In a 5-3 vote, Fort Wayne City Council gave preliminary approval Sept. 15 to a resolution that will give them authority to investigate why the $280 million Electric Works deal died.
The investigation could include subpoenaing Mayor Tom Henry and/or Deputy Mayor Karl Bandemer to testify at a public City Council meeting.
Voting against the resolution were Jason Arp, R-4th; Geoff Paddock, D-5th, and Sharon Tucker, D-6th. Michelle Chambers, D-at large, was absent.
Tom Didier, R-3rd, and Glynn Hines, D-at large, who co-sponsored the resolution, voted in favor of it along with Paul Ensley, R-1st; Tom Freistroffer, R-at large; and Russ Jehl, R-2nd. A final vote will be taken Sept. 22.
The issue arose when the city’s redevelopment commission canceled the economic development agreement with developers RTM Ventures on Aug. 3, saying they didn’t have all their financing in order. The commission would not grant them a sixth extension to do so. Electric Works developers say now every piece of funding is in place — however the nullification of the EDA resulted in the loss of $62 million in public funding that RTM needs.
Even though the redevelopment commission made the decision to pull the plug, Hines and Didier — along with other council members and members of the community — wanted a more thorough explanation. They wanted to hear from Henry, who appoints three members of the redevelopment commission.
Henry’s response has been that the redevelopment commission and the city’s attorney would address council’s questions. Henry was invited to speak at several council meetings and declined.
Ensley offered an amendment requiring a two-thirds vote of council to subpoena elected officials as part of the investigation. The amendment passed. Jehl expressed concern that setting precedent by subpoenaing the mayor would turn Fort Wayne into Washington, D.C., where whenever politicians disagree they “throw subpoenas around.”
“Subpoenas should not be easy to obtain,” he said.
Paddock represents the 5th District, where Electric Works, formerly a General Electric plant, is located. He’s been involved in bringing the project to fruition for five years. He said he was disappointed in the redevelopment commission’s decision.
But he said there are two issues at hand — investigating how the decision was made and the future of Electric Works.
He is optimistic the project can still move forward, based on recent conversations he’s had. “I don’t want to see the project bogged down,” he said, referring to the investigation.
Paddock didn’t offer details, but said perhaps another entity will be able to ratify the EDA and preserve the public funding. “I’ve been told (a new agreement) could be concluded within the next few weeks,” he said.
Tucker voted no on the investigation, expressing skepticism council will ever find answers as to why the deal fell through.