by Jason M. Rodriguez
Logansport Mayor Ted Franklin has figuratively been in the mayor’s seat for a year now — figuratively and certainly not physically.
Franklin’s shed 36 pounds while being at the city’s helm and racked 17,000 miles on his personal car to take as many as 13 trips to Chicago, about 36 trips to Indianapolis, a trip to Virginia and one to Minnesota all for the sake of trying to deliver on his word to the more than 50 percent of voters who selected him as mayor.
That word? He’s all about economic development.
“I knew that the job would be busy,” Franklin said in a recent interview. “I didn’t quite expect the pace of the job. It’s truly never-ending. It’s truly a seven-day-a-week job.”
The light in Franklin’s third-floor office at the City Building is often on before 7 a.m. and after 6 p.m. He hasn’t been a sit-at-his-desk mayor and promises this year will be even more aggressive.
Franklin points to the progress the city has made with a more than $600 million project that could bring a refuse-derived fuel plant to Logansport as one of his administration’s ongoing successes.
He has also formed bonds with officials in China to work on sister-city and sister-school relationships with the city of Haining in the Zhejiang Province. He has met with the Chinese counsulate four times and is trying to keep Logansport at the forefront of business people’s minds in the event they would want to expand to the United States.
In fact, Franklin said, there was some interest from the Chinese in the proposed power plant.
“I believe the Chinese will end up bidding on our power plant,” he said. “They called up and already asked to have it translated into Chinese.”
In his first year, Franklin convinced the City Council to allocate $100,000 to study annexation of land in Clay Township. He said he wants to make sure that as the project moves along, all residents that annexation would impact will be informed of how this would affect insurance rates, tax rates and services in their area.
“That is another way we can broaden our tax base,” he said of annexation. “Those folks out there are not bashful about using city services. They come in to use our parks and they don’t contribute to the cost of it.”
Merely one day after winning the election in November 2011, Franklin was meeting with officials from Transco, near 18th and Main streets, to work on a $1 million project that’s planned to bring 28 new jobs to the area.
He said because of that willingness to work with Transco’s corporate office in Chicago, the company is considering another expansion, which plays into the city’s desire to create a port authority.
“There’s a very good possibility that Transco could do further expansion if we’re fortunate enough to develop the port authority and to actually pass that legislation and do some of those things,” he said, adding he could not elaborate further. “Transco is a major player in Logansport and I could easily see them doubling in size in a four- to five-year period.”
Despite the “somewhat controversial” dispute with four former redevelopment commission members, the city was able to secure a letter of intent from developers to build a movie theater in town.
“This is a $3.5 million investment in the city,” Franklin said. “Everything that we did was completely legal and above board. We just have to move on those opportunities when we have a chance because they won’t be here forever.”
He said the city is in the works to do something with the Logansport Mall property, which has about a 70 percent vacancy rate and is currently in receivership.
“We’re working very hard, doing some background research with the mall,” he said. “I see that as a challenge, but I also see us as being out in front of the curve on that. I hope to have some exciting news on that in the very near future...
“We’re working to try to find a re-use for the mall. There’s a lot of problems out there. That entire area out there is ripe for development.”
Franklin has had several rather public challenges in his first year, including the loss of his appointed police chief within 90 days, a parking ticket and his reaction which drew national attention, the drug arrest of his son Jeremy and the resignation of the redevelopment commission due to his and the council’s desire to use tax-increment financing money to lure a movie theater to town.
Right off the bat, Franklin faced a complete turnover in the police department’s pension board, the voluntary resignation of two top cops and the eventual resignation of Police Chief Mike Neher, all within the first 90 days of his administration.
“Mike was really put in a bad position,” Franklin said of Neher. “He was the first one to start making the changes and the changes didn’t go over so well. I really think it took that 90 or 120 days before the old guard realized that change is here to stay and no matter what. No matter how they try to intimidate the mayor or the mayor’s office, it’s going to change. They can accept it, and it will be a lot easier, or we can fight for four years.”
Franklin eventually implemented a polygraph policy for new police hires, which he said has stopped the hire of eight new officers.
“It highlights the need for that,” he said of the candidates who almost made it to the force. He said the change was “to make sure we hire the officers who are to enforce the law, obey the law.”
“We have got to make sure we hire only the best,” he said, adding a closer look at the department led to the arrest of a former officer accused of stealing gas and the return of department-owned scuba gear and cell phones. “And I believe we set the tone for the next three years.”
“It’s time to change. We have a higher standard.”
He said no matter the subject, whether it’s the police department, economic development or more, he knows he will face scrutiny.
“It’s the scrutiny I know I’m going to get and I know who I’m going to get it from,” Franklin said. “I look at some of the criticism I’ve received and they come from people who are no longer in this position or that position.”
He said he has learned he will not make everyone happy, but decided early on that he will “smile every chance I can and try to do what’s best for the city.”
“I try to be a mayor of my word first,” Franklin said, adding his campaign words revolved around jobs and economic development. “We’re going to get aggressive next year. There’s a lot of things on the horizon. We’re going to be set for that next layer to come along.”