KEVIN LEININGER: Can even a century of history survive recklessness, bureaucracy and apathy?

Oakdale Neighborhood Tom Tiernon is still trying to raise money to repair this pillar damaged during a police pursuit in June. (News-Sentinel.com photo by Kevin Leininger)
The century-old pillar at Oakdale Drive and Indiana Avenue was hit by an uninsured driver. (Courtesy photo)
This pillar at Fairfield Avenue and Arcadia Court was damaged in August but at least the driver -- unlike the neighborhood -- was insured. (News-Sentinel.com photo by Kevin Leininger)
Kevin Leininger

The Oakdale neighborhood near Foster Park over the first three decades of the 20th Century and boasts tree-lined streets, well-kept architecturally diverse homes and 22 impressive stone or brick pillars at various intersections. The area has been recognized as historically significant at both the local and national levels.

But it seems that not even history is a match for a speeding, out-of-control car, bureaucracy and the apparent apathy of Oakdale area residents — a sad reality that should serve as a warning to all Fort Wayne neighborhood associations

“I really thought we’d get a lot more response,” Oakdale Neighborhood Association President Tom Tiernon said, referring to pillars at Oakdale Drive and Indiana Avenue and Fairfield Avenue and Arcadia Court that have been struck by out-of-control cars recently but remain unrepaired. Damage to the Fairfield structure Aug. 26 eventually will be repaired thanks to the driver’s insurance, but the June 7 collision that obliterated the Oakdale pillar is another story entirely — one that justifiably frustrates Tiernon in more ways than one.

According to a Fort Wayne Police report, Jeffrey Moriarty was driving east on a one-way-west stretch of Oakdale around 10 a.m. in June under pursuit by the Indiana State Police when he struck another vehicle then careened into the pillar. Tiernon said the car was — surprise! — uninsured.

So the association did what so many others do these days when they want to raise money for a good cause: It created a “go fund me” page on the Internet, hoping to raise the $3,000 needed to make repairs. To date, however, the site (still active at https://www.gofundme.com/oakdale-pillar-rebuild?) has generated less than $500 — most of it contributed by association board members.

No does it appear government will offer to help, even though the collision came during a police action. Even though the city report insists the State Police were in pursuit, spokesman Sgt. Ron Galaviz said city police were also involved as part of a task force. The neighborhood could file a claim with the state, Galaviz suggested, or sue Moriarty. Fort Wayne Police spokesman Michael Joyner said additional details of the incident are under seal because it remains under investigation, but city spokesman John Perlich said damages from cases such as this are “reviewed on a case-by-case basis.”

So there the Oakdale the pillar sits, only partially rebuilt because the contractor hasn’t gotten around to finishing the job — another frustration for Tiernon, association president for the past eight years or so.

It would be nice if the responsible government entity, whichever that turns out to be, would offer to help. But, in reality, Tiernon mostly should be frustrated with his neighbors and even his own organization, which did not carry insurance on the pillars even though he figures the coverage would have cost only a couple hundred dollars a year. It’s an oversight he wisely intends to correct in the future.

But here’s the crux of the problem: According to Tiernon, there are 700 homes within the neighborhood’s borders, but just 100 of them pay $20 a year to be members of the association. If those other 600 property owners paid their voluntary dues, it would generate another $12,000 per year — more than enough to pay for the damaged pillar, future insurance bills and a lot more.

In the early 1980s I bought my first house on Oakdale not far from that pillar. I loved the neighborhood then and it looks perhaps even better today, as the so-called “07” area has grown in stature and investment. That’s a tribute to the area’s residents and leaders, but there is, clearly, always room for improvement.

Lack of resident involvement is hardly unique to any one neighborhood. Where I live now the dues are $160 a year and mandatory, and the neighborhood can put a lien on your property or even take you to court if you refuse to pay, which a lot of people nevertheless do. Tiernon knows it would be next to impossible to impose mandatory dues, and isn’t sure his association could generate more income by either raising the dues or lowering them.

“If people won’t pay $20, they probably wouldn’t pay $10,” he said.

Strong neighborhoods are the backbone of any strong city, but think how much stronger Fort Wayne would be if the relative handful of leaders got more help from the mostly uninvolved homeowners content to benefit from their dedication?

Maybe people like Tiernon would be less frustrated.

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.

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