City councilmen proposing to end ‘pay-to-play’ city contracts

Councilman Jason Arp

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Two Fort Wayne councilmen are preparing an ordinance that would add transparency to contractors and their political donations to city office holders. It’s a move to peel back the possibility that some city officials are awarding contracts for a particular job to the people who have donated to their political campaigns.

By attempting to end “pay-to-play” contracts, the councilmen are suggesting that right now if a contractor wants to participate in working with the city on its projects, they have to help the politicians get into office. They believe it’s unfair to Fort Wayne residents.

City Councilman Jason Arp, R-4th, believes some city contractors are favored because they helped Mayor Tom Henry get into office. So he and councilman John Crawford, R-at large, are proposing the new law. If a key employer of a company donates more than $2,000 in one year to any municipal campaign in Fort Wayne, they are not allowed to bid for city government contracts. A key employer is someone who has at least 7.5 percent ownership of a company.

Arp believes people shouldn’t have to pay-to-play with the Fort Wayne government.

“I think that we can run political campaigns without having vendors have that much of an influence on them,” he said. “What it does is it disenfranchises the person that just gives 100 bucks, the constituent that just cares about their city and they want the mayor to represent them and they make contributions of a couple hundred hours or whatever. When you have large companies that are making bids for contracts also dominating the campaign finance, it kind of disenfranchises a lot of folks.”

The councilmen are basing their judgement off of research from the Indiana Policy Review, which they say shows almost two-thirds of Henry’s 2015 campaign dollars are from  city vendors. He says there’s a high correlation between the amount of bids contractors are winning and the amount they donated to Henry.

Arp said he has no solid proof the contractors are trying to secure more contracts by donating, but doesn’t like what these numbers are suggesting.

“I have a hard time believing that folks that happen to work at a particular engineering company that live in Los Angeles, California, Denver, Colorado, and Connecticut, that they all decided that they want to chip in a few hundred or a couple thousand dollars to a Mayor in Fort Wayne, Indiana.”

A city spokesperson says Mayor Henry is still reviewing the new proposal. They provided the following statement:

“We weren’t asked for input by the Councilmen who’ve put this together,” said spokesperson John Perlich. “We believe the current processes are working well. A lot of good work by a variety of respected companies is taking place in the City of Fort Wayne on multiple initiatives that are having a positive impact for residents, businesses and neighborhoods. The investments and momentum we’re experiencing are unprecedented.”

The pay-to-play proposal will be discussed at city council on Tuesday.