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Mayor Mark Stodola

State of the City Address - 2014

Download the 2014 State of the City Address

Thank you Vice Mayor Doris Wright for that warm and gracious introduction.

To my fellow City Board of Directors, City Manager Bruce Moore, City Attorney Tom Carpenter, to our many city employees and to the citizens of Little Rock, thank you for joining me here at the Centre at University Park for the annual State of the City address.

I am pleased to use this opportunity to show off to our citizens this beautiful, new facility, a new community center here in the heart of Little Rock on 12th Street, just off University Avenue.  More important than the bricks and mortar of this building is the impact our programming services within these walls have on the lives of the people, both young and old, that take advantage of what we have to offer in this facility.  Such services as computer training, aerobics, ceramics, arts and crafts, floral design and even zumba classes.  Services that stimulate both the mind and the body and offer a wonderful environment, a community of place, to engage others in conversation.

The quality of this building was substantially improved because of the additional funding we received for capital improvements from the 2011 successful sales tax election.  So it offers me an opportunity to use this forum to highlight some of our progress so far.  Highlights include a variety of road, drainage and capital improvement projects in all of our wards.

Ward 1: Over the next several months, Louisiana Street from Markham to Roosevelt Road will be re-surfaced.  Wright Avenue from Martin Luther King to Chester Street will be re-surfaced and, we have already completed the major street improvements and the extension of 9th Street from I-30 to Bond Street.  I know Director Erma Hendrix is becoming more and more accustomed to the bike lanes on the newly re-surfaced South Main Street.  She has promised to ride a tandem bicycle with me.   I, along with the entire downtown community, can hardly wait for this experience.

Ward 2:  Director Richardson and myself are really looking forward to cutting the ribbon on our new 12th Street station this summer.  This represents a $12 million public investment in mid-town south of I-630 giving this area new opportunities for re-investment of both capital dollars and human capital – all part of the 12th Street Corridor Plan.  The city will also be spending nearly $1 million on street reconstruction and drainage for the Woodson Road Project in Ward 2.

Ward 3:  In Ward 3 Stacy Hurst has recognized the vast improvements roundabouts make in traffic coordination and safety.  A roundabout and street re-construction has been built at Sherrill Road and a roundabout will be built at the busy intersection of Kavanagh, Pine Valley and McKinley Streets.

Ward 4:  The need for a West Little Rock Police substation has long been recognized by Director Brad Cazort and myself as an important expansion of our police department in the western portions of our city.  The redevelopment of the prominently located Pankey Community Center building into a police substation is a vast improvement of our resources and will give our Police Department improved response times, meeting place for community activities, and easy access to residential subdivisions off of Highway 10 and Chenal Boulevard.

Ward 5:  Director Lance Hines and Director Brad Cazort (who used to have portions off Rahling Rd in his Ward) along with the adjacent neighborhoods, are elated with new Fire Station #23.  This $2.8 million LEED facility represents a much needed tool to improve public safety measures in West Little Rock.

Director Hines also has helped coordinate neighborhood desires to include the construction of a new roadway connecting LaMarche Drive north to Taylor Loop Road.

Ward 6:  Here in Ward 6 not only does Vice Mayor Doris Wright have this new $3 million facility, but this year, we will also witness the groundbreaking on a new $6 million West Central Community Center on Colonel Glenn Road and John Barrow Road which will also receive substantial roadway and streetscape improvements.

Ward 7:  Director B.J. Wyrick has led the charge and community efforts to build a new fire station in Ward 7 and land for this has been purchased on Stagecoach Road.  Likewise, a much needed widening of Yarberry Lane will be completed from Chicot Road.

These are but a handful of the many street, drainage and capital improvements that will be occurring this year.

All in all the City will be spending $177 million on street drainage projects over the remaining 9 years of our 10 year capital improvement projects plan. 

