City Council Involved in Heated Debate

By Maureen Mespell
By Scott Sarvay
By Megan Trent
By John W. Davis

May 18, 2011 Updated May 18, 2011 at 11:18 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) -- A heated Fort Wayne City Council meeting is turning into a big debate involving both city and county officials, and it seems no one is holding back.

On Monday, Fort Wayne City Council President Republican Mitch Harper announced via email, he agreed to a joint meeting with Allen County President Republican Darren Vogt, concerning the $1.4 million dollar permitting ordinance proposal.

The $1.4 million dollars would be split equally between Fort Wayne and Allen County.

Meanwhile, tensions were high at the Fort Wayne City Council meeting Tuesday night.

A heated conversation occurred at the council table regarding President Mitch Harper's decision to remove discussion of the permitting ordinance from the agenda, because of the joint meeting he scheduled Monday.

The ordinance as it is written, would make it easier for businesses to acquire land use permits. Supporters say it will make economic expansion easier and bring more money into the area.

However, Harper says the ordinance was not well-written and submitted three days late. He also says he didn't add the discussion to Tuesday's agenda because he wanted to hash out the joint proposal with Allen County Council before further action took place.

However, Fort Wayne City Councilman Democrat Tim Pape disagreed with Harper's assessment in a press release sent to Indiana's NewsCenter Wednesday night.

Pape wrote, "Harper also misled the public in claiming that the Ordinance was poorly written. And yet he voted for the exact same Ordinance a week prior without making such allegations. The Ordinance was written and presented in the same format as every other ordinance."

Democratic Council Member Karen Goldner joined Pape's dissent saying Harper misled the public and abused his power.

City Council Member Tim Pape says, "This proposal was generated by input of dozens and dozens of business leaders and by a bipartisan joint commission of both county council and city council members so it was a pretty disturbing abuse of power and I've asked him to put in writing what he did, why he did it, who he talked to. We can't have this type of game playing with these important initiatives."

"We are far behind and we're losing ground every single day cause what message does it send to somebody looking at where they want to put their business that they have to go through the laborious process in person, department by department," continued Pape.

"There's 19 different permits you need. There's no such thing as a reasonable delay when we're fighting in a global economy for every possible living wage job we can and we have an antiquated process," explained Pape.

Mayor Tom Henry also weighed in with this statement: "We surveyed over 75 of the community's top developers and contractors, and their number one priority is streamlining our permitting process. They told us they needed it done now. I am disappointed that City Council President Mitch Harper has chosen to ignore the business community, and delay the process. A bipartisan committee of city, county and business leaders have been working on this solution for over a year, and it's time for action, not more red-tape."

Harper says, "Meeting together with the County Council, when this is joint funding and a joint project, is what we ought to be doing. We've talked for years in this community that the county and city ought to be working more closely together."

The City Council President adds, "Keeping the collaboration going, agreeing on benchmarks, agreeing on what we can do to push business development forward - that's really what we ought to be doing as city and county governments."

Meanwhile, Harper has support from Allen County Council President Darren Vogt. Vogt says, "It's not a power play or anything like that. It's just good government and really trying to make sure we're asking the same questions, getting the answers to the same questions, and following a process that makes sense."

The joint meeting between Fort Wayne City Council and Allen County Council will be held on Tuesday, May 31 at the Allen County Public Library in meeting rooms A & B at 5:30 p.m.

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