Closing the deal on Electric Works would be challenging in any circumstances. But politics and personalities have added to the angst.
Maybe it's a coincidence that Mayor Tom Henry decided to replace Legacy Joint Funding Committee President Ron Turpin, an enthusiastic backer of the project, two weeks before the committee considers Electric Works funding.
Maybe Eric Doden, whose parents have contributed to the campaign of Republican mayoral candidate Tim Smith, would have announced his decision to step down as CEO of Greater Fort Wayne now in any case.
Maybe Henry would have been just as equivocal about his support for the project if John Crawford, one of its biggest supporters on the City Council, weren't also running for mayor.
Hints of political crosscurrents were inevitable in a project of this magnitude. Now they've swirled into public view.
On May 4, Doden announced plans to step down at the end of the year, saying he wants to spend time with his family and his business. But Doden, who has championed the effort to reimagine the old GE campus from the beginning, took an added step. Until he leaves, Doden has passed leadership of Greater Fort Wayne's role in developing the Electric Works project to Executive Vice President of Economic Development John Urbahns. In a conversation with our editorial board, Doden said a certain percentage of those who are now being approached to support Electric Works might respond better to Urbahns.
When he learned Henry wanted to make a change on the Legacy board, Turpin informed other board members he planned to resign in June – after the potentially crucial May 23 meeting at which board members are to consider Electric Works funding. But recently the mayor notified Turpin, who has led the board since it was formed in 2014, that he would have to step down right away.
City spokesman John Perlich said the timing had nothing to do with Electric Works. Rather, he said, the retirements of two other Legacy board members, former Community Development Director Greg Leatherman and former Parks Director Al Moll, made it a good time for the mayor to address Turpin's position as well. (New City Controller Garry Morr will replace Leatherman on the board, and City Attorney Carol Helton will replace Moll. Both serve, of course, at the pleasure of the mayor.)
The mayor's selection of Steve Corona, a competent and veteran community leader, to replace Turpin is not the problem. It is worth noting, though, that ventures such as the Riverfront, The Landing and Electric Works are most of all aimed at this community's next generation, so younger voices should be accorded appropriate respect in this community discussion.
Henry, of course, has the right to replace Turpin, who is also backing Smith's campaign. But making the move ahead of a key meeting on Electric Works funding seems curious, especially given the mayor's seeming reluctance to take leadership on getting the project done.
The mayoral election is a year and a half away. Henry, 66, has not even said whether he plans to run for a fourth term. But whether and how to fund the Electric Works development is a decision that deserves everyone's full attention. A project with this large a potential and this large a cost demands clear thinking and transparent decision-making. The outcome must be something the community can understand and support. The likes, dislikes and political gamesmanship of our leaders must not be allowed to get in the way.