35 years ago tonight…

35 Years ago tonight, the City Light Lease was signed by then Mayor Ivan Lebamoff.

Plans for a Special Session of the Fort Wayne City Council were released Thursday evening, September 12, 1974, by then City Clerk Charles Westerman.  The session would occur the next evening – a Friday night – at 7:30 pm.  It was said that Mayor Lebamoff would “clarify points” of the lease during the meeting.  The Council would then approve the lease

(Webmaster’s aside: Can you imagine the uproar that would create today?)

The public had weighed in on the issue in a May 6, 1974 referendum vote.  The referendum was passed with 17,589 citizens in favor and 10,386 against.  In August, Indiana & Michigan asked for a 26% emergency hike to cover higher fuel costs.  This despite a paragraph in the lease that stated the company [Indiana & Michigan Power] would not be seeking a rate increase, nor would it as a result of the lease’s execution.

At the Council Special Session on Friday, September 13, 1974, the Light Lease was approved by a 6-1 vote with two Councilmen absent – Don Schmidt and Eugene Kraus.  The lone vote against was then City Councilman Win Moses.  The arguments Moses made against the Light Lease included that it would lead to the creation of an electric monopoly in the community and that a promsied building to be built on the former Wolf and Dessauer site would not be built on time, if at all.  [This building is what we now of today as the former Summit Bank Building.]

Despite his objections, the lease was approved and signed shortly after the Council meeting by Mayor Lebamoff and Robert M. Kopper, executive vice-president of I&M.  Mayor Lebamoff was quoted in the Journal Gazette as saying, “Tonight, we have left a legacy for the citizens of Fort Wayne.  There is no place in the world where we could find $55.6 million as easily and readily as we did with this transaction.  […] It has been a long time since City Light produced a profit of $1.4 million a year.”

The Monday following the signing of the lease, Mayor Lebamoff announced publicly that the City would oppose I&M’s request for an emergency hike: “The City of Fort Wayne is filing a petition to intervene to challenge the rate increase. […]  We want to make certain the rate increase is justified and make certain citizens of Fort Wayne are not discriminated against.  […] I have instructed our attorneys to request a field hearing so that Fort Wayne residents can testify.”

Ultimately, the initial rate hike was denied by the Public Service Commission as well as attempts by Councilman Moses to kill the lease altogether.

Look for some future posts about the genesis of this project.  Articles from both the Journal Gazette and News-Sentinel were used for this post.

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