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Fort Wayne City Council upholds Mayor's veto on appointee term limits

Rebecca Green
File Photo: WBOI News

The Fort Wayne City Council did not get enough votes to override Mayor Tom Henry’s veto of term limits on his appointees.

Members of the city’s boards and commissions, like the Redevelopment Commission, the Parks Board, and the TRAA Board are appointed by the City Council, Henry and the County Commissioners.

On June 20, the City Council voted to put term limits on its own appointees to encourage more diversity in board membership. On July 11, the body passed an ordinance five to three putting term limits on mayoral appointees, but the next day, Henry vetoed that measure.

Tuesday night, the City Council, needing at least six votes in favor of overriding that veto, only got five votes, allowing the veto to stand and removing term limits from mayoral appointees.

2nd District Councilman Russ Jehl (R), who was absent from the vote on the June 11, voted in favor of overriding the veto on Tuesday. He said Tuesday night’s vote was unusual.

“Three council members actually switched their votes and voted differently this time around than they did on the original bill,” Jehl said.

At-Large City Councilwoman Michelle Chambers (D) was one of those members. She said in the meeting that she still believes in term limits for board appointees, but that she had consulted with legal experts and was concerned the Council was overstepping its boundaries by setting such limits on the appointments from the executive branch of the city.

Jehl said term limits for council appointments but not mayoral appointments gives Henry too much of an advantage.

“The executive is going to have the advantage because his appointments are going to be experienced,” Jehl said. “The county’s appointments are going to be experienced. They’re going to be running the executive committees of the boards, and the council’s appointments are always going to be novices.”

Jehl said that, combined with Henry already controlling the staff these boards oversee, leaves the city wity too much of an imbalance of power.

Henry released a statement after the council’s vote. In it, he called the vote result “a win for the community,” saying in part “To ensure efficient governing of the city, state law requires the Mayor to make appointments to boards and commissions in order to efficiently perform the administrative functions required to fulfill the needs of the city’s citizens.

Many of the City’s boards and commissions function as extensions of executive responsibilities," the statement continued. "The General Assembly’s decision to not include term limits in legislating the parameters for mayoral appointments leaves the decision of whether to impose such limitations in the executive, not the legislative, branch. A balance must be maintained between appointing new members and renewing the terms of members currently serving on boards and commissions. Members who continue their service offer expertise, leadership, and institutional knowledge.”

Jehl said it’s possible the next council will roll back the term limits for council board appointees, but he did not think it was likely since the body has a limited history of repealing its ordinances.

Tony Sandleben joined the WBOI News team in September of 2022.