MUSICAL ADMINISTRATION CHAIRS – RECYCLING THE OLD

Can we say musical “chairs?” Good grief, how about some new blood in the administration instead of recyclables. Mark Becker has now been named to the Redevelopment Commission.  I am sure Becker is knowledgeable, but it sure looks like he plays hop scotch a lot.

1. deputy mayor
2. director of community development,
3. director of economic development for the City of Fort Wayne;
4. executive director of the Northeast Indiana Fund; and
5. president and CEO of Greater Fort Wayne Inc.

Becker currently serves as a consultant for Parkview Health – wonder if that will cause any conflicts of interest? When do the “people” get to be represented on these commissions?

And, in his place? Why, none other than Eric Doden – a previous mayoral candidate on the Republican ticket, a Pence devotee, and previous director of the Indiana Economic Development Commission (IDEC). Oh, and he was and is involved in the new CityScapes project.

I wonder if the hiring process is now to play musical chairs to see which previous or current administration official – or other “insider” – will be the fastest at grabbing a seat.

musical_chairs

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ICONIC GE SIGN FACES UNCERTAIN FUTURE

The Sign! Sometimes we take things for granted. We drive by this sign on a regular basis, and it has been a part of our West Central “family” for so long, it is hard to imagine what that area will look like if the complex is torn down and the sign shipped to some other location to live out its life. Or worse yet, be destroyed.

GE has a long history in Fort Wayne – at one time employing over 10,000 workers.  Now, it has gone the way of International Harvester, shutting down its operation and demolishing various buildings that compose its 1,000,000 square foot “imprint” located on the east and west sides of Broadway.

As GE abandons its former bustling campus and Fort Wayne officials seem lax in taking up the goal to save the campus and its buildings, now is the time to take action to ensure that this campus and its historic buildings survive.  GE has over a century of history invested in Fort Wayne – the company may be gone, but its historic impact on Fort Wayne should never be forgotten.

GE Sign - Scott

Photo credit – Scott Spaulding

 

REDEVELOPMENT COMMISSION TAKES AIM AT WEST CENTRAL HOMES

The Redevelopment Commission has taken aim at an entire block of West Central homes located near Parkview Field.  Twelve of the 13 homes are either rentals or are vacant – owned by absentee landlords who have simply allowed them to fall into disrepair.

The block contains several homes that at one time were magnificent specimens with their turrets and grand designs.  Yet, over the years, speculators have entered the picture, snapping up the homes through tax sales or foreclosures.  And, the focus of speculation?  Betting on the City’s appetite for implementing its “Around the Square” plan initiated several years ago.  According to the media, the plan is to demolish the homes and build new – either condos or rentals.  Not one mention of restoration.

DSCN2713

The above home is one of my favorites.  Although I have not been inside to see what it looks like, I have pressed my face against many of the windows to try to see what remains of a once-grand interior.  Hardwood floors, wood trim not found in new homes, pocket doors and French doors.  All will be lost to the wrecking ball and with little notice by many of our Fort Wayne residents.

It just doesn’t seem to matter to many in the City who would rather see cookie-cutter subdivisions spring up than undertake the effort to save and restore these older, once-magnificent, historic homes.  Not one person from the City bothered to communicate with us here in West Central to apprise us of the plans.  I, as president of West Central, have emailed the head of the department responsible for these decisions.  That was last Wednesday and, so far, no response.

Working quickly and without communication, of course, prevents the formation of opposition.   How many times will be subjected to this method of planning?  The bottom line is that our urban core neighborhoods deserve better.

DSCN2708Another home in danger of a rendezvous with the wrecking ball.

RAINING ON SHINE’S PARADE

Last week had to be a little traumatic for poor Steve Shine and the Republicans.  After all, he and his buddies felt so threatened by our Democratic convention that they sprang for $10,000 worth of air time to try to remind someone – not sure who – how awful the years of Democratic leadership had been.

The weak effort was cobbled together from news paper headlines, a few head shots, and funeral music.  Of course, we had a good laugh at the hypocrisy of the entire situation – especially since the FSSA is still riddled with issues, Charlie White was convicted and removed from office, the Duke Energy scandal popped up, the Republicans “lost” a half billion dollars which had apparently decided to take a hiatus into cyberspace, and the Republicans couldn’t even figure out how to “figure out” what the counties had coming back to them.