I would be remiss if I did not mention Director Dean Kumpuris’ continued development of our iconic Riverfront Park.  The sculpture park is outstanding and with the development of a new Broadway Bridge and the Robinson Auditorium renovation, new uses on the western end of the park are being imagined.  Likewise, the eastern end of the park, with the island in front of the Clinton Center, will be developed thanks to a partnership between the City and the Sturgis Foundation.  With all these things occurring under the state of the art LED lighting of 3 bridges over the Arkansas River – to say things “look bright” for Little Rock’s future, is a vast understatement!

Director Gene Fortson has been instrumental in chairing the finance committee of the Advertising and Promotion Commission, lending his advice on the Robinson Conference Center and Auditorium renovation, and providing valuable City Board insight to the Little Rock Municipal Airport Commission.  Director Joan Adcock has been a guiding force to our Animal Services Division resulting in their outstanding efforts in increasing animal adoption and rescue placements to 2592 in 2013.

On the economic development front, the newly opened Bass Pro Shop and the announced plans of an 80 store shopping outlet mall, Gateway Town Center, should provide a real economic booster shot for our City.  The year 2013 saw 250 new jobs created and $79 million in capital investments committed through our contract and partnership with the local Chamber of Commerce.  Since 2005 over 4,990 new jobs have been created with $200 million in new annual payroll and $986 million spent on new capital investment. 

nGage Labs announced the opening of an Analytics Innovation Center in downtown Little Rock with a commitment to hire a minimum of 35 knowledge - based employees with salaries averaging above $100,000 annually.  Dassault Falcon Jet announced a new $60 million expansion for their new 5x jet; MISO, an energy grid company, announced a new Southern Operations Center, creating up to 50 highly skilled jobs with average salaries of $85,000 yearly.  Welspun opened a new $100 million small diameter steel pipe manufacturing facility, and Fidelity National Information Services announced the addition of 200 new jobs along with an additional $3 million of capital invested into its Little Rock facility.  This new facility will house their North American sales, marketing, and finance divisions.

With Walmart’s announcement of their commitment to buy an additional $50 billion in U.S. made products over the next 10 years, we will be working aggressively to market our region for those new facilities and the suppliers who will be re-locating to the U.S.

As for City Operations, the Little Rock Police Department, by the end of this year, should be back up to full strength.  This past year, we added 63 new officiers.   Under the leadership of Chief Stuart Thomas, the department has developed and is implementing reorganized operational programs emphasizing crime prevention and reduction.  The Police Department’s Crime Analysis Section helps to focus the Department’s Quiet Nights, and Night Strike Units where they are most needed in an effort to deter violent crime.    Operation Phoenix helps ramp up the decision making process on where our mobile patrol units should be emphasized.  50 new surveillance cameras have been deployed in an effort to deter criminal activity.

Our Fire department is continuing with its efforts at national accreditation and has done an excellent job on public awareness on how to best serve our citizens.  The Fire Department has ranked exceedingly well in all categories from fire response to natural disasters.

Additional code officers have been hired and our new communication tower and 911 upgrades have been completed, connecting over 5,000 users throughout the county to our system.

One of my long term objectives was accomplished this year with the opening of Jericho Way, the City’s Day Resource Center.  We are continuing to improve our programming at the facility to include not only food, clothing, identification and VA assistance and referral, but also case management, medical and transportation for potential employment opportunities.  75 - 100 people a day are served with staff picking up the homeless in both Little Rock and North Little Rock.  I want to thank North Little Rock for partnering with us on this $900,000 investment to improve the lives the less fortunate in our community.  I want to specifically thank Assistant City Manager Bryan Day and Homeless Coordinator, Jimmy Pritchett for their efforts in getting this facility open.  My hope for this year is to improve our efforts on job placement, additional medical facilities and transitional housing alternatives.

