In the wake of a heated city election last year, disagreements over Fort Wayne's Legacy Fund boiled over. This year, as issues at the national, state and county level command attention, Republican and Democratic City Council members quietly worked to resolve the Legacy issue.
The work council members Russ Jehl, R-2nd, and Sharon Tucker, D-6th, put into addressing a political standoff over appointments to the Legacy Joint Funding Committee are a nice reminder that bipartisan work is still possible and that it will inevitably produce the best results.
Council voted unanimously Tuesday to select Jehl and Tucker as council appointees to the nine-member Legacy committee, and also learned of an agreement with Mayor Tom Henry's administration to put forward two candidates – Raymond Dix, pastor of Pilgrim Baptist Church, and Melissa Rinehart, director of Wellspring Interfaith Social Services – for the ninth seat on the board.
“The board last year became politicized,” Jehl said Tuesday. “I guess that's not too surprising being that it was an election year. And then we began the year with a mayoral veto of council's path to creating bipartisan appointments. We were kind of at a standstill.”
His work with Tucker and Stephanie Crandall, the city's director of intergovernmental affairs, delivered the consensus candidates. Jehl and Tucker now join Councilman Paul Ensley, R-1st, and Ron Turpin as council appointees; Crandall, Steve Corona, City Attorney Carol Helton and City Controller Garry Morr are the mayor's appointees to the Legacy panel. Dix or Rinehart will be the ninth member, replacing Stacey Smith, whose op-ed comment about the frequency with which some elected officials or their appointees voted no on Legacy proposals appeared to touch off the discord. In fact, Smith simply pointed out the obvious.
“I think that will take a thorny situation and bring it back to the non-political situation the Legacy Fund should be,” Jehl said Tuesday, as he expressed his thanks to Tucker, Crandall and the city administration.
There are no pending requests before the Legacy committee, which is charged with reviewing and recommending requests for funds generated by the lease and sale of the city-owned electric utility to Indiana Michigan Power. The fund stood at about $37.6 million at the end of August. A $10 million appropriation for the Electric Works project is expected in early 2021, but the fund grows with investment income, loan repayments and additional payments from Indiana& Michigan.
The bipartisan groundwork announced this week suggests the next round of projects will meet a more orderly review.