But, the commercial wasn’t the only form of sour grapes spit out by the Republicans.  A truck with a large sign paraded through the streets to remind everyone that this was “Republican Country.”   The really sad thing is that Shine and his followers are so shallow that they just had to figure out some way to demonize this convention.  Never mind that this convention was extremely good for Fort Wayne and brought in around $500,000 to our economy and led to greater exposure of northeastern Indiana, which often gets left sitting on the sidelines.  Democrat,  Republican, or independent, this is our City.  Our visitors were very impressed with all the attractions and the amenities we have.

I suspect some of the sour grapes and childish activity was triggered by the impotency of Steve Shine and the Republicans to accomplish what was a major feat – bringing a state party convention to Fort Wayne for the first time in its history.  After all, does anyone remember when the Republican convention was here.  Anyone??

COUNTY COUNCIL – COUNTY COMMISSIONERS – WADING THROUGH THE DIFFERNCES!

Year after year voters go to the polls and often fail to understand their own local government, so I decided to write a little on it and continue to learn for my own benefit.  Last year city offices were filled, and, this year, it is the county’s turn.  The county has two basic bodies, and each is obligated to look after the affairs of the county, which often includes issues impacting Fort Wayne residents as well as county residents.

COUNTY COUNCIL

The Allen County Council is composed of seven members – currently all Republican.  Four members are elected from specific districts and three are elected “at-large” to serve the entire county.  The county council has a number of duties; however, all are tied to fiscal issues – none is tied to social wedge issues.

County Council is responsible for establishing an annual budget for county government and is also responsible for appropriating funds for the operation of county government.  The following is a list of actual duties:

  • Exclusive power to fix the tax rate for county purposes and for all other purposes where the rate not fixed by law is required to be uniform, and impose the tax levy.
  • Exclusive power of making appropriations to be paid out of the county treasury.
  • Adoption of the annual budget after receiving estimates submitted by the various county agencies through the county auditor, subject to the modification by the State Board of Tax Commissioners.
  • Incurring county indebtedness within the constitutional limitations.
  • Appropriation of additional funds arising after the budget is adopted.
  • Re-appropriation of surplus funds which might be surrendered by one department of county government.
  • Fixing of salaries of officers, deputies, assistants and employees whose salaries are payable from any county fund, with certain exceptions as provided by the statutes granting this authority.
  • Levying taxes to provide funds for erecting new jails and repairing, remodeling, and enlarging of old jails.

COUNTY COMMISSIONERS

The body of county commissioners exercises both executive and legislative powers: a powerful combination that leaves little check and balance on their decisions (and one that was feared by our Founders, yet here it is tucked away under the guise of the County Commissioners’ office).  The group is much smaller than the county council and sports only three commissioners as compared to the seven members on county council.  Again, all Commissioners are Republican. Anyone sensing a trend here?  All ten county officials are Republican as well as the occupants of the other county offices of Treasurer, Auditor, Clerk, and Assessor.

The following is a run-down on the duties of the commissioners as found on the Allen County government website.

As the executive branch, the Board of Commissioners may approve policies that affect nearly 1,350 full-time county employees and another 400 part-time employees.

As the legislative branch, the Commissioners pass ordinances that primarily affect unincorporated (not within a city or town) areas of the county.

It is the only body in all of county government that can receive bids for projects and services and sign contracts.

  • Receive bids for projects and services and sign contracts.
  • Authorize all claims on county budgets.
  • Decision-making authority over planning and zoning in the county.
  • Supervise construction and maintenance of over 1,400 miles of county roads and 1,300 bridge structures.
  • Issue bonds or approve lease-purchase agreements to borrow money for the county.
  • Serve as the Drainage Board, which oversees the legal drainage system in the county.
  • Operates and maintains all County facilities, including the historic Allen County Courthouse.

The commissioners include Nelson Peters, Linda Bloom, and Therese Brown.  If the names sound eerily familiar, they should.  All three have run time after time for various offices, playing musical chairs – with their commissioners’ seats simply being the latest in a long string of government work.

Here are the commissioners and their links.

Linda Bloom: http://www.allencounty.us/linda-k-bloom

Nelson Peters: http://www.allencounty.us/nelson-peters

Therese Brown: http://www.allencounty.us/therese-brown

All three commissioners have literally played “musical offices” for years.  When an office is term limited, the soon-to-be ousted official simply gets in line for another office, gets elected, and then runs out the terms on that office.  Then on to another lucrative office and possibly two more terms of uninterrupted official bliss attendant with all those nice goodies that go along with the offices.

