Common Council reacts to mayor's deployment


South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is leaving his post to go to Afghanistan.

He'll leave in late February and will be gone for about six months. Buttigieg enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserves in 2009, two years before winning the election.

Buttigieg says the city will amend a budget proposal in March to pay for the deputy position and during his active duty, he will not accept his salary. Because of his trained specialty as an intelligence officer, he's being deployed alone and not with a unit.

"That said, I'm going to think about South Bend everyday," said Mayor Buttigieg. "I am going to miss South Bend, I'm going to miss this job, I'm going to miss my colleagues. I'll be very eager to get back and get back to work."

While in Afghanistan, the mayor says he'll be in constant communication with the city and will have access to phone, email and video conference.

His announcement came as a surprise to many. But some city council members say it was no secret that Buttigieg was part of the Navy Reserve and that they always knew this day might come.

Several city council members were at the press conference today, where Buttigieg made his announcement. They all said that they're proud of Buttigieg for serving our country. But before he leaves, there are a lot of issues to address including the city budget.

"[I just have] a great amount of admiration for Pete," said Gavin Ferlic, South Bend Common Council Member.

He's being praised for his service to our country. But before Buttigieg leaves for Afghanistan, he's got a lot to check off on his "to do list," mainly passing a budget by November 1, which may not be that easy.

"I'm very concerned about the cutting of over $1 million from the police budget," said Derek Dieter, South Bend Common Council President. "I'm in no way in favor of spending a million dollars to bring streets back to two-way, the 311... I have not been impressed with that all."

"So let's be able to look at the meat and potatoes and be able to be able to focus on what is needed to keep the city strong," said Oliver Davis, South Bend Common Council Vice President.

City Controller Mark Neal will take over as deputy mayor when Buttigieg leaves.

"I will focus along with the leadership team he's put in place to execute the strategies set forth. One is a continuing effort to create investment ready places, promote economic development and job growth, addressing vacant and abandoned housing, providing a 311 call center and providing improved customer service to residents and businesses," Neal said.

While Neal says he's ready to take the reins, some wonder how this is going to work.

"I don't know if the mayor, if he's calling him everyday and still running the city or if Mark Neal has the keys to the car and he's doing what he wants," said Dieter. "He's not an elected official, and he'll be running the town."

"Transitions can happen at any time, so we must be prepared for transition," said Davis.

City representatives tell us that designating a person to take over mayoral duties is completely legal if the elected mayor is called into active duty. They have about five months before Mayor Buttigieg leaves. When asked if he would be in combat, Mayor Buttigieg said he could not go into details.

Buttigieg is a defendant in the federal lawsuit involving the wiretapping scandal. An attorney involved says his deployment will have no effect on the case.