But however diverse their backgrounds and motivations, they share the same goal: election to the 2nd District Allen County Council seat now held by Paula Hughes, who is not seeking re-election so she can pursue the Republican nomination for Fort Wayne mayor in 2011.
“You can sit and complain, or get off the couch and try to make a difference. I've always lived in northeast Indiana, and I am concerned about what's going on,” said Conley, who believes his training as a buyer and seller of businesses would bring unique skills to the table as council does its main job: preparation of the county's annual budget.
“How you make decisions has a domino effect,” said Conley, who praised the council for responsibly amassing more than $20 million in its rainy-day fund but questioned the value of spending more than $1 million to extend Maplecrest Road south from Lake Avenue to Indiana 930. That project may bring a Walmart to New Haven, he said, but the competition could harm existing businesses. He cautiously supports plans to spend millions of dollars on shovel-ready industrial sites, but said tax breaks should be designed to promote businesses that will make long-term investments here.
Conley supports making downtown Fort Wayne more “pedestrian-friendly” and said he supports efforts to more thoroughly oversee – but not eliminate – township government, which he said helps represent rural areas.
With only one Democrat on the seven-member council, Conley knows party affiliation may pose a challenge. “But balance is always good. I understand finance and how to control spending and appropriate funds. Maybe it's the musician in me (Conley's a songwriter, jazz vocalist and guitarist), but I'm not ‘scripted.' If I could talk to everyone, I'd win. We should make decisions based on merit, not party,” he said.
Harris, meanwhile, cites his experience in the public and private sectors as factors that should give him the edge with voters.
“I already have the networks (to do the job), and have the ability to get my arms around a subject,” said Harris who, like Conley, is a self-described fiscal conservative who worked in city and county human resources departments and serves as president of the St. Joe Township Advisory Board.
Harris supports the county's land-banking initiative and believes government should help create an environment in which businesses can flourish. “If we grow, our kids will have a place to grow up in,” he said, noting that an increasingly regional economic development focus will create tensions between counties that must be resolved in a way that does not shortchange Allen County.
Harris wants government to develop a system for measuring and analyzing the success of its programs. Like Conley, he wants to monitor but retain township government. Harris also wants to keep and improve public safety and help county cope with the impact of state-imposed property tax caps.
Office at a glanceTerm: four years, beginning Jan. 1
Duties: The seven-member council establishes an annual budget for county government and appropriates additional funds, when necessary, for its continued operation. The part-time council also approves tax abatements and other economic-development incentives.