City Council meeting tomorrow, 1/6/2009; Reorganization; President Bender?

The Fort Wayne City Council

The Fort Wayne City Council meets tomorrow at 5:30 pm in the City Council Chambers for the first time in 2009.  The majority of the meeting will be concerned with reorganization issues.  The agenda for tomorrow’s meeting has not been released – because, I was told by City Clerk Sandy Kennedy earlier today, the Council President hasn’t been decided yet nor the other committee appointments.  Besides, there is only one ordinance on the agenda, the amnesty for past due parking tickets.

One of the most important things to happen tomorrow night, will be the election of the new Council President.  I don’t think, and this is my thought, that current President Tom Didier will be in the running.  I can imagine that the time demands the position created were more than Tom first imagined.  It is a highly visible position and can be one of considerable power, even though some feel it is not.  I think it depends on the individual and not the office.  While I have enormous respect for Tom, this position, especially with this Council, demands someone with a firm hand who will control the proceedings efficiently, yet at times be unapologetic.  I remember thinking during the last meeting of 2008, when Tom was singing the National Anthem, that it was his Swan Song.

City Councilman Tom Smith.  Photo from the City of Fort Wayne website.       City Councilwoman Liz Brown.  Photo from the City of Fort Wayne website.       City Councilman Mitch Harper.  Photo from the City of Fort Wayne website.

My thinking is that with a 5-4 Republican majority, a Republican will be selected as the next Council President.  Councilman Tom Smith has held the position previously and in fact, is the current Vice-President.  I’ve gotten the sense from Tom that he is not pursuing it, although  I don’t think he would turn it down either.  He would definitely keep the meetings on task.  Councilwoman Liz Brown and Councilman Mitch Harper are both in their second year on the Council.  I don’t think Liz will be considered, simply because she is so direct and not always diplomatic.  That’s not necessarily a bad quality to have, however, at times this has become counter-productive to her.  She was one of the driving forces behind the Council’s budget cuts late last year which will lessen the impact of falling tax revenues in the coming years.  Often, I totally agree with Liz on point, but it’s her presentation that tends to derail any action.  Councilman Harper certainly has the knowledge, ability and acumen for the position, but it was mentioned in the Journal Gazette that he is not expecting to be offered the position.

So who does that leave?

Councilman Marty Bender (R-At-Large).  Photo from the City of Fort Wayne's website.

I think we have a winner.  

Councilman Bender stayed out of most of the conflicts at the table last year.  Yet, he has run his committee well and on task.  Marty does not say a lot, but when he does, it is always thought through and on point.  (I think it was almost the end of March before we heard from Marty at length in a Council meeting.)  In fact, during the Communications Department portion of the recent Budget Hearings, when it looked like elimination of the entire Communications budget was a real possiblity – which would have forced consolidation with the County – Marty didn’t say a word during the debate.  Instead, when various Council members were weighing in for a final time before voting, Marty, quietly and without drama, in a very matter-of-fact way, stated that elimination would be sentencing people to death.  I don’t know if his argument swayed any of the members or not, but it definitely refocused what had been almost a jovial atmosphere into one of seriousness and reflection.  This is Marty’s second year of his current term, but he also served a four-year term in the past.  It would be interesting to see the impact his manner could have on this Council.

So there you have it – for my money – Councilman Marty Bender, the next Council President.  

I’m not going to explore the Democrats on the Council because I don’t think any of them are strong enough to convince a Republican to switch.  I am by no means saying they are not good Councilpersons, I just don’t think they have a chance.  If I were to narrow it down to two, however, it would be between Councilwoman Karen Goldner and Councilman John Shoaff.

Remember, 5:30 tomorrow night in Council Chambers.  Get involved and make a difference!

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