It was a sunny day a few years ago when I went to a yard sale outside of Grabill. Put on by the local Amish community, it was a fundraiser to help fight against the countywide annexation plan.
As I walked around the tables of goods the Amish had set out for their silent auction, I was overtaken by a sense of sadness.
Here were good, decent, hard-working people whose only desire was to be left alone to work their farms and raise their families in accordance with their religious beliefs. Yet they were being forced to sell off their belongings in a desperate attempt to save their way of life.
The threat to these people came in the form of a concerted effort by Fort Wayne's elite to take over the county and place it under their own control. If this happened, there would be some future “changes” that would come in the form of staggeringly higher taxes and more “uniform” regulations.
Today, if the Amish, or anyone else living in the county outskirts, want to resolve a simple local issue they often only need to get in contact with a local elected official and the issue quickly could be handled. Under unigov, it was likely that anything they might need to resolve would require a trip to some hulking government building downtown, where they would be greeted with reams of red tape and bureaucracy. Naturally, the Amish would want to avoid this nightmare and were doing everything in their power to do so.
What bothered me was the idea that somewhere in downtown Fort Wayne lurked the opposition. I pictured them wearing expensive three-piece suits, smoking cigars and toasting each other at the Summit Club or Eddie Merlot's. While these hapless Amish had to hawk their personal belongings to try to stop the takeover, all the opposition had to do was pull a few hundred thousand from one of the many accounts they controlled, and they would steamroll any efforts the Amish could put together.
The entire scene reminded me of the old-time Westerns my husband watches. A band of hardworking sodbusters would be in danger of losing control of their land to a bunch of swindling bankers, railroad owners, mining prospectors or cattle barons. The villains would use the government to subvert the law in order to take control of the land, and the sodbusting farmers were powerless to stop them.
In any good Western, however, the townspeople are saved when a man steps up to fight the corrupt powers and restore justice. I wondered if anyone would be able to stand up for these humble and godly people.
I got my answer in a newspaper article about a man named Matt Kelty who was running for mayor of Fort Wayne. The article said he was a small-government conservative who was running to restore traditional values of limited government with low taxes and reasonable regulation.
I gave him a call and explained that I didn't live in the city but wanted to know where he stood on annexation. I was pleased to hear that he felt it was imperative that Fort Wayne solve its own budget problems instead of creating endless debt intended to be passed on to the residents of the county once annexation took place.
I was convinced that we had found a person who may yet save the Amish and the other rural residents from a punishing tax burden that was none of their creating. Over the next month, my husband and I worked on the Kelty campaign, and to our delight, he was elected the Republican candidate for mayor.
What happen next was also straight out of the Westerns. Kelty soon found himself embroiled in one smear campaign after another, finally culminating in his indictment by a grand jury. Regardless, at least 20,000-plus of his fellow residents must have felt the charges were trumped up as they gave him their vote, and people rarely vote for someone they think should be in jail.
Today, Fort Wayne's government is confronted with budget shortfalls and the realization that wildly unpopular spending sprees like Harrison Square are progressing disastrously. This, of course, has not stopped them from moving ahead with their next boondoggle on the old OmniSource property.
The move to crush home rule and consolidate all power into fewer hands has now moved to the state level with the release of the Orwellian Kernan-Shepard report.
And what has happened to Kelty? He is under the tremendous strain of mounting legal bills as he continues to fight the charges made against him. Prosecutor Dan Sigler is working for his conviction, and if he is to retain his freedom, he will need financial help.
It is for that reason that today and Saturday, my husband, daughters and I will take some goods to the old location of Stein Mart in Georgetown Square to sell in an auction for Kelty's defense.
As we prepare for this event, I am forced to think of that day a few years back when those Amish people seemed so distant to me. At the time, I admired them and I pitied them. Now I only thank them. They showed me that the humbled little people must stand up to the juggernaut of ruthless power, if for no other reason than it is the right thing to do.
I don't know if we will be able to raise enough to make a difference, but I know that the effort alone can inspire those who think we have no choice but to accept the decrease of the powerful and well-connected. Democracy is too great a gift for us to let it expire to the will of a dominant elite.
It is my hope that many others feel the same way and that we will see them at the rummage sale this Friday and Saturday.