As part of this effort, I’m extremely happy to announce that Little Rock is one of 17 cities that is participating in a national effort led by the National League of Cities that challenges cities to meet President Barack Obama’s goal to end veteran homelessness by 2015.  Each city, including Little Rock, will engage in a “friendly competition” with another comparable city to be the first to end chronic veteran homelessness.  And while Little Rock has not been paired with another city yet, I hope to announce our “Friendly Competition” Partner within the next few weeks. I’m also very pleased that our longtime partner, The Home Depot and The Home Depot Foundation have continually supported efforts to eliminate chronic veteran’s homeless in cities across the Nation. Our Nation’s veterans bravely served our country and made great sacrifices to do so. While serving, the skills and leadership qualities they learn make them valuable assets to communities and businesses. However, veterans and their families can also face major challenges, including housing, unemployment or disability.  Home Depot has pledged to ensure that every veteran has a safe place to call home, and they have committed $80 million over five years to the effort. In addition, Home Depot associates are committing their own time and talents to make a difference for veterans in local communities, including Little Rock. 

My goal is to end veteran homelessness by making sure all veterans have a home and, by working with our partners and with the assistance of our homeless VA drop-in Center staff.  Under the leadership and guidance of Dr. Estella Morris, I am confident that we can end chronic Veteran’s Homelessness in Little Rock by 2015.        On the sustainability front several new ventures have been tackled.  Soon we will open a new CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) fueling station on I-30 which will not only fuel our CNG vehicles, but will also be available to the CNG traveling public.

The City was proud to receive the EPA Climate Showcase Ambassador Award for the HEAL program, an innovative way for employees to finance energy efficiency upgrades in their homes.  Incidentally, the EPA selected the City’s Grants Division for best overall grant administration, reporting, and replication efforts from a field of 52 grantees.  Congratulations to the Finance Director Sara Lenehan and Grants Manager Caran Curry for this excellent recognition.  Our plans for sustainable improvements to water quality brought the Deputy Secretaries of HUD, the EPA and DOT to review and highlight the work being done on Main Street which began with a “Greening of America’s Capitals grant, followed by an NEA grant for a Main Street “Creative Corridor” and now an EPA - funded grant, administered through the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, which will allow the sustainable practices to be built.  This $1.9 million construction project will further transform downtown Little Rock. 

          As you know, this past month the City Board passed a multi-family recycling ordinance directed at apartment complexes located in the City.  This expansion of our recycling program will further the City’s goal of reducing solid waste collection and increasing the lifespan of our landfill.  Recycling also offers significant benefits to our environment and will bring increased economic opportunity to our community.

 A recent update provided by Waste Management, which operates Little Rock’s new single- stream recycling program has estimated participation rates have increased to more than 80 percent since it began in April 2012.  Similarly, the annual amount of recycling collected has doubled to 10,200 tons, compared to approximately 5,500 tons annually at the end of the old program. 

Little Rock residents have dramatically increased their participation in the City’s new single-stream recycling program, contributing to substantial environmental protections.

Diverting 10,200 tons of solid waste from the landfill towards recycling is equilivant to:

  • Saving 47.9 million kilowatt hours of electricity
  • Growing 703,528 trees for 10 years
  • Saving 3,076,019 gallons of gasoline
  • Removing the annual emissions of 5,717 cars from the atmosphere

By adding all apartment complexes, with 100 units or more, we will be diverting several additional tons from landfills in the county.  The ordinance passed by the Board of Directors will apply to over 19,485 units which represents 83% of all of the apartments in Little Rock.  I am encouraged that several apartment complexes with less than 100 units have indicated that they are going to voluntarily comply with the ordinance, as well. 

Likewise, several voluntary efforts at recycling are underway in many of our downtown office high- rise buildings.  I am familiar with the recycling efforts of the Wright, Lindsey, Jennings Law Firm who have led the way on this effort, with the entire Bank of America building participating, as well as those of the Rose Law Firm.   Their efforts committed to recycling, cut their annual waste disposal bill by nearly 65%, saving the firm thousands of dollars a year and importantly, in the first six months of the year diverting over 5 tons of waste material from the landfill to be placed in the recycling stream to be re-used again.  Several other businesses and commercial enterprises are also recycling and I want to commend them all for their efforts. 

