Allen County Council
Thomas A. (Tom) Harris √
Joel M. Benz √
Frank J. Talarico III
Two members of the Allen County Council, Tom Harris and Joel Benz, are being challenged in the May 8 Republican primary by articulate newcomers who say they could do better. But the two incumbents point convincingly to the council's progress on economic development and a sound county budget.
The three county commissioners, who set policy and oversee operations, arguably can take at least equal credit for economic-development successes. But the seven-member council has the final say on fiscal matters, which are often crucial to new businesses and projects. In 2016, County Council approval was the first step in securing a $42 million grant from the state's Regional Cities program.
“The amount of growth, the amount of projects that we've had occur, particularly in the last four years, has just been amazing,” said District 2 Councilman Harris, who is seeking a third term. County permits show the value of residential and commercial construction work in the county has grown from $594 million in 2014 to more than $1 billion in 2017, he said. “That's one measure that we're going in the right direction.”
The 57-year-old Harris, a former county human resources director who operates a consulting company, also points to infrastructure maintenance, better communication with the sheriff's department, improved security for the jail and juvenile center, an increase in the number of school resource officers and efforts to move more of the county's permitting process online.
Harris' primary challenger is Brian Motley, a 22-year-old Manchester University graduate whose primary reason for seeking a council seat is to draw attention to the lack of internet connectivity and other infrastructure deficiencies in places outside the city.
A Spencerville resident who works for Lifeline Youth and Family Services on Fort Wayne's west side, Motley said he understands the interconnectedness between city and county. But he believes “the outer edges of the community aren't as attended to as downtown Fort Wayne.” Motley also wants to see the county enact a rule similar to the “pay-to-play” ordinance the City Council adopted.
As a millennial, Motley said, “I have a different perspective than pretty much everyone on the council at the moment.”
The winner of the District 2 Republican race will face Ben Schoch, who is unopposed in the Democratic primary.
District 3 Councilman Benz, who is seeking a second term, is also proud of the council's achievements. “We've made some wise budgetary decisions,” Benz said. “Investments in business growth ... we've invested in technology.” Benz, a 37-year-old paramedic, also cites his work as a council representative the city-county Joint Permitting Oversight Board, which was created by the late County Councilman Roy Buskirk to eliminate red tape for potential new businesses.
One of Benz' two primary challengers is 45-year-old Frank J. Talarico III, a spiritual community pastor at First Assembly of God. Talarico, who moved to Fort Wayne from Detroit five years ago, has had experience in small-business development as well as church administration.
“I have had to oversee finances and really squeeze out every dollar,”Talarico said. When he's attended Allen County Council meetings, he said, “I don't feel there was enough questions being asked around the table. I think we could ask some harder questions.”
Benz's other primary challenger, Dave Augenstein, declined to be interviewed.
The winner of the District 3 Republican primary will be unopposed in the fall election.
Motley and Talarico come across as enthusiastic and willing to serve. But Harris and Benz have played key roles on an effective County Council. We endorse both incumbents.