The Journal Gazette
Sunday, December 20, 2020 1:00 am

Political notebook

GOP welcomes 17 to diversity seminar

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

The Indiana Republican Party recently announced the members of its inaugural class of its Diversity Leadership Series – and it includes some northeast Indiana representation.

The series is a seminar and leadership training program that will provide the preparation and resources needed to increase the engagement of minority Republican leaders in Indiana.

“I'm thrilled to welcome this impressive group of Hoosiers to our inaugural class,” said Kyle Hupfer, chairman of the Indiana Republican Party. “With their depth and breadth of experience, I know they will dive right into the program, as they're guided to exciting opportunities to make a difference. I've repeatedly said as a party we're committed to building long-term, authentic relationships with historically underrepresented communities – and I can't wait to see the deep relationships formed through this program and beyond.”

The class of 17 Hoosiers represents varied backgrounds and numerous Indiana communities. Class members are from eight different counties. Their experience includes military, law enforcement, ministerial and public service; technology, entrepreneurial, nonprofit and government leadership; and beyond.

• Cody Eckert works for the Indiana House of Representatives as a senior legislative assistant within the Republican Caucus. In 2019, he became Indiana's first openly LGBT elected Republican in the state, winning a seat on Greencastle City Council. He grew up in Huntington County.

• Michael Rafael Garza is the administrative assistant for Decatur Main Street and also assists the Decatur Chamber of Commerce. He previously worked as a coordinator for Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Northeast Indiana during its 2017 Bowl For Kid's Sake event. He is a resident of Adams County.

• Emery McClendon is a distinguished military veteran and former law enforcement officer who has led the way in conservative political activism. McClendon served in the U.S. Air Force and the Indiana Air Guard, and is a former Fort Wayne Police Reserve officer, Allen County sheriff's deputy, and Indiana state trooper. He also was a Tea Party leader, and lives in Fort Wayne.

The first class session is in January, with monthly sessions running through June, followed by a trip to Washington, D.C. Classes will cover topics including civic engagement, campaign management, communication and all levels of government.

In need

If U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has any doubts about schools' need for federal coronavirus relief funds, leaders at Fort Wayne Community Schools are ready to set her straight.

The board Monday night unanimously approved the application for and acceptance of almost $10.3 million of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding from the Indiana Department of Education for the 2020-22 academic years.

These funds were established by the federal coronavirus relief bill created in response to the pandemic.

President Julie Hollingsworth noted DeVos' recent criticism of schools – that she claimed they don't need more money because of unspent funds.

Confusion is understandable because it's a reimbursement grant, said Kathy Friend, chief financial officer. She noted FWCS hasn't submitted all its plans, but it has spent or allocated all the money.

“We certainly would have been in big trouble had we not had all this money available to us, and we will be spending all of it plus probably a little more,” Friend said.

FWCS has until December 2022 to spend the funds, she added.

A portion of the funding is equitably shared with non-public schools who enroll students living in Title I attendance areas, so this leaves FWCS with about $8.7 million, Friend said. Of that, she said, about $4 million is going toward technology, including student devices and internet connectivity.

The grant also is supporting eight nurses and help desk staff to address technology questions from students and staff.

“There's quite a bit of different things that we've used the money for,” Friend said. “Every bit of it was really important.”

Lehman honored

Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, has been named 2020 Legislator of the Year by the Indiana Bankers Association.

He was recognized on Nov. 24 in an award presentation by Dax Denton, IBA senior vice president of government relations, and Eric Augustus, IBA vice president of government relations.

The Legislator of the Year award recognizes Lehman for his support of a strong business and banking environment. A notable example was his work in the 2020 session on House Bill 1109, which resolved issues involving soliciting business via telephone contact and the furnishing of credit reports.

Lehman was elected to the Indiana General Assembly in 2008, representing House District 79, and currently serves as House majority leader.

“From starting a business to buying a home and heading off to college, we often interact with financial institutions as we take big steps in our lives,” Lehman said. “With so much at stake, it's key to ensure our state policies do not hinder the banking industry's ability to continue meeting the various needs of Hoosier customers.”

City Council holiday wishes

As the Fort Wayne City Council wrapped up its final meeting of 2020 last week, members took turns delivering their final thoughts of the year and wishing residents and city staff a happy holiday season. 

Councilwoman Michelle Chambers, D-at large, said, “I hope that everyone stays safe, as COVID is moving through the nation and I hope that in 2021, since we were so eager to revisit and talk about a trash contract that the majority of (the council passed), I hope we'll have the same eagerness when we bring collective bargaining back to the table.” 

Councilman Paul Ensley, R-1st, said, “It's been my honor in 2020 to serve as your council vice president and I would like to thank very much Councilman (Tom) Didier for his excellent job as president this year,” 

Councilman Tom Freistroffer, R-at large, also thanked Didier for his work as council president this year. He also thanked City Council Administrator Megan Flohr, City Clerk Lana Keesling and the rest of the staff.

Councilman Glynn Hines, D-at large, echoed Freistroffer's comments and noted that as winter weather descends upon Fort Wayne, “we're going to find out that the essential workers are more than just public safety and we need to recognize them in 2021 by at least having that discussion as it relates to collective bargaining.”

Hines also implored residents to remain vigilant with masking and social distancing in the home stretch to vaccine distribution. 

“Please celebrate, but be safe,” he said.  

Ashley Sloboda and Dave Gong of The Journal Gazette contributed to this column.

To reach Political Notebook by email, contact Niki Kelly at Political Notebook can be found at

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