The past 18 months have been difficult for everyone in Fort Wayne, our nation, and the whole world. Virtually everyone has been impacted by COVID-19, both by the disease itself and by the consequences of government responses to the pandemic. As elected leaders of our community, we must carefully craft policies that both promote public health and protect individuals' rights to make their own health choices. Injecting partisan politics into this debate only weakens the public's trust. This is why portions of your announcement on September 2 were so disappointing.
Last week, you announced a new benefit for city employees in the form of direct cash payments to employees who disclose their vaccination status to the city. This benefit was not discussed with City Council, the fiscal body of our local government. No information was provided about the cost or funding source of these benefits. Do you intend to seek Council approval for this benefit, or an appropriation of funding? If not, what funding do you intend to reallocate for this purpose?
City Council has not allocated any funds for employee bonuses. Throughout the pandemic, council and the mayor have worked together to create sound policies to protect the health and safety of city employees while still delivering the essential services of city government to Fort Wayne residents. Reallocating funds which council approved for another purpose undermines the collaborative relationship between the legislative and executive branch. As we begin next year's budget discussions, why set such a contentious tone?
In your announcement, you stated that the intention of the policy was to “encourage” the “mandating of COVID-19 vaccines.” State law explicitly prohibits local governments from mandating vaccines, yet you have laid out a series of policy proposals which seek to encourage exactly what the state prohibits the city from doing. Furthermore, your announcement referred to unspecified further incentives and a November 1 deadline. What are these additional incentives?
During these difficult times, few issues are more polarizing than forced vaccinations. By politicizing city employees' health benefits, the legitimate discussion of employee vaccine bonuses is impossible, and the divisive “us versus them” mentality is reinforced. Furthermore, the use of public funds for a new employee benefit, bypassing discussions with the fiscal body or the taxpayers, is unnecessarily adversarial. Put together, your politicization of the pandemic erodes the public trust and undermines the more nuanced debate surrounding individual liberties and public health.
The public doesn't want politics in the pandemic. People's lives are at stake, and it is our responsibility to work together. The public deserves more collaborative leadership from all of us.
About the authors
This letter on Fort Wayne City Council stationery to Mayor Tom Henry was signed by Jason Arp, R-4th; Tom Didier, R-3rd; Paul Ensley, R-1st; Tom Freistroffer, R-at large; and Russ Jehl, R-2nd.