Prior Approvals Again & Controversy At It’s Original Passing

The Fort Wayne City Council in Regular Session

Let me just say that I don’t want to mislead you.  The Controversy at the original Prior Approvals passing had to do with other issues.  I wrote the headline that way so you wouldn’t miss some of the other excitement happening at the same time.  Go towards the bottom of the article if you wish to read about this other excitement.

In case you haven’t been following, or are coming to the discussion late in the game, Prior Approvals have been a source of discussion almost every time they’ve come before the current City Council.  Councilman Mitch Harper, Fort Wayne Observed, states the following on this blog:

[…] In essence, a vote of a “prior approval” for a contract means that the City Council gives its promise of a future ‘yes’ vote on that contract ordinance for a future committee session and regular session. A request for “prior approval” of a contract is made by the administration from particular departments. It is usually requested at the committee session that proceeds the regular session where the actual ordinance is introduced for first reading.

The prior approval vote is taken after a brief explanation of the request from the department head making the request.

After prior approval is given the department either purchases the item or goes ahead and issues a request to commence work to a contractor.

He goes on to give a discourse of why he does not like the Prior Approval process.

At the City Council’s meeting this past Tuesday, Prior Approval discussion began and ended the evening.  The first discussion became a bit heated and occurred right at the start of the meeting.  It ended up being an exchange between City Clerk Sandy Kennedy and Council Attorney Joseph Bonahoom.  Mr. Bonahoom reports that he is preparing a short memo that outlines the Prior Approval process and will have it to the Council shortly.  Clerk Kennedy’s problem with Prior Approvals is she doesn’t know how to prepare for them, list them on the agenda or what the Council is expecting or will do.

  City Council Prior Approval Discussion – Part 1

The second discussion was held at the end of the meeting.  It was instigated by Council Attorney Joseph H. Bonahoom.  At one point, Councilwoman Karen Goldner (2nd-D), suggested that a vote be taken to establish how Prior Approvals will be handled and that be the end of it.  Attorney Bonahoom states that’s fine, however there are pitfalls with suspending rules and introducing and passing in the same night.

Councilman Harper joined in and restated the problem he has with Prior Approvals.  I would again, urge you to read his post on Fort Wayne Observed regarding Prior Approvals.

The discussion ended with City Clerk Sandy Kennedy pointing out that anyone around the table could author an ordinance to change the law on the books regarding Prior Approvals.  

  City Council Prior Approval Discussion – Part 2

For those interested, here is a pdf of Ordinance G-81-09-28 that established the Prior Approval provision in the City Code.  The first two pages of the file are the first and second reading of the ordinance and voting results.  The third and fourth pages are the final reading and vote.  The ordinance was introduced by then Councilman Mark GiaQuinta and passed on October 13, 1981 after it’s third reading.  For all the controversy this subject has generated with this seating of the Council, at it’s original passing, it only warranted two paragraphs in the News-Sentinel:

[…] The council approved an ordinance which requires a two-thirds vote (six of nine members) on any prior approval request.

Prior Approval is a gentleman’s agreement to approve a mater which is submitted in ordinance form a few weeks later.

– Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, October 14, 1981, page 2D.

On April 26, 1992, Ordinance G-92-03-29 was passed which revised Chapter Two of the City Code.  It didn’t alter the Prior Approval section.

On July 24, 2001, Ordinance G-01-07-02 was passed which changed 32.64(B) to it’s current incarnation.  It added the following:

[…]  All “prior approval” requests must be passed at a committee session on a second or fourth Tuesday meeting of the Council.  The only exception to this requirement shall be with the approval of the Council President, or by the City Clerk if the President is unavailable.


Other Contorversies

An interesting side note, the above News-Sentinel article’s main subject was the rejection of an EDC bond for Chi-Chi’s Mexican Restaurant.  Chi-Chi’s, out of Louisville Kentucky at the time, was seeking a $1.58 million economic development bond to construct a 10,500 square-foot facility off Coldwater and Washington Center Roads.

The proposal ran into problems when representatives for several of the 29 local Mexican restaurants pointed out that the local market was already saturated and the addition of a Chi-Chi’s facility could put several of them out of business.  Councilman GiaQuinta suggested that the problem went deeper and that the council needed to establish requirements to be met by firms requesting EDC bonds.  Also:

[…] Councilman Donald Schmidt pointed out he opposed the initial request for EDC bonding for a restaurant – by Friday’s a month ago – because it would “open a can of worms.”

Councilman James Stier agreed the council needs “guide rules,” but added “each case must be examined” individually.

The proposal was defeated by a unanimous vote of 9-0.  Sounds similar to some of the tax abatement policy discussions that have taken place in Council meetings this year.  This has led to the proposed changes in the Tax Abatement Policy Procedures and Ordinances by Councilwomen Liz Brown and Karen Goldner.

Also on the agenda that evening was an ordinance to prevent random questioning of city department heads appearing before the council.  It had been proposed by Councilwoman Vivian Schmidt and required advance notice of the matter to be discussed before a department head testified. 

[…] some council members labeled this the “Mike Burns gag ordinance” in apparent reference to a heated verbal clash Burns had with Fire Chief Tony Myers at the conclusion of the first council session shown on cable TV a few months ago.

“I don’t see how you can vote to gag a councilman.  I am going to talk when I get ready on any issue.  We are elected to dig up information,” remarked Council President John Nuckols as he voted “no.”

“Every member of council has the right to question any administration member at any time,” declared Councilman Burns.

But Vivian Schmidt defended her bill saying, “It attempts to treat people fairly.  It is a procedure for an orderly agenda.”  Only Steier, Ben Eisbart and GiaQuitna supported her bill.

For other posts regarding Prior Approvals, click here.

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