UPDATED: City Clerk Lana Keesling accuses Mayor Tom Henry of ‘retaliating’ for $100 parking ticket; Henry denies ‘abuse of power’

Lana Keesling and Tom Henry
The city bought this Buick LaCrosse for Mayor Tom Henry Nov. 6 and paid for a new license shortly after that, officials say. (Photo by Kevin Leininger of The News-Sentinel.com)

A relatively minor traffic violation has erupted into a dispute between two of the Fort Wayne’s top elected officials, with City Clerk Lana Keesling accusing Mayor Tom Henry of retaliating against her for a $100 ticket issued by her staff Feb. 5.

“He tried to bully me . . . for doing the right thing,” Keesling was expected to say in a Monday press conference scheduled to outline the backlash Keesling said her office has faced since Henry’s city-owned 2018 Buick LaCrosse was ticketed while in the Citizens Square parking lot for bearing a temporary plate that had expired Dec. 24. After receiving the citation, Keesling said, Henry “came into the clerk’s office to harass her . . . (a) prior conversation was discussed about where Mayor Henry should park knowing his vehicle had expired plates and again it was discussed how the laws apply consistently across the board.”

Two days later, Keesling said, she received an email from Henry stating her reserved parking spot in the Citizens Square garage had been reassigned to another employee, effective Monday. “Now I have nowhere to park,” she said. “Mayor Henry said, ‘I can do whatever I want; it’s my building.’ I felt contempt and disrespect.”

RELATED: Mayor Tom Henry gets $100 ticket for expired license plate

At a Feb. 8 meeting with Henry intended to deescalate the tension, Keesling said she was threatened and told several times the mayor was retaliating against her. In a statement, she said Henry is “using his power to harass, threaten and create a hostile environment . . . This retribution against another official is wrong. This retribution against a female is very wrong . . . (our) staff has been taught to treat every vehicle the same . . . The mayor had been informed to not drive the car until it had valid plates or, if he felt the need to drive it, not park it in a public place.” Keesling said Henry told her several times she was being targeted for retaliation.

In a statement, spokesman John Perlich said Henry Keesling “have had a positive working relationship since she became clerk. This most recent situation involving a parking ticket to a government vehicle and a change in parking arrangements is a disagreement . . . We do not see this as an abuse of power situation. Both are committed public servants.”

Perlich said Henry was disappointed by the ticket and said Keesling’s office was aware of the situation and that the permanent plate would be arriving soon, which it did the same day a ticket was issued.

Citizens Square is owned by the city. City officials say payment for the license was sent to the state Bureau of Motor Vehicles not long after the LaCrosse was purchased in November. The fine on Henry’s car has been paid, Keesling said.

Henry was ticketed two days after The News-Sentinel reported about his expired plate. Keesling said her parking-enforcement staff may not have been aware of the issue prior to the story, “but I didn’t tell them what to do. This isn’t political; I treat everyone fairly across the board.” In the statement, Keesling said she “will not compromise her values, her work ethic and her principles for a mayor who believes that he is above the law and holds all of the power.”

Keesling is Republican; Henry a Democrat.

Keesling also released a series of related emails between herself, Henry and other city officials — in one of which Henry stated that “Obviously, the (News-Sentinel) doesn’t have any other stories to write about . . . to prevent this type of juvenile, uninvestigated reporting from occurring again, I will now begin parking in the basement of Citizen Square.”

THE NEWS-SENTINEL OBTAINED AN E-MAIL CHAIN BETWEEN KEESLING AND HENRY.

Keesling became the city’s first Republican clerk in decades in 2015 by winning 65 percent of the vote after undercover videos revealed partisan political activity in the office under her predecessor, Sandy Kennedy. At the time, Henry suggested parking control authority should be returned to the police department “where it belongs,” and Keesling wondered whether Henry will now follow through on that desire.

“(Henry) could have avoided the situation entirely by not driving a vehicle with expired plates,” Keesling’s statement said. “Instead, he chose to use his power to intimidate others into looking the other way and not hold him to the same standards as others. Clerk Keesling does not work for Mayor Henry. She is an elected official and works for the people of Fort Wayne.”

Perlich pointed out there is also a reserved spot for the clerk in the parking garage attached to Citizens Square, but Keesling said she previously assigned that to her deputy.

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