History and the City Council Veto Override Vote

The Fort Wayne City Council in Regular Session

Tomorrow night, the City Council will vote whether to override Mayor Tom Henry’s veto of the Firefighter’s Merit Board legislation. The Council passed the ordinance earlier this summer, but it was vetoed a short time later. Mayor Henry felt the Board of Public Safety already properly handles matters this new board would oversee. To override his veto, six of the City Council members need to vote in favor of the override.

But when was the last time City Council voted to override a Mayoral veto? Surprisingly, council override veto votes occur often, but they’re not always successful. Mayor Graham Richard had several of his vetoes come up for an override vote, but none were successful. The most notable being a redistricting issue in 2002, a parking ordinance in 2003 and the truck route law back in 2004.

I asked City Clerk Sandy Kennedy and her assistant Angie Davis, about veto override votes and was provided with the following list. Details have been filled using newspaper accounts.

July 13, 1999

According to their software database, the last time City Council voted to override a Mayor’s veto was back in July, 1999. The City Council at that time overruled then Mayor Paul Helmke’s veto of a garbage and recycling contract.

The controversy revolved around the recycling of cardboard. City Council wanted to allow residents to begin recycling it, while Mayor Helmke felt there wasn’t enough demand for the service in Fort Wayne to add it to a contract, therefore increasing the cost of said contract which would ultimately be passed on to citizens.

Interestingly enough, in the same council meeting, then Councilman Tom Henry, D-3rd, introduced an unsuccessful proposal that would have changed the City’s smoking ordinance approved only a month before this. The changes would have allowed smoking areas to be separated with only a 6-foot partition or and 8-foot separation.

June 24, 1999

There were actually two pieces of smoking ban legislations passed by City Council at the end of May, 1999. The first covered the workplace and most public places, while the second covered restaurants. It was this second ban that was vetoed by then Mayor Helmke. Both ordinances were initially passed with a 5-4 vote by City Council on June 16th. This 5-4 vote meant any vote for a veto override would probably fall short as at least 6 aye votes to override would be required. Helmke (Republican), who was currently running for the U.S. Senate passed the first ban, but vetoed the second.

Intense lobbying began almost immediately. When the veto override vote came before council on the 24th, two council members, Tom Henry and Archie Lunsey, D-1st, changed their initial votes and the matter finished with a final 7-2 vote to override. The two to vote against the veto override were Dede Hall (wife of Sam Hall, owner of several Hall’s Restaurants) and Cletus Edmunds, D-6th.

December 17, 1996

Council passed two ordinances by 5-4 votes that would dissolve the Metropolitan Human Relations Commission, commonly known as Metro, to create a new seven-member agency which would have been done in stages over the next couple of years. The ordinances were sponsored by Cletus Edmonds who considered their passage a major victory. In the previous two years, nearly half the staff had resigned or were fired and 5 of the 7 Commissioners asked for removal of one of their peers.

Over the next few days, it became apparent to the Council that enough Commissioners were leaving or being replaced that continued opposition to the overhaul did not make sense. Council voted to override the veto by an 8-1 margin.

January 13, 1993

The City Council passed an ordinance that cut $750,000 from the current year’s budget, which in that year was $83.3 million on December 30th 1992. The State had already tentatively approved a city tax rate that contained a 1.75 percent increase.

Due to a miscalculation by the City regarding revenue generated by an increase in trash pickup fees, which would have avoided the need for a property tax increase, the city had to resort to the property tax increase to cover the difference. Council told then Mayor Paul Helmke that he would need to cut the budget to make up the shortfall rather than increase taxes. The Council spread the $750,000 over eight city departments.

Mayor Paul Helmke vetoed the ordinance citing the possible harm it would do to city services – mainly in the police and fire departments resulting from layoffs. The City Council voted 6-3 to override the veto. Voting to override was Councilman Tom Henry, D-3rd, who was quoted in the News-Sentinel as saying:

[…] Nevertheless, it’s important the council, “stand united . . . knowing that it’s not going to mean anything.”

Meaning that overriding the veto wasn’t going to decrease taxes as the State had already approved the increased city tax rate.

July 10, 1991

The ordinance in question made it illegal for vendors or volunteers who stand on sidewalks, curbs, park strip or medians of “major arterial streets” to solicit motorists. The ordinance was mainly aimed at the various newspaper “hawkers”. The ordinance originally passed on June 25, 1991, but was vetoed a week later by Mayor Paul Helmke who expressed concerns over constitutionality of the ordinance saying it was vague and overbroad.

The ordinance had been sponsored by Councilman Tom Henry who was aiming to safeguard sellers from becoming involved in traffic accidents and prevent traffic tie-ups. Up until this point, one could purchase a newspaper at almost any major intersection while waiting for the traffic light to change. The Council voted unanimously to override the Mayor’s veto.

July 11, 1989

The City Council decided to forbid the City from using County Options Income Tax (COIT) money to repay bonds. The ordinance was sponsored by Councilman Paul Mike Burns who hoped that COIT would be repealed. If the COIT tax revenue had been committed to repaying a long-term bond, it would have made it impossible to repeal it. He stated the override of Helmke’s veto will:

“assure taxpayers that COIT will be short lived. I hope for a demise of COIT at a very early age,” Burns said.

Mayor Paul Helmke said he vetoed the bill to preserve the city’s funding flexibility and protection of it’s bond rating. (The lower the rating, the lower the financing costs.)

The City Council voted 9-0 to override the Mayoral Veto. The passage of the original COIT ordinance was done by a, “sharply divided City Council” only four months earlier.

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