Tiff over TIF financing leads to police investigation involving two Elkhart council members
Infighting among some Elkhart officials reached a boiling point last Monday after a contentious meeting where the council reversed course and approved a TIF district it had previously voted down.
The TIF district will finance around 250 apartment buildings in a new complex near County Road 17 and Middlebury Street. But what’s grabbing attention is a squabble after the Sept. 11 meeting between Republican David Henke and Democrat Dwight Fish.
After the meeting, Henke says Fish physically blocked him from leaving the dais in the council room after he told Fish he was “bought and paid for” for switching his vote on the matter. That interaction led to Henke filing a police report at the advice of his attorney and police are now investigating the incident.
WVPE spoke with both Henke and Fish and unsurprisingly, the two men have a differing account of the situation.
According to Henke, Fish “checked” him with his arm, while holding his other hand in a fist and raising it at Henke. Henke said he wasn’t injured but painted Fish as someone with a short temper.
“I went to Dwight and I said 'Looks like you’re bought and paid for. You did your duty.' He turned and cussed me out as we were exiting and he blocked my exit coming off the platform,” said Henke.
Meanwhile Fish said Henke was the one to push him as Henke exited the dais. Fish admitted there’s no love lost between himself and Henke and labeled his antics as childish.
“We’re not friends. I don’t want to cause him any harm. I’m trying to rise above this and do what’s best for the people,” Fish said. “If he wants to be petty, if he wants to pull this down into a junior high argument, that’s his prerogative.”
Fish said he spoke with an investigator on Monday morning. A police department spokeswoman said the case is still under investigation and hasn’t been sent to the prosecutor’s office.
Henke expressed larger frustrations that Democrats have shut Republicans out of the governing process with a 5-4 majority on the council. Henke voiced those opinions during the meeting itself, getting into heated exchanges a number of times with council Democrats, specifically council president Arvis Dawson.
Regarding the vote on the TIF district, the council voted down the proposal in August in a 6-3 vote with Fish and fellow Democrat LaTonya King joining the Republicans in the tally. But, King moved to reconsider the measure at the Sept. 11 meeting where she and Fish both changed their votes to pass the measure.
Both during the meeting and in his interview with WVPE, Henke said Fish and King were taking orders from Elkhart Mayor Rod Roberson and that the pair read their comments off a script that had been provided to them.
Fish said Henke had an agenda to provoke others during the meeting and denied taking orders from anybody. Fish said he ultimately changed his vote after getting more information from the city’s development staff.
“David had been goading people all through the evening. When you call me nasty names, calling me bought and paid for by the mayor. When you say nasty things like that, it proves he’s frustrated by the process he’s supposed to represent,” Fish said.