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Value of a veto

Council would be wise to heed Henry’s counsel

The City Council, having reaffirmed its determination to end collective bargaining for the six non-public-safety unions, can now sit back and let the rest of the scripted drama play out.

Mayor Tom Henry has said he will veto the measure. The three Democratic council members will support him. But if the six Republican members of the council vote to override Henry’s veto, their view will carry the day.

The arguments for retaining collective bargaining have been duly enumerated in several council meetings and in letters and editorials on this page. That the oddities of city-union contracts could be fixed by far less drastic means is apparently irrelevant. That the unions’ supposed power to command outsize wages is illusory is not an important consideration. That this ordinance is a slap in the face to Fort Wayne’s excellent public workforce appears to be of no consequence.

Henry’s veto, however, should at least give the council’s Republicans pause.

Fort Wayne mayors wield their veto power rarely, and never impetuously. Henry has used it only once before, in 2008, in a vain attempt to prevent the creation of a new firefighters merit board. Mayor Graham Richard used the veto in 2004 to stop a poorly conceived measure to regulate trucking within the city. Going back 16 years, Mayor Paul Helmke vetoed a ban on smoking in restaurants at the same time he signed a ban on smoking in public places.

Few would argue that mayoral vetoes should be sacrosanct. (In the protracted struggle over smoking, then-Councilman Henry was one of two Democrats who switched their votes to override Helmke’s veto.)

But there is a reason mayors – and, for that matter, governors and presidents – are given the right to veto legislation. The head of a government’s executive branch brings a different perspective to a piece of legislation, particularly a measure that relates to the operation of the government he or she heads.

Henry, unlike the council members, is entrusted with actually running the city’s departments. It’s his job to lead and work with a group of people who have come to rely on and believe in the collective bargaining concept as a way to ensure that their interests are respected and their voices are heard. Henry is justly proud of the job his employees have done. He notes the extraordinary effort of city workers earlier this year to get Fort Wayne through one of its worst winters ever. He notes the awards his workforce has won, the praise it’s received from residents and visitors who know that the city’s workforce is blessed with an extraordinary quotient of loyalty, conscientiousness and courtesy – and that that workforce has been one of the secrets of Fort Wayne’s revival and growth in the last few decades.

Voting to override the pending veto will get the GOP bloc where it wants to go on this issue. But besides creating a rift between the city and its workers, an override could cause a possibly irreparable breach in what has been an extraordinary working relationship between the Republican-dominated council and the Democratic administration.

To fix one supposed problem, they’re at great risk of creating other, bigger ones.

The council’s majority should pause. They have the power to override Henry and muscle this unpopular measure through. But do they really want to?