GOP officials elect Ken Fries, Kyle Kerley to Allen County Council; will serve two years

Kyle Kerley, left, and Ken Fries were elected to Allen County Council Wednesday by Republican precinct officials to fill two vacancies on the seven-member body. ( photo by Kevin Leininger)
Adam Welch

In unprecedented back-to-back caucuses stretched over nearly four hours and six ballots, Republican precinct officials Wednesday elected Ken Fries and Kyle Kerley to fill two vacancies on the seven-member Allen County Council.

In the first caucus to replace Justin Busch, who was recently elected by party officials to fill the Indiana Senate seat vacated by retiring President Pro Tem David Long of Fort Wayne, former Sheriff Ken Fries was elected after four ballots. Kyle Kerley, co-owner of a veterinary pharmaceutical company and a member of the city’s Legacy Joint Funding Committee, was elected after two ballots to succeed Eric Tippmann, who was elected Perry Township Trustee earlier this month and will leave council at the end of the year.

There were 181 people eligible to vote at the Grand Wayne Center when the first caucus began, and victory required 50 percent of the ballots cast, plus one. And because the evening began with nine candidates, results took time, with candidates receiving the fewest votes dropped from successive ballots until the required number was achieved.

The contests featured three clear front-runners. In addition to Fries and Kerley, Greater Fort Wayne Inc. Director of Business Development Adam Welch also fared well, finishing second in both caucuses. But Fries’ victory in the first contest meant he was not on the ballot in the second, and Kerley — who finished third the first time around — prevailed in the second ballot of the second caucus, winning 93 votes to Welch’s 82.

Also competing were David Barrett, Bryan Bohnke, Lindsay Hannah, Bradley Mills, Brian Motley and Scott Myers.

Each candidate was given three minutes to address the precinct officials prior to voting, with Fries stressing his fiscal conservatism and law-enforcement background — criminal-justice consumes 70 percent of the county’s budget — Kerley touting his support for transparency, more police in schools and reduced county debt while Welch said his experience with Greater Fort Wayne Inc. has equipped him to improve economic development and quality of place issues while treating “taxpayer money like my own.”

Some voters, however, said Welch’s employment by the economic development agency may have hurt him, because County Council provides subsidies to Greater Fort Wayne Inc. Welch said he would have abstained from any such vote.

There was also one bit of controversy that may have worked against Welch. Following Fries’ victory, party Chairman Steve Shine allowed him to address the voters, at which time he pointed to his Kyle Kerley sticker and urged people to vote accordingly.

According to caucus rules, however, candidates were “only permitted to discuss the caucus with voters during his or her opening statement.” Parliamentarian Mitch Harper, former City Council member, said Fries’ statement was inappropriate but not necessarily against the rules, since his victory meant he was no longer a “candidate.”

“I’m a little surprised,” Welch said of Fries’ 11th-hour support for his chief opponent. “I had a tremendous relationship (with the candidates), I played honest and was transparent.”

“Never in my 26 years as chairman have we had two back-to-back caucuses like this,” Shine said. Fries and Kerley will take office Jan. 1 and serve through 2020. Six of council’s seven members are Republicans.