Fort Wayne City Council members Glynn Hines, D-at large, Michelle Chambers, D-at large, and Sharon Tucker, D-6th district, joined Adams Township Trustee Denita Washington, Wayne Township Trustee Austin Knox, Wayne Township Trustee Board Chair Pat Turner, East Allen County Schools District 3E Board Member Paulette Nellums and local attorney Tim Pape on June 19 in addressing ongoing discussions regarding lack of diverse representation on city boards and commissions, as appointed by Mayor Tom Henry.
Pape sent a letter June 8 to Mayor Henry, which was later published in the Journal Gazette, requesting that the mayor be mindful when selecting candidates for powerful city boards and commissions — many of which determine spending and land use around the community, and have a direct impact on the lives of all residents. Pape feels many of those residents are not represented on local boards including the Fort Wayne Plan Commission, the Joint Legacy Funding Task Force, the Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission and the Capital Improvement Board. Mayor Henry’s response was that there is a lack of minority interest, as reported by WPTA.
All but one of the African-American elected officials in the county outlined June 19 an initiative to create a list of qualified, interested and vetted African-American city residents who are prepared and willing to serve their community on a board or commission. They include faith leaders, educators, business leaders, community leaders and other citizens. County Councilwoman Sheila Curry-Campbell was instrumental in the creation of the list, but was unavailable to join the meeting.
One consistent concern is that the same names appear on the same powerful boards because many leaders are ignored.
“To build a pipeline of qualified talent, a leader must invest in talent. Currently, we’re recycling the same leaders instead of engaging and activating new ones,” Tucker said.
Chambers added, “If the problem has been a lack of interest or applications as stated by the mayor, today we are here to answer the call by providing the mayor and his staff with an ample amount of qualified African-American applicants who are ready to serve.”
Hines said, “Mayor Henry has stated he will reach out to Greater Fort Wayne for assistance in identifying African-American candidates, which is admirable, but their board is 53 members large and is hovering around 10% African-American representation. We need to expand beyond the people who are already in our contact list. All boards in Fort Wayne need to do this.”
Pape expanded on these statements. “I encourage Mayor Henry and all our decision-makers to seize this historic moment to right the insidious, systemic discrimination, even if often unconscious, that keeps us from realizing our true potential as a diverse and welcoming community and often ignores the breadth and depth of diverse talent in Fort Wayne.”
Washington, the current Adams Township Trustee, said the list of African-American candidates is sure to grow and expand. "We hope that governments and community groups take this call seriously," she said. "You cannot represent the community if you don’t represent the entire community.”
The list of interested candidates will be delivered to the mayor and maintained.