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Fort Wayne City Council members respond to lack of diversity on city boards, commissions

(Photo Supplied / City of Fort Wayne)

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (PRESS RELEASE): Fort Wayne City Council members Glynn Hines (At-Large), Michelle Chambers (At-Large), and Sharon Tucker (6th District), were joined by Adams Township Trustee Denita Washington, Wayne Township Trustee Austin Knox, Wayne Township Trustee Board Chair Pat Turner, and East Allen County Schools District 3E Board Member Paulette Nellums, as well as local leader Tim Pape to address current and on-going discussions regarding lack of diverse representation on city boards and commissions, as appointed by Mayor Tom Henry.

On June 8, local attorney Tim Pape sent a letter to Mayor Henry, which was later published in the Journal Gazette, requesting that the Mayor be mindful when selecting candidates for powerful city boards and commissions, many of which determine spending and land use around the community and have a direct impact on the lives of all residents, many of whom are not represented on these boards. These boards include the Fort Wayne Plan Commission, the Joint Legacy Funding Task Force, the Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission, and the Capital Improvement Board. Mayor Henry’s response was that there is a lack of minority interest, as reported by WPTA.

All but one of African-American elected officials in the county, joined by Tim Pape, today outlined an initiative to create a list of qualified, interested, and vetted African-American city residents who are prepared and willing to serve their community on a board or commission and bring unique and powerful skills to these important boards. They include faith leaders, educators, business leaders, community leaders, and other citizens. This list should continue to grow and rotate as the community activates the skills of leaders who have been ignored for too long in Fort Wayne. County Councilwoman Sheila Curry-Campbell was instrumental in the creation of the list, but was unavailable today.

One consistent concern is the same names appear on the same powerful boards, because leaders outside the usual suspects are ignored. “To build a pipeline of qualified talent, a leader must invest in talent. Currently, we’re recycling the same leaders instead of engaging and activating new ones,” said Councilwoman Tucker. Councilwoman Chambers added, “If the problem has been a lack of interest or applications as stated by the Mayor, today we are here to answer the call by providing the Mayor and his staff with an ample amount of qualified African-American applicants who are ready to serve.”

Said Councilman Hines, “Mayor Henry has stated he will reach out to GFW for assistance in identifying Africa-American candidates which is admirable, but their board is 53 members large and are hovering around 10% African-American representation. We need to expand beyond the people who are already in our contact list. All boards in Fort Wayne need to do this.” Mr. Pape concurred and expanded, stating, “I encourage Mayor Henry, and all our decision-makers to seize this historic moment to right the insidious, systemic discrimination, even if often unconscious, that keeps us from realizing our true potential as a diverse and welcoming community and often ignores the breadth and depth of diverse talent in Fort Wayne.”

Adams Township Trustee Washington said, “We’ve provided a list that is sure to grow and expand. We hope that governments and community groups take this call seriously. You cannot represent the community if you don’t represent the entire community.”

The list of interested candidates will be delivered to the Mayor and maintained. All parties will be happy to share with organizations genuinely interested in cultivating relationships that will lead to more appropriately representative boards for a stronger community.

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