ELKHART — A month after being cut off — some say rudely — when he tried to deliver a quick speech at a council meeting on Aug. 8, Mayor Dick Moore responded Monday with a commentary that used the word “respect” 13 times.
And within seconds of Moore starting his speech, longtime Republican council member Mary Olson walked out.
Welcome to Elkhart politics, where sparks seem to fly as often as birds before sunset and where unexpected controversy surfaces with just about every item on the council's agenda.
Moore, a Democrat, appeared stunned on Aug. 8 when he approached the podium to give one final pitch in favor of his sewer proposal and was immediately cut off by council president Ron Troyer, who said council had heard enough on the subject.
Moore, later that night, declined comment on the incident, but some Republicans applauded the move as a way to take back control of the meetings.
On Monday, though, Moore got a few things off his chest as he spoke at the end of council's meeting, which is reserved for public input. The seven-minute speech was a mix of diplomacy and subtle criticisms.
Moore pointed out that others were allowed to offer additional comments and suggested they offer him the same opportunity.
But much of his talk focused on the way Republican councilman Brian Dickerson had recently filed a new round of public records requests.
Moore said six of the 10 latest requests were improperly directed to department heads. Since they were not submitted to the mayor's office, as previously requested, Moore said he would not fulfill those requests. He urged Dickerson to re-file his requests.
Moore said the policy was established for the sake of efficiency and tracking purposes.
Following the policy, he said, boils down to a “common courtesy.”
“How difficult can it be to respect a simple little procedure, a simple policy that simply says send your request … to the administration,” Moore asked.
Moore continued: “I do intend to always show my respect for the position that eight of you have been elected to and one has been appointed,” alluding to Dickerson, who was chosen by a Republican caucus in January to fill a vacancy on the council.
Democrat insiders have begun to often note that Dickerson was appointed — and not elected — to his seat, but Dickerson brushed aside the designation. He said Saturday that he is still contemplating whether to resubmit the requests to Moore.
State law, Dickerson contends, allows for requests to be sent to department heads.
The lack of the administration's willingness to share information, Dickerson said, is part of the problem.
“The mayor needs to pursue a better relationship with common council and be more forthright with information,” Dickerson said.
Troyer said Friday he was aware Moore was upset with being cut off a month ago, but he does not regret the move.
He said it was necessary and was needed after he received more phone calls and face-to-face lobbying minutes before the meeting began.
He said he's concerned about the lack of trust.
“When I make reference to respect, you gotta highlight it with trust,” Troyer said. “There is more lack of trust than there is respect.”
Meanwhile, Olson, who declined later to say she had protested the speech by walking out, added: “I don't listen to people talk that way and treat us as if we were petulant children.”
Monday's agenda was somewhat light, but tension remained as council began discussing a proposal by the redevelopment commission to merge four tax increment finance districts into one.
Crystal Welsh, director of community development, had hosted a work session on the issue on Aug. 27 for city council and members of the plan commission, but the meeting was poorly attended. Only one member of the plan commission showed up and only five of nine council members attended.
Those five, ironically, included a block of council members who have opposed Moore on several issues.
Numerous council members, including some of the four Democrats who did not attend the meeting, began asking Welsh questions.
Troyer, at one point, interrupted and suggested they should have attended the meeting.
That didn't sit well with Rod Roberson, who missed the meeting.
“Don't browbeat me about not coming to a meeting. I don't appreciate it,” Robinson told Troyer.
Oddly enough, discussion was set aside, mainly by Republicans, who have expressed concern about the merger of districts and requested more information. They contend there is a lack of transparency in sharing information on the issue.
Troyer said he plans to schedule a special meeting on the TIF merger issue.
Olson said she'd like to see the administration do a better job of keeping council updated on what the redevelopment commission is doing.
Monday's meeting lacked two big topics that will take center stage in the next two weeks. Three consecutive nights of budget sessions begin on Tuesday, Sept. 17. On Sept. 23, Moore is expected to present his fourth attempt at compromise on commercial compact sewer dispute that has simmered for nine months.