Mayor Henry: City committed to openness, judicial process

Mayor Tom Henry has a column in today’s Journal Gazette’s Editorial pages:

One of the most challenging aspects of being mayor is trying to balance many of the conflicting requests that come to me asking to keep the public informed of what government is doing. Recently, my administration and my own motives were questioned in the media about my decision not to release certain information regarding specific incidents including the videotapes of a 2007 police action shooting.

While I absolutely understand the concern to make sure legal challenges are handled in an open and transparent manner, my larger commitment is to a fair judicial process. Though the Allen County Prosecutor’s Office determined that criminal charges should not be filed regarding the 2007 police action shooting, civil litigation is pending.

As tempting as it can be to respond to challenges made by the media, the city does not and will not try cases in the media. If this case proceeds to a jury trial, the videotapes will be accessible by the public. This is not that time.

Out of respect for the deceased’s family, the city is not going to release tapes of the incident. Should the attorney for the family make a different choice, he has the ability to do so. We will follow the process of the legal system and decline to acquiesce to pressure to do otherwise. It is in the best interest of the city, and therefore of the taxpayers, to ensure that the legal process continues as it is designed.

The city understands and supports the right of a free press to question the actions of local government. We do believe, however, that no one is served when inaccurate or misleading statements are left unchallenged. To that end, it must also be pointed out that several recent editorial allegations are wrong:

•The Journal Gazette has stated that the city refuses to release the consultant’s report regarding the December 2007 shooting. Police Chief Rusty York distributed that report at a news conference and, in fact, The Journal Gazette itself printed the consultant’s report on Aug. 3, 2008.

•The Journal Gazette claims the city has not released environmental reports from the North River property. The city does not own that property and has acted in a manner very consistent with other commercial real estate activities.

•The Journal Gazette claims the police department has not released information about which officers are paying for gasoline to use their squad cards after hours. In fact, this information was compiled when requested, though the communication back to the reporter may have been unclear.

I want citizens to know that they can trust this administration. Decisions are made based on thoughtful assessment and careful consideration of all perspectives of an issue. Will we face criticism for this? Absolutely. Can I tell you that I am confident in the decisions we are making? Yes. Absolutely.

Reasonable people can disagree about things but should be able to acknowledge both sides of an issue.

Claiming that this administration, or that I, “don’t want” the public to see a tape or to know some information is not accurate. It is misleading. We may have to make difficult decisions, but it is never because we “don’t want” citizens to know what is happening.

In conclusion, I would respectfully remind the media that the city responds to legal claims and challenges in accordance with the law. Each step along the way has to be evaluated and addressed in the best interest of the city. The legal process is not always as fast as the public or the media, or even as I myself, may wish.

My commitment to the citizens of Fort Wayne, though, is that we will always act with integrity. We will do all we can to uphold the judicial process in each case and will not compromise that integrity just to silence our critics.

And the pertinent poll question:

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  1. “The Journal Gazette claims the city has not released environmental reports from the North River property. The city does not own that property and has acted in a manner very consistent with other commercial real estate activities.”

    Do I remember correctly that the city paid for the environmental reports?

    Because if I do remember that correctly, isn’t it somewhat beside the point who owns the property and whether anyone is acting in “a manner consistent with other commercial real estate activities?”

  2. I agree with Michael. When someone looks at purchasing a property they should be the ones to hire the firm to do the reports on soils and etc. The buyer is the one who neesd to be in control of the reports in order to know they are getting the proper read on the situation. The city did pay for the reports and they should not reveal the information. That is what bargaining is about. The buyer beware and know what you are getting into. Any good land use attorney would advise the owner to get the facts first and then proceed with knowledge.

    • A few months ago, I had a conversation with someone in the Administration – I can’t for the life of me remember who it was. Anyway, the point I made about the study was that now is the time to release the study. I don’t know what the study found – not many average citizens do know, although we can take a few guesses. The problem with not releasing the study is that we citizens have no reference to judge whether the asking price is a fair one when possible environmental remediation is needed. How expensive that is would depend on what’s there.

      Obviously, the City is not in a position to purchase the property currently and has moved this to the back burner – at least that’s what we are told. Now is the time to release those results. Now, before you want to purchase. Let the furor die down, if there would be any, and by the time the City is able to purchase the property, everyone’s had an opportunity to accept the results and truly know what we’d be getting into.

      One of the theories I’ve heard related to not releasing the results is that they are truly hideous and would deter anyone from wanting to purchase a property that would require huge amounts of money to clean up, before development could even be thought of. I asked an attorney friend of mine about this and he shared that if the owner nows of environmental contamination of a property they wish to share, they must disclose to any potential purchaser. Whether or not they paid for the study, it’s a moot point.

      So, for my money, the report should be released and released soon. If they aren’t and the City pays the original asking price knowing there’s a clean up needed, I think at that point all hell would break loose – and rightly so.

      Thanks Michael and Judi for your comments!


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