Undercover video purports: Clerk told staff to back deputy’s campaign – or else
Copyright 2015 The News-Sentinel

Fort Wayne’s former parking-enforcement supervisor has accused longtime City Clerk Sandy Kennedy of threatening him and other employees with termination unless they supported the campaign of her chief deputy, Angie Davis, the Democratic candidate for clerk in the Nov. 3 election.

And Colin Keeney, who resigned from his $45,000-per-year job last month after eight years in the clerk’s office, is not alone in his allegations against the 76-year-old Kennedy, who is stepping down at the end of the year after 32 years on the job. Three of his co-workers tell similar stories, and before leaving, Keeney secretly recorded conversations that appear to support his claims and reflect behavior that was at the very least improper and possibly illegal.

I showed Keeney’s video Friday to Kennedy and attorney Mark GiaQuinta, who advised Kennedy at the time not to say anything in response. Other than dismissing Keeney’s charges as “lies,” she didn’t. GiaQuinta, a prominent Democrat who serves on the Fort Wayne Community Schools board and a former city councilman, said he would advise Kennedy to speak to an attorney knowledgeable about applicable laws before issuing a response.

The video recordings, which were edited and captioned by Keeney, were apparently made this year and contain repeated examples of Kennedy strongly suggesting – sometimes in the presence of other employees – that her staff should provide money and other forms of support to Davis’ campaign if they want to keep their jobs.

Asked by another employee whether such activity was legal, Kennedy replied, “No, but let them turn it in to an attorney. They’ll be fired by the end of the year. If they want a job, they have to participate.” Kennedy reminded employees that, since City Council ended collective bargaining for non-public safety employees last year, they are no longer protected by a union. The workers previously belonged to IAM Local 2569.

Kennedy also tells her parking-enforcement officers their jobs will be in jeopardy if Republican Lana Keesling wins, because Republicans would privatize the positions. “They don’t understand politics,” she said, “but they should, as long as they’ve worked here.”

Keesling was unavailable for comment, but I have not heard her suggest elimination of the parking-enforcement staff.

Keeney said it was the brazen politicization of the office that caused him to keep records and, ultimately, resign. In a Sept. 8 letter to Mayor Tom Henry, Keeney said, “I can no longer, in good conscience, continue to ratify the type of uncontrolled behavior presently occurring in the City Clerk’s office … (I have) witnessed countless examples of an elected official who routinely engages in employee intimidation, petty partisan harassment and … ignores the law and the city’s official rules in favor of her own demands.”

Individuals covered by the city’s ethics code may not “coerce or attempt to coerce contributions or service from subordinate employees in support of a political party of candidate for public office … or retaliate against, or reward. any employee for any political action or inaction.” Except for mayor, the policy does not cover the clerk or other elected officials, but Allen County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Mike McAlexander said his office may review whether any laws were broken.

“Obviously, when there are allegations of public misconduct, it’s our responsibility to look at it,” he said.

Several of Keeney’s former co-workers tell a similar story, although they didn’t want to be identified for fear of losing their jobs.

“We’ve all experienced it,” one said. “I do my work to the best of my ability, but with this whole election thing I feel like I’m walking on thin ice. I have a mortgage and a life; I can’t afford to lose my job.”

“It’s terrible, absolutely terrible,” said another. “You have to watch everything you do. I like my job, but I can’t stand the atmosphere.”

Is Keeney, an acknowledged Republican now attending Indiana Tech’s law school, springing an “October surprise” in an effort to elect Keesling? He insists that’s not his motive and that he has no ties to the GOP candidate. “To me, it just didn’t feel right. I’d like the prosecutor to take a look at it,” he explained.

In case you’re wondering whether Keeney broke any laws by secretly recording his co-workers, Hoosier State Press Executive Director Steve Key, who is also an attorney, said he apparently did not.

“In Indiana, as long as one of the two parties knows the conversation is being taped, it’s legal. If neither knows, it’s wiretapping – a crime,” Key said.

What was Davis’ role in all this? The video shows that she was present during some of Kennedy’s statements, sometimes discussing employees’ participation in campaign events. She is not seen challenging Kennedy’s threats, but neither is she seen threatening workers.

“I wasn’t involved,” she said.

In that sense, the timing of Keeney’s expose was unfortunate. Elections should be decided on the basis of issues and competence. But it was Kennedy, not Keeney, who injected politics into the clerk’s office in a way that, even under the best interpretation possible, was grossly inappropriate. Whether it was a more serious offense only time will tell.

Either way, Kennedy’s actions may have undermined the candidacy of the very person she was trying to help. <br>

<i> This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355. </i><br>

<center> See the video </center><br>

To watch Colin Keeney’s undercover video of City Clerk Sandy Kennedy, see this story at news-sentinel.com.