Legacy Committee Reforms Pass, Despite Political Tension

Feb 13, 2020

Fort Wayne's riverfront development efforts were given a boost through the city's Legacy Fund.
Credit Zach Bernard/WBOI News

Fort Wayne City Council unanimously approved a nonbinding resolution to provide more guidance regarding the use of Legacy funds Tuesday night.

The proposal was brought forward by 1st District Republican councilman and Legacy Joint Funding Committee member Paul Ensley. It was the result of a 2019 study group established by Council with the hope of streamlining the Legacy process for both the public and the fiscal body itself.

Ensley says the goal of the proposal is to be “less political,” aimed to minimize local government influence in the process in favor of a more community approach. He also suggested posting projects requesting Legacy funds on the city’s website four weeks ahead of the next committee meeting.

“One of the things that we heard quite a bit was that folks didn't really know what projects were coming before the Legacy Joint Funding Committee until they read about it in the newspaper after the Legacy Joint Funding Committee voted on them,” Ensley said.

But that didn’t stop the process from becoming political.

5th District Democratic councilman Geoff Paddock offered an amendment proposing two members of Council -- one Republican and one Democrat -- be appointed to the Legacy committee.

“That is something that I feel offers balance, I think it’s something that will assure that there is some difference of opinion, perhaps some different eyes looking at certain things,” said Paddock.

Ensley expressed disappointment toward the amendment, noting the current 5-4 Republican majority on Council and calling it a “power grab” by the Democrats. He also said it distracted from the goal of making the process less political.

This led to a heated debate over the political structure of the committee and the overall influence of Council and mayoral appointments to the nine-member body.

Paddock’s amendment was nonetheless approved on a 6-3 vote. Ensley countered by offering an amendment requiring the mayor to appoint one Republican and one Democrat; that was approved 7-2.

Since the requirements set out by these guidelines are already being met -- Mayor Tom Henry has appointed a Republican and the Council representation is bipartisan -- there will be no changes to the Legacy committee at this time.

Ensley also offered an additional, non-binding measure to set the floor level of dollars in the Legacy Fund at $30 million. That passed on a more narrow 5-4 vote.