Which brings me to the issue that sort of started this journey to shine some light on the county offices – a survey floating around that is based on “wedge” issues: issues that cannot be governed by the local county offices.  The county council must worry about a county budget, and, while the county commissioners have a more diverse variety of chores, they also do not deal with wedge issues for the most part.

Yet, the anti-choicers have popped out of the woodwork again to demand that their “litmus” test of social conservatism on gay marriage, abortion, and any other item deemed morally threatening to society be opposed by any candidate who runs for office.  The fact that the office holders cannot impact many of the wedge issues weighing so heavily on the anti-choicers’ minds fades into the background haze as they shake their clenched fists and gear up to make sure that those ten little Indians continue to fall in line.

PARKVIEW HAS GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY TO HELP VETERANS

When Parkview leaves its Randallia campus for its home out north, a campus of 64 acres and nearly one million square feet of buildings will be left without a main anchor.  Parkview plans on leaving certain units to function – 120 beds, plus the surgical, medical, outpatient, and the 24-7 emergency departments will remain at Randallia’s campus.  In addition, the Manchester College School of Pharmacy will relocate to the Randallia Campus.

But let me start with just a refresher on what has happened to our VA Hospital here in Fort Wayne and how I see Parkview as fitting in.  In 2004, the CARES Commission decided that our inpatient unit was no longer sustainable and mandated its closure.  The VA facility would still have an outpatient clinic, but veterans would be left to fend for themselves when it came to inpatient care.  The thoughtless ideas tossed out by the VA system were to send area veterans either to Indy or to Lansing, Michigan – the two closest locations.

These locations would have required our veterans and their family members to travel two to three hours for inpatient care.  A group of area veterans led by Dr. Tom Hayhurst, Dave Britton, Mike Tucker, and a number of others flat out refused to accept this solution and started a grass-roots group called “Veterans for Better Health Care.”  I joined the group about two months after it was organized and am a member to this day.

We fought hard to keep the issue in front of the public and held rallies, handed out thousands of leaflets asking the public to take action, wrote letters to the editor, contacted our congressional senators and representatives, and participated in countless parades.  All to no avail.

Despite Mark Souder’s late entrance into the issue and his much-touted efforts to keep the inpatient beds available, after a five-year battle and two costly studies by Booz Allen Hamilton, the disappointing decision was handed down to still go ahead and close the inpatient unit.

The recommendations also included building a new Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC)  north of the existing structure for ambulatory care  and minor surgeries and to demolish the existing building.  But no solution for inpatient care was provided.

That left area veterans wondering what would become of them when they needed inpatient care.  The options were not terribly exciting.  This decision currently leaves a tremendous gap in caring for veterans with health problems that require hospitalization.  The options are limited:

  • veterans can be required to travel to far away locations if no local alternative is provided, or
  • veterans can be placed in the general hospital population in a hospital of their choosing with individuals who have no experience dealing with veterans’ issues, or
  • a dedicated wing can be established at an area hospital.

This is where Parkview enters the picture.  That dedicated wing could be housed in a vacated portion of the Randallia campus.  In fact, in October 2008,  Parkview spokesman John Perlich indicated that there had, indeed, “been discussions and continue to be discussions with the VA.”  What a perfect solution to the issue of inpatient care for our veterans!  A separate wing could be dedicated to housing inpatient care for our veterans, and personnel experienced in working with veterans could staff the wing.

Parkview decision-makers should be encouraged to work with the VA to take advantage of this golden opportunity to help our area veterans by resolving the ultimate issue involved – where will our veterans go for inpatient care?

VA Hospital grounds in Fort Wayne, IN

 

 

RIFKIN ROLLS IN DURING THE DARK OF NIGHT TO DEMOLISH DEPOT

Quick – think of things that are done in the middle of the night.  A third shift job?  Breaking into a home?  A little lovey-dovin?  Halloween pranks?  Now,  another, quite unusual activity can be added to that fairly short list – tearing down a historical building.

The Lake Shore  and Southern Michigan freight house located at Fourth Street and Clinton has stood its ground for 97 years, but it is no match for an unsympathetic owner itching to tear it down and a wrecking ball waiting in the dark of night. On Monday morning, citizens of Fort Wayne along with the included group of Clinton Street drivers woke up to the view of the freight house being smashed onto the ground – brick by brick and beam by beam.

