keep us in your prayers,” he said. “Continue to keep the Allen County Republican Party in your prayers.”
Kelty last week was indicted on nine criminal charges, including seven felonies, regarding how he reported $158,000 in loans to his campaign and whether he lied to a grand jury about his knowledge of a public opinion poll conducted before the primary election.
Shine said he decided to eliminate the party’s executive committee because its members were using it as a forum to get publicity during party infighting.
“The committee has become a public platform for people on both sides of this matter,” he said. “Regrettably, it has become a vehicle for discord rather than one for accord.”
The decision was needed, Shine said, because of the difficult position he is in while facing a fractured party.
“Dissolving the committee shows some decisive action,” he said. “I’m in a very unfortunate and unpleasant situation.”
When asked about the dissolution, Kelty said he supported Shine’s efforts in running the local GOP.
“Chairman Shine is doing a great job as Republican Party chair,” Kelty said.
Shine’s announcement came just hours after Ken Neumeister, the president of the committee and an influential GOP fundraiser, resigned because of his unhappiness with the party’s support for Kelty.
Neumeister said he was disappointed to resign from the group – he has headed it since its inception in 2000 – but could no longer be associated with a party backing Kelty.
“I do not support Matt Kelty,” he said. “Matt’s said some things and done some things that haven’t set well with all of us.”
Neumeister’s resignation comes the same week Allen County Recorder John McGauley became the first Republican official to publicly attack Kelty’s campaign, saying the candidate wasn’t being straight with Republican leaders.
McGauley, a member of the executive committee, said Thursday he was disappointed in Shine’s decision to eliminate the group.
“The executive committee was formed specifically to get input from all the different viewpoints represented by our party – even those that disagree with one another,” he said. “This is a step backward for openness in the political process and an inappropriate response to criticism.”
The executive committee was an ad hoc group created by the chairman, Shine said, to provide advice on party matters. Shine said it was previously used as a confidential place to bounce ideas around, but too often recently its members have used their titles on the committee to give their thoughts extra credence.
By eliminating the executive committee, Shine said he was freeing its members to speak their minds and was in no way trying to silence critics.
During the precinct meeting, Shine said the overwhelming majority of speakers heartily endorsed supporting Kelty’s campaign and for the party to coalesce. He acknowledged a disconnect between those on the executive committee and the precinct workers but said the precinct workers are out in neighborhoods talking to residents. He said they are the true base of the party.
“The underlying theme was for party unity,” Shine said. “We need to stay strong.”
Shine said he was relieved to hear such support from precinct officials.
About 50 of the 150 in attendance spoke, and only a couple gave even tepid support of Kelty, let alone outright criticism, Shine said.
Other Republican officials, however, publicly distanced themselves from the GOP mayoral candidate. The strongest stance was taken by Cathy Hawks, the party’s former vice chairwoman, who said she plans to vote for Democrat Tom Henry this fall. Hawks left her position within the party this year partly to support Allen County Commissioner Nelson Peters, whom Kelty defeated in the spring primary, but she is still seen by many as an influential Republican.
“The best thing for Fort Wayne right now is to support Tom Henry,” she said.
Hawks said Kelty has been a friend of hers, but his campaign has gone wrong and she will not support him just because he is a Republican.
Allen County Sheriff Ken Fries said he was disappointed to see Neumeister resign from the party’s executive committee. Fries, a Republican, personally thanked Neumeister numerous times last year for helping him get elected, and he said Thursday that Neumeister is integral to raising money for candidates and the party.
Fries also said he shared some of the same concerns Neumeister had of the Kelty campaign.
“When you have a candidate that gets indicted by a grand jury, that should cause people to have some pause,” he said.
Allen County Commissioner Bill Brown credited Neumeister for helping him win office.
“It’s tough having a candidate having all these indictments,” he said.
When asked whether he took personally the public criticism of him by other Republicans, Kelty said he didn’t let it bother him.
“It’s politics,” he said.