ELKHART — Despite a 5-4 advantage on the Elkhart City Council, Democrats have watched as Republicans have taken a more concerted leadership role this year.
Below are a few observations:
In several small and even cosmetic changes, council president Ron Troyer — a Democrat who is often an ally of Republican council members — has altered the landscape with the support of Republican council members.
The council president controls the seating assignment for council members and can reset it each year.
This year, Troyer changed it so that Democrats and Republicans sit alternately along the nine seats in council chambers.
But at the same time, Troyer, who as president sits in the middle of the long row, is now flanked by newly-elected vice president Brian Thomas, a Republican, and David Henke, a Republican who serves as parliamentarian.
So while members of both parties sit side-by-side, the three in the middle (Thomas, Troyer, Henke) look somewhat unified and compatible.
Troyer also makes assignments to council committees and liaisons with city departments. Troyer and two Republican council members now chair three of five committees. Last year, all five committees were chaired by Democrats.
Troyer and the Republicans also serve as liaisons for seven of 12 city departments. In 2013, only four Republicans served as liaisons.
Henke, who has been critical of some decisions by the redevelopment commission, now serves as the liaison with that panel. While he doesn't have a vote, he appears ready to voice his concerns. On Tuesday, he attended the commission meeting and addressed the panel more than once.
Another distinct contrast between the two parties:
While Democrat council members are willing to engage Republicans in discussion, for the most part, Dems are more passive while Republicans seem more aggressive. I’m not suggesting that being quiet is necessarily a bad thing. Being an effective council member involves much more than being vocal at meetings.
But it’s safe to say that Dems are often as quiet as Republicans are talkative, and the combination often leaves Democrats looking overshadowed. Add two perennial council meeting visitors, Pam Kurpgeweit and Michele Korach, both of whom almost always speak against Democrat Mayor Dick Moore’s policies, and the air of debate often looks heavily weighted.
How important is all of this in the big picture? Probably not much. Some will argue very little. But the complexion has changed slightly and it will be interesting to see how that plays out with election season just a year away.