Quality of life amenities are critical to a successful city. In light of that, I am resolved to work with our citizens and adjacent landowners to complete the Arkansas River Trail.  This year we hope to complete the eastern and western portions of the trail adjacent to the Packet House and Dillards headquarters making pedestrian and bicycling safer and more enjoyable.

This year we will be seeing improvement in our Code Enforcement, Demolition and Housing departments.  City Manager Bruce Moore is committed to providing additional personnel to reduce the response time on weed lot cutting.  During this past year, 13 code officers have been hired and all of the City’s homes acquired and renovated through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program have been sold, allowing the City additional funds to be used in this program.  Re-development of neighborhoods is extremely complicated and tough work, but it is critically important to developing safe neighborhoods.  I want to thank City Director Joan Adcock for her desire to focus on this issue in 2014.  We need to accelerate our efforts on clearing title to the many properties in our Land Bank.  This is one of my high priorities which must be developed.  Concurrently, we must develop programs and work with organizations who will assist in identifying home buyers and improving their credit worthiness so that redevelopers know when they build an in-fill home, that there is already a qualified purchaser.

          Our Zoo has four new tiger cubs and a new exhibit area.  We have seen excellent capital improvements made at the Zoo for our tigers, cheetahs, chimpanzees, and penguins.   All this has been posted, pasted and tweeted by our new Communications Director, Ben Theilemier, who has even rolled out this past weekend a new mobile City of Little Rock App.  You can now find us everywhere from Facebook to YouTube, from Twitter to Instagram. 

Many of these programs and projects have reaped various rewards for the City. 

Arkansas Business magazine recently recognized our felony Re-entry Sidewalk program as the winner in the Workforce Development category.  As part of our capital budget we have dedicated $4.5 million for building sidewalks and are taking individuals recently released from prison and giving them a skill.  We have enjoyed good success with this program and have given these folks an opportunity to gain self - esteem and a second chance, while getting them off the streets and onto our sidewalks!

                 The re-development of Main Street is another example of success.  The “Creative Corridor,” now comprised of Arts and Culture, Science and Technology has received 7 state, national, and International awards.  Most recently winning a coveted national award from the American Institute of Architecture for Regional and Urban Design which will be presented this June at their convention in Chicago.  As important as planning, is implementation.

                 A new announcement seems to be forthcoming almost every week.  To date over $76 million in private sector investment is going into the renaissance of Main Street.  Projects announced or recently completed include the First Exchange Bank Building at Capital and Main.  The “Mann on Main” project, housing 19 apartments, several state agencies, and the venerable Bruno’s Italian restaurant.  The K-Loft apartments in the 300 Block are nearing completion and the Fulk building, known as Bennett’s Military Supply and Mr. Cool’s across the street are going to be renovated.  The Boyle Building will become a first class hotel and the location of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Ballet Arkansas, and the expansion of the Arkansas Repertory Theatre along with Art Galleries, restaurants and retail stores, with loft apartments are being located in the 500 Block of Main Street with more apartments and commercial space being developed in the Hall-Davidson Building.  By 2015 more than 256 apartments will be located on Main Street. The relocation of Orbea Bicycle’s North American headquarters in the 100 Block of Main Street,  capped off by the Technology Park Authority Board’s decision to locate in the Main Street Corridor where the City’s $22 million in capital will be leveraged for even more private sector investment; in evidence Main Street is boom back. 

          All of these efforts and projects contributed to Kiplinger’s naming Little Rock in 2013 as the #1 most livable city in the United States for a population of 1 million or less.

          All of this sounds great doesn’t it?  But all is not great in Little Rock.  We have many challenges that we must face head on if we are truly going to be the next great American City in the South.

