People driving by the Allen County Courthouse on Tuesday may have wondered why about a dozen protesters were holding signs with messages such as, “Keep Fort Wayne dancers safe.”
The Fort Wayne City Council passed an ordinance in 2019 that set several provisions involving sexually oriented businesses. One says employees in those businesses can't appear semi-nude unless they are separated from patrons by 6 feet, on a stage at least 18 inches tall or in a room that is no less than 600 square feet.
Several local businesses – including Showgirl I, Showgirl III and Brandy's Lounge – sued the city, saying the ordinance would irreparably harm their businesses. Allen Superior Court Judge Jennifer DeGroote ruled against the operators, and the appeals court upheld the lower court's findings about a year ago.
The city could not implement the ordinance until it was no longer involved in legal action, so it wasn't implemented until this year.
Jessica Thompkins, who identified herself during public comment at Tuesday's City Council meeting as a dancer in Fort Wayne clubs off and on for 18 years, said the ordinance is already having a negative effect on businesses, such as strip clubs.
Thompkins said she doesn't feel like a dancer anymore and patrons try to break rules about touching dancers more often now that they can't see as much of the entertainers.
“People wear less clothing at pools and lakes and beaches and amusement parks and concerts all over cable TV,” she said. “These restrictions are not helping anybody.”
Thompkins asked the City Council to consider revoking the ordinance. An online petition on change.org against the ordinance had been signed by almost 1,700 people as of 8:30 p.m. Friday.
What's a cut?
What one City Council member saw as a cut during a budget meeting was seen by another councilman as an adjustment.
The difference in terminology came up during a discussion Tuesday about an ordinance that would give all city elected officials – the mayor, the council members and the city clerk – a 4% raise. Councilman Jason Arp, R-3rd, suggested an amendment to “change” the raise to 0% for City Council members.
Committee chairman and member Glynn Hines, D-at large, said he thinks cuts such as Arp's suggestion have typically been saved for the discussion of budget cuts, which will happen during council's meeting Oct. 26.
As Hines and Joe Bonahoom, city attorney, discussed the logistics, council president Paul Ensley made a motion – to give it preliminary approval with City Council salaries staying at the same 2021 rate in 2022.
“I wouldn't call it a cut,” Ensley prefaced. “I wouldn't characterize it that way.”
Since the raise isn't approved yet, Ensley doesn't see it as a cut. Similar confusion over language came up during the Allen County Council budget hearing in September.
The Allen County Sheriff's Department received $1.6 million of its $2.6 million request for its budget. Since the $2.6 million wasn't approved by council to begin with, it was seen as giving the department less funding than it asked for instead of a $1 million cut.
The motion to approve the raises for the mayor and city clerk, but not for council members failed with a 2-7 vote; Ensley and Arp were the two to vote in support. The raises were given preliminary approval for all elected officials – council members included – with an opposite 7-2 vote.
Nothing in the proposed 2022 budget – raises included – will be official until the 2022 budget is adopted at the Oct. 26 meeting.
A missing presence
An in-person audience wasn't the only thing missing at Northwest Allen County Schools' public hearing Wednesday.
Kent Somers, the board president, was a no-show. He was, however, present during a virtual board meeting later in the evening.
Liz Hathaway, the board vice president, instead ran the proceedings, which included a public hearing on a $5 million project addressing capital improvements districtwide.
Although the hearing was closed to an in-person audience, the public could follow along via a livestream shown in the Perry Hill Elementary School library. Officials were ready to escort people wishing to speak about the proposed projects to the nearby board room.
A few dozen people protesting the mask mandate gathered near the school's entrance.
“I'd like to remind everybody it is a livestream, so let's just set a good example of our comments,” Hathaway said.
She seemed surprised when a district official told her nobody signed up to speak.
“Oh,” she said. “OK.”
Rokita denounces purge of Columbus
Attorney General Todd Rokita helped celebrate the contributions of Christopher Columbus as he spoke last Monday at an event in Clinton, a community near Terre Haute with a large Italian immigrant population.
Columbus Day has historically honored the heritage of the nearly 17 million Italian Americans living in the U.S.
Rokita's office said he spoke about defending American liberties, the importance of religion, a strong family unit, and how to preserve “our God-given rights that are enshrined in the Constitution.”
For most of the 19th and 20th centuries, American students were taught about the significance of Columbus' discovery and his contributions greatly admired.
But now, Rokita said in a statement, “left-wing radical socialists are tearing down statues of Columbus, and diminishing a hero who was greatly respected by millions of Americans.”
President Joe Biden signed a proclamation, making Oct. 11 Indigenous Peoples' Day.
Rokita called it a “deliberate attempt to purge Columbus” from our history.
“If we want to celebrate the contributions of Indigenous People – and there are many,” the attorney general said, “we can do that on a different day.”
A change of plans
The Fort Wayne City Council will save the budget cuts discussion for its meeting on Oct. 26.
The council's deadline for proposed budget cuts was initially set for the end of this week so departments could be alerted before the cuts were discussed at the next two Tuesday meetings. The deadline has been delayed a week.
Council President Paul Ensley, R-1st, said the decision came after not as many cuts as expected were turned in by council members.
The budget will still be discussed at Tuesday's meeting, but the discussion about budget cuts will wait until Oct. 26, which is the same night council is expected to adopt the budget.
Devan Filchak, Ashley Sloboda and Lisa Green of The Journal Gazette contributed to this column.
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