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Jan. 9, 2023 | State investigates county jail lease

Jan. 9, 2023 | State investigates county jail lease

Hey Locals,

Ryan Schnurr here. I'm your guest host while Kara and Mike are on a much-deserved maternity/paternity leave. This week, we've got the latest in the ongoing saga of the Allen County Jail, details on the local movement for "complete streets," and a spotlight on Chef Johnny Bojinoff of Johnny OX Pizzeria (who says that, contrary to popular belief, his pizza is more New Jersey-Connecticut than New York).

Don't forget: This month, all paid subscribers to The Local get a FREE slice of pizza at Johnny OX. You can get access to monthly freebies and our premium newsletter with a paid membership. See what the hype is about with a 30-day free trial.

Let's get started!

Talk of the Week

The top story we're following.

State investigating proposed Allen County Jail lease agreement.

A rendering of the proposed Allen County Jail facility. (Elevatus Architecture)

What's happening?

On Thursday, the Journal-Gazette reported that the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance (IDLGF) is investigating a recent lease agreement for the new Allen County Jail facility. There are a lot of moving parts in this story, but here are the key things you need to know:

  • You might remember: in 2022, a federal judge ordered the Allen County Board of Commissioners and then-Sheriff David Gladieux to improve conditions at the jail, stating its chronic overcrowding and understaffing violated the constitutional rights of people incarcerated there. 
  • The commissioners proposed: building a new facility, and last year, entered a purchase agreement for 140 acres of land at 2911 Meyer Rd. – the old International Harvester Navistar campus.
  • The new facility's cost has been a hot topic of discussion between county commissioners and county council. It eventually came to an estimated $316 million.
  • The investigation: is focused on the commissioners' plan to finance the new facility (in part) with bonds. In November, commissioners created a new corporation, the Allen County Indiana Building Corp., which would oversee the jail project and administer the bonds. Their plan is for the county to lease the jail facility from the corporation for 20 years at up to $22 million per year. The corporation would then use those funds to repay the bonds.
  • Additionally: to avoid paying rent on an unoccupied property while the jail is being built, the commissioners plan to pay rent on the Allen County Courthouse, in Downtown Fort Wayne. According to the JG, this rent would be paid to the corporation to help cover the bond payments until the new jail facility is complete. (We reached out to the board of commissioners for clarification, but have not received a response as of this writing.)
  • Opponents of the commissioners’ plan argue that, among other things, the plan inappropriately bypasses county council, which has a duty to ensure that all leases are "needed," and may violate the Indiana State Constitution's limitations on municipal debt. Jorge Fernandez, a local activist, told us: "It seems the county council is not included as decision makers on how the building corporation spends the lease money in (the) agreement."
  • In response to a petition by local residents, the IDLGF opened an investigation, which is ongoing. The department held a public hearing last week, but if you missed it, you can still send comments or evidence to Hearings@dlgf.in.gov before Jan. 18.

Why it matters

Everyone agrees the current jail is in crisis, but commissioners, county council members, and residents differ on what they think should be done to remedy the situation – and how much to spend.

Learn more about the various perspectives, and what's at stake, by getting our premium newsletter with a 30-day free trial.

Small Talk

A few quick updates.

  • Residents are pushing to update the city's "Complete Streets" policy. Smart Growth America defines Complete Streets as "an approach to planning, designing, building, operating, and maintaining streets that enables safe access for all people who need to use them," including pedestrians, cyclists, and other non-drivers. Maddie Miller of Three Rivers Active Streets and the Active Transportation Coalition (ATC) tells us the city's current policy needs updated to better serve the community. Want to get involved? The organization is holding its first public meeting of 2024 at Chapman's Brewing (on the campus of Electric Works) on Sunday, Jan. 14, from 5:30-6:30 p.m.
  • Fort Wayne will have a new police chief starting Jan. 16. Last week, Mayor Tom Henry announced the retirement of Steve Reed, who has been the city's chief of police since 2o16. Henry is appointing Deputy Chief Scott Caudill, who has been with the FWPD since 1994 and currently heads up the city's northeast quadrant, to replace Reed. We're looking into what this will mean for the city's approach to policing, which came under national scrutiny during the 2020 protests.

What else? See even more coverage of local stories to know in our premium newsletter with a 30-day free trail.

Local Spotlight

Meet Chef Johnny Bojinoff of Johnny OX Pizzeria at Union Street Market.

Bringing crispy, Neapolitan, New Jersey-style pizza to Fort Wayne.

Chef Johnny Bojinoff of Johnny OX Pizzeria at Union Street Market.

What’s happening? 

This month, all paid subscribers to The Local get a FREE slice of Pizza at Johnny OX at Union Street Market. We sat down with Chef Johnny Bojinoff to learn more about his business and menu recommendations.

  • For a little background: Johnny was previously Head Chef at Old Crown Coffee Roasters, Executive Chef at Mallory’s restaurant (at the old Hall’s Guest House hotel) and Sous Chef at Catablu.
  • He got into pizza: while attending Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Portland, OR, in 2002 and working at an Italian Bistro called La Prima Trattoria, which had a woodfire and sparked his passion for the craft. One of his mentors there was a New Jersey transplant, who inspired him make Johnny OX focused on New Jersey-style pies with a crispy crust.
  • He says: "When people see the big slices anywhere, they automatically assume it’s New-York pizza. But the hydration for our dough, flour protein content, time-temperature and overall scheme is more Jersey-Connecticut."
  • Fun fact: Johnny’s grandfather was Puerto Rican, and the OX in his name and logo represents his grandfather’s work ethic. Most of his employees are family members, too!

When you go…

  • Pizza by the slice is available: every day 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4-6 p.m. “We put a bunch of different types of pizzas out each day, so it’s a great way to try things.”
  • Johnny recommends: the “I learned it in Oregon” with a white garlic-parmesan sauce. “One of the first pies I came across that takes me back to the day I started making pizzas at La Prima Trattoria.” Or the “Green Ox.” “I named the basil sauce after my daughter because she used to eat basil plain.”
  • In addition to pizza: he also sells a popular vinaigrette salad, craft sodas and homemade desserts. (We recommend his brownies! They might be the best in town.)

Learn more in our full interview with Johnny here!

To do list

Our favorite things to do this week.

  • Celebrate 'Dry January': with Kekionga Craft Company, which is offering non-alcoholic drinks like ginger apple cider and kombucha from Lunar Infusions.
  • 'Skate it Off': Grab the Swifties in your life, and head to Headwaters Ice Rink on Jan. 12 from 7-9 p.m. to skate to the sounds of "1989" (and more). Attendees are encouraged to "wear your best Taylor-inspired outfits (including the red scarves, cardigans, and Junior Jewels t-shirts)."

What else? We recommend more things to do in our premium newsletter. Try it out with a 30-day free trial.

Support The Local!

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Got a story tip or idea?

Let us know at thelocalfortwayne@gmail.com.

Have a great week, Locals!