The health of our community, and especially our young people, continues to be an issue that we must face with urgency.  Overall, the news for children under 5 has been encouraging with national trends indicating a reduction in childhood obesity rates.  Yet the rate of over-weight and obese children in Little Rock, especially among our poorest citizens, is alarmingly high.  According to the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, male Little Rock School District students in grades Pre-K through 12th grade increased the BMI rating for overweight and obese students to 38% while the Female BMI rating for overweight and obese students were at 40%.  We believe that we are making progress but we can do better.  Our Love Your School childhood obesity intervention at seven (7) high poverty Little Rock School District K-5 elementary schools is showing very positive results.  With dozens of volunteers from local colleges and universities including the UALR Nursing School and the Chancellor’s Leadership Corps to the University of Central Arkansas Graduate Dietetic Interns and the UAMS College of Public Health along with Arkansas Children’s Hospital and the Culinary Institute at Pulaski Technical College, we are moving the needle in combating childhood obesity through evidence-based programming and interventions that include students, teaching staff, parents, adjacent neighborhoods and public policy changes.  In fact, in January of this year the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) announced the winners of the 2014 Childhood Obesity Prevention Awards, during its 82nd Winter Meeting held in Washington, D.C. The awards went to cities with outstanding programs that encourage healthy weight through balanced diet choices and regular physical activity.  The City of Little Rock was the winner of a $25,000 grant presented for our “Love Your School” ("LYS") Childhood Obesity Intervention and Prevention Initiative.  With almost 300 raised bed gardens, cooking classes for parents, walking programs for students, nutrition instruction in the classroom and nearly $150,000 in USDA Grants for Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snacks for students, Love Your School and its volunteer partners are making a difference in the lives of almost 3,000 students and their families in our City.  And, in our effort to fight hunger in our City, I’m happy to announce that Love Your School plans to launch Farmer’s Markets at all 7 partner school campuses this fall.

With these facts in mind we have worked hard in a partnership with the Little Rock School District to bring balanced and healthy nutrition opportunities to our K-5 elementary schools and we will continue to do so by addressing the root causes of academic distress in students:  poverty, hunger and environmental stresses that contributed to academic failure and students dropping out of school before graduation.  To begin anew this conversation, we have partnered with the Americas Promise Alliance and special funding provided by AT&T for the purposes of hosting a summit that will allow us to convene community partners and stakeholders to accelerate progress for improving our high school graduation rates and making all young people in our City college and career ready. 

As your Mayor, my job is to help protect and improve our city so that our citizens can live and love to the fullest of their desires. 

          As such I want you to know that in addition to all of the important projects and happenings in our City.  We have some real threats to our “Most Livable City” recognition.  Some of these are threats that all cities and urban areas across the nation are experiencing.

          I would like to highlight a few of these for you on which I spend a great deal of time and energy.  While our wonderful staff, under the leadership of City Manager Bruce Moore, ensures that the daily operations of city government function, these are issues that threaten our ability to accomplish these everyday activities.  I have spent a lot of time with fellow mayors across the country to address threats from our U.S. Congress because of inaction and lack of compromise.

Tax Exempt Municipal Bonds

Mayors across our nation are banding together to express our concern about several proposals being discussed that would either reduce or eliminate the current tax exemption on the interest that is earned from tax-exempt municipal bonds.  For state and local governments, including school districts, hospitals, sewer commissions and other issuers of tax-exempt securities, tax-exempt municipals bonds are the most important tool available for financing critical infrastructure projects such as schools, roads, highways and streets and drainage projects, public power facilities and mass transit projects.  Together, state and local governments are responsible for building and maintaining 75% of the nation’s infrastructure, which is financed mostly by tax-exempt municipal bonds.

This system of financing has been in place for 100 years, since the beginning of the federal income tax system on 1913 and it has provided state and local governments a low cost, efficient way of financing infrastructure used by the general public.  This is achieved by state and local governments saving up to two percentage points on their borrowing rates by issuing tax-exempt municipal bonds to finance local improvements.  

The proposal recently “floated” by the Obama Administration and certain Republican members of Congress would place a 28% cap or, possibly, fully eliