Councilman balks at bid for legal fees

April 19, 2018 GMT

The Fort Wayne City Council won’t consider Mayor Tom Henry’s request for $500,000 in legal fees for the Electric Works development after one council member called the move unnecessary and counterproductive. 

Speaking to reporters at a news conference Wednesday, Councilman John Crawford, R-at large, said he will not be submitting Henry’s request to the City Council. 

At an April 11 news conference, Henry asked that Crawford sponsor a bill that would set aside 221 million. The developer, RTM Ventures, has asked for $65 million in public funds to support the project. 

“The administration once again expresses public support but then suggests doing something that would take time and could further jeopardize the project by delay and inaction,” Crawford said.

Henry’s request was unusual, Crawford said, because City Council has never before been asked to spend money upfront on things like legal costs for a redevelopment project. Those requests are typically funneled through the city’s Redevelopment Commission, Crawford said.

That’s where he suggested Henry start for this request, as well.

Any appropriation approved by the Redevelopment Commission would still have to be approved by City Council. 

“Never, in the history of Fort Wayne, has City Council been asked permission by a mayor to spend legal fees on a redevelopment project,” Crawford said. “Not the baseball stadium, not the Ash Skyline Plaza, not The Landing, not Riverfront Fort Wayne, not the North River acquisition, not downtown hotels, not the failed annexation debacle, not the failed arena concept.”

Crawford also criticized Henry’s support for the project, which he described as “at best lukewarm.” Crawford, who is exploring a mayoral campaign in 2019, has said he fully supports the Electric Works project as it currently stands. Henry has also publicly supported the project, and during last week’s news conference stood behind a plan to commit $50 million in city funds toward the development.

In a statement Wednesday, mayoral spokesman John Perlich said the $500,000 in legal funds need to be approved by the City Council because they were not included in the 2018 budget. Perlich said Henry is “hopeful a collaborative approach will help ensure the expenditure request receives a full vetting and vote by City Council.”

“The financial complexity of the Electric Works project is unlike any of the previous projects the city of Fort Wayne has been involved in,” Perlich said. “The scope of this work and financial demand are unprecedented and require resources and support beyond the city’s current capacity.

“Without funding from City Council, the city will not be able to perform the legal, accounting, tax, due diligence, public financing and bond underwriting work necessary to help the development proceed.”

The 12 million to supplement the city’s planned investment : was met with trepidation from several members of the Allen County commissioners and the Allen County Council. 

Henry is expected to meet with county officials regarding the Electric Works project next week.