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Council disputes Legacy loopholes

It was supposed to be a presentation about signs.

What it quickly turned into was a lively debate about how many City Council votes are needed to approve the use of money from the Legacy Fund.

And it ended with a few council members wanting to tighten what they perceive as loopholes city administration can use to spend that money without garnering the proper number of yeas from the council.

“This is kind of a sneaky way in using Legacy Funds,” Councilman John Crawford, R-at large, said at one point during the council’s committee session Tuesday night.

The gist of what happened is this:

City officials brought to the coun­cil a contract for a company to make wayfinding signs – signs pointing to landmarks, such as Memorial Coliseum or the Fort Wayne Museum of Art – to be looked at Tuesday.

A preliminary vote on the contract was then to take place.

The money used to pay this con­tract would be about $208,000.

Roughly $168,000 would come from the Legacy Fund, which is money from the lease and sale of the city’s old electric utility.

According to a city ordinance, six of the nine City Council members must vote in favor of using Legacy Funds before the money can be given to a project.

City attorney Carol Helton argued that the council had already given $500,000 of Legacy money to a trust for the city to use for purposes such as signage.

The city already had the mon­ey, and another city ordi­nance stated that only five votes in favor were needed to approve a contract.

In this case, that would have given the city a better chance of getting the contract approved.

The wayfinding signs had been approved by a 6-3 preliminary vote in October but were then voted down when two councilmen questioned the costs weeks later.

“There’s a much bigger is­sue at play here,” said Russ Jehl, R-2nd, as the discussion focused more and more on the number of votes needed and not signs.

Crawford, John Shoaff, D-at large, and Tom Smith, R-1st, were the most vocal about how the city came to the table with the contract.

“The exception was never carved out,” Smith said.

“When it comes to Legacy money, it’s always been six votes,” he said. “There’s no reason to lessen the high standards we’ve set.”

Ultimately, though, council attorney Joe Bonahoom told his clients that, in this case, the city was in the right and indeed needed only five votes to get the contract approved.

Smith also did not like the city mixing some of the ­Legacy money with money from elsewhere, maintaining that funding could get confusing.

“It’s not just a pot of money,” Smith said. “It should be treated differently.”

The point became moot, anyway, when it came to the signs.

Seven council mem­bers, in­clud­ing Shoaff and Smith, voted in favor of the contract for the wayfinding signs.

Crawford voted no, calling the city’s move “an end around” on the council, as did Marty Bender, R-at large, who called the signs “one of the biggest wastes of money I’ve ever seen.”

Despite his yes vote, Smith vowed to still look in­to amending the ordinance.

Crawford mused that the coun­cil should stop agreeing to put such money in trusts or silos in the future, to avoid loopholes or confusion in the city code.

A final vote on the contract for the signs will take place at a future date.