Officials kicked off a public awareness campaign on the Courthouse Green on Tuesday on a November voter referendum to change the county’s model of government.
Indiana lawmakers passed it earlier this year, and it now goes to the voters.
County Commissioner Nelson Peters and Greater Fort Wayne Inc. Chamber of Commerce board Chairman Ron Turpin spoke in favor of the referendum, which would replace the three-member commissioners with a single elected executive. In addition, the referendum, if passed, would increase the County Council from seven members to nine, each representing a specific district.
“County government is not sexy, and most people don’t pay a lot of attention to it,” Peters said. “It’s an uphill battle to make people aware of this effort.”
Advance Allen, the name given to supporters of the campaign to raise awareness of the referendum, plans to hold many more meetings to explain the issue to county groups and communities up until the election, he said.
If the referendum passes, the new county executive and council would be elected in November 2018 and take office January 2019.
Peters said a big part of the initiative is about jobs.
“We’ve taken too long and haven’t been able to agree on issues that would have brought in jobs,” he said about the three-member board of commissioners. Peters cited several examples of near-missed opportunities.
Allen and Huntington counties’ $30 million plan for an extension of Interstate 469, connecting it to U.S. 24 in Roanoke, almost did not happen because the county did not move fast enough, Peters said.
The new Great Batch Medical manufacturing facility on Kroemer Road was another near miss, he said.
“We discussed and argued on how it should be done for a long time,” he said. “Even on this issue, if you ask all three of us our opinions, you would get three different answers.”
But county government would see no change in economic development with the new model, said Marion Township Trustee Harold Kleine of Decatur.
Kleine, also a 40-year member of the Indiana Farm Bureau, is one of the majority of the Farm Bureau’s membership who oppose the referendum, said Megan Ritter, the bureau’s director of public policy.
The bureau has 70,000 farmers in the membership, Ritter said. “Our membership has voted against a single county representative of government,” she said.
The move would represent a loss of control for the people, Kleine said. “There are too many questions with no answers,” he added.
With the new model, Allen County voters would choose one county executive and one council member within their districts.
Currently, they choose three county commissioners and four council members – three at-large and one within their districts.
“We would lose representation, and that’s too much control in one person’s hand,” Kleine said.
Kleine helped form and is president of an opposition group called No To One PAC which meets biweekly, he said.
“We are very strongly opposed to this model of government,” he said.
The single county executive is a model used by more than 400 communities across the United States, Peters said. Those communities include Milwaukee, Green Bay and Madison, Wisconsin; Cleveland and Akron, Ohio; and Joliet, Illinois.