Built in 1912,  the freight house is one of the last vestiges of an era when iron horses with their plumes of steam roamed the countryside  and provided a common way of travel and transportation of goods.  Back before flying machines and horseless buggies became a way of life – increasing familial distance and ushering in an age of convenient mobility that trains and railways could not match.

 

Beginning of teardown on 10/11/10

 

Rifkin, the Destroyer, spends much of his interview time tossing out various excuses as to why the building just “had to go.”  Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards, president of historic preservation group ARCH, which placed the depot on its “endangered” list in 1999, said she had discussed the depot’s future with Rifkin and even offered to pay for an analysis of the building’s structural integrity.

Rifkin never took ARCH up on its offer to pay for a structural analysis.  Why?  Rifkin claims he feared an analysis funded by ARCH might have been biased in favor of preservation.   Or perhaps his fear was that the building would be sound enough to save – getting in the way of his plans to rid the corner of the freight house.

Rifkin opines over and over again how he never heard from preservationist groups.  If anyone has followed this at all, he or she knows this is absolutely false. The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society along with Kelly Lynch and Michael Galbraith worked tirelessly to develop plans and ideas for the old freight station.

And, contrary to what Rifkin says about lack of interest, I have been told by an involved and trustworthy source that Rifkin was provided ample offers.  What he chose to do was to reject each as not sufficient.  Of course, he owns the property, and he can take that action.  But why not just come clean and admit that, all along, his game plan was to demolish the station and that any delay on his part was so he could simply throw his hands up at the end and cry, “See how hard I tried.”

Rifkin also tries to place blame on the City for issuing an order – not an order of demolition but rather an order that included the fact that the building was open.  Rifkin could easily have resolved that problem, but, somehow in his rush to get rid of the station, he perverted the contents of the order and turned it into a mandate to demolish the station.

As happens too often, economic priority trumps historical significance. Heaven forbid that private property rights of an individual might just need to yield to the greater good of saving our history.   So, on Sunday evening the wrecking equipment began appearing on the property – blending in with the bridge construction equipment in an effort to evade detection.

And, in the wee hours of Monday morning, before anyone had an inkling of what was happening, the equipment operators started their engines, lumbered toward the old depot, and went to work during the dark of night to attack and destroy a part of Fort Wayne rail history – a historical building that had life left in its old bones but now will be forever lost.

 

Remaining southern portion on 10/12/10

 

MY HUMBLE SYCAMORE BRANCH

Last year, one of the 100-year-old Sycamores across the street had one of its large limbs ripped from its body by a strong windstorm.  It fell onto my neighbor’s lawn without being invited, and my neighbor, I am sure, did not appreciate its “dropping in” for a visit.  As the limb rested along the street, I kept looking at it, and I kept thinking about what I could do with it.

I finally went over and loaded it into the back of my truck to drive it away from its resting place to my backyard gate which was not very far away.  I drug it inside and unceremoniously dropped it on the patio until I could decide how to handle it.

I finally pulled it over to my fence and propped it upright to dry out over the winter.  I had decided what I wanted to do with it, so it was a matter of waiting for warmer weather to put my idea into place.  As the weather warmed up this past couple of months, I kept looking at the branch and thinking, “get out there and get it planted.”  Not planted in the sense that it would grow – its death had occurred months before in the fall – both literally and seasonally.

Finally, this past weekend I took my post hole diggers out, dug a hole about three feet deep, and set the long part of the branch into the ground.  I anchored it with some old bricks and iron weights that I had lying around, covered the base with some of the soil that had been removed , and stood back to admire it.  I am really pleased with its form and with all the side appendages that it has.

Sycamores are among my favorite trees – another one being the Shag bark Hickory – and I collect the bark for craft projects.  The magnificent Sycamores that line Thieme Drive were planted back in 1911 under a parks and boulevard plan created by George Kessler.  They are stately, large-branched trees with mottled bark that drops off at various times over their life span.

Sycamore along Thieme Drive

I am thrilled to have a humble Sycamore branch residing in my back yard.  A little gift from nature that adds to my efforts to use unusual materials in my ongoing landscaping challenges.

Sycamore branch decoration

THE NEWNESS OF “OLDNESS”

I admit I was not sure how I would feel when I turned that magical early retirement age of “62” this past February.  Would I crumble into a quivering, weeping mass decrying the fact that my life had flown by so swiftly?  Would I stoicly put on my best smile and ignore that this day – a day that never crossed my mind in years past – had finally arrived?   Would I celebrate the fact that I was still alive and ticking along?

I think it was a combination of the three emotions.  Of the three, though, “stoically putting on my best smile and ignoring the day” was probably my least visited reaction.  I began preparing myself some time ago when I backed off my pledge to “never belong to AARP” or accept senior discounts.  I was adamant that I would never belong to a group of “old fogeys” like those who cherished their AARP memberships. And, I thought how undignified to take a discount like a beggar just because I happened to hit a certain age.

Woila! I now do both.  AARP has some good deals and great publications and those small discounts can add up.  I will never forget my summer just out of high school, our class president, Mick Bishop, was killed in a car accident.  Not quite 18, a gifted athlete headed to the Univeristy of Arizona on scholarship, he was snuffed out just like that.  The funeral was terribly sad – as all funerals are – but my thought was about the shortness of his life.

I looked at obituaries for ages at death – not often – but I remember when I saw someone who had died at 30 or above I thought, “That person had a full life.”  What a difference aging makes to one’s mindset!  I began pushing that “full life” fallacy higher and higher as I climbed the rung of age.

Now 70 seems young, and when I hit 70, 80 will seem young.  But, the most exciting thought that raced through my mind at 62 was a flash of freedom.  A flash that came with the realization that I could “early retire.”  Debate if you will whether or not social security is good or evil.  Debate if you will whether or not Social Security is broke or going broke.  Debate if you will how long I may or may not be able to draw the pension. Debate if you will whether or not it is socialism.  But the fact is, at 62 one can still early retire albeit with a smaller pension than if one waited until full retirement age.

Just for the record, I am not retiring and will, more than likely, work until my full retirement age of 66.  Who knows, maybe even longer.  So, gradually over the years I have conditioned myself to the fact that I am growing old.  I have accepted that mentally I still feel at the top of my game, but physically that game is slowing down.  I take longer working around my home.  I take longer doing outside chores.  I get tasks done, but dog gone it, I just take longer.

My 62nd birthday definitely put a whole new spin on my “oldness.”

ALL DECKED OUT – CURLY’S VILLAGE INN

One of Fort Wayne’s best-kept secrets is Curly’s Village Inn on Bluffton Road.  Well, maybe not so well kept to those of us who visit the quaint Irish pub.  The owner, Mary Armstrong, and her partner, Irishman Dudley O’Carroll,  lend a down-home and extra touch to the long-time establishment which sits high above the St. Marys River just across from Foster Park.

The Inn can be entered from one of two entrances – one fronting onto Bluffton Road and the other at the north end.  What is noticeable as one looks around is that the Inn has no windows on the street side, but that is no loss.  The views are at the back of the restaurant and lounge, and what magnificent views they are.

Although the Waynedale News just recently did a story on the completion of the deck, it has been around for about three years.  The deck, with a capacity of 40, perches above the St. Marys River with a view that rivals Nick’s Riverside Lounge on Superior Street albeit on a smaller scale.  Small tables with umbrellas to shelter the patrons are located on the deck with extra seating around a ledge with a lip wide enough to hold drinks and dinner fare.  An all-weather TV completes  an atmosphere of informality and friendliness.

Mary and Dudley and their employees welcome all who enter as though they have known them for years.  The Irishman still has his lilting accent, and Mary will give you a history of the Inn and her late husband’s role in basketball.

Most of the activity takes place on the first floor; however, a trip upstairs past photos of its previous, well-known owner, Curly Armstrong, leads to a nice-sized room which can be rented for private parties.  Again, the view is amazing from an even higher lookout over the river.

Few establishments recognize the value of our rivers as natural and beautiful attractions.  Most discussions focus on changing the river environment to accommodate businesses – Curly’s does just the opposite as it seamlessly integrates itself into the environment of the St. Marys River.  Curly’s attractive but modest-sized deck provides its patrons with an even greater opportunity to appreciate not only the Inn and its friendly staff but also the peacefulness and tranquility of a stroll onto a deck hovering over the St. Marys River – truly all-decked out.

Curly's Village Inn - Deck overlooking the St. Marys River

Deck overlooking the St. Marys River at Curly's

Overlooking the St. Marys from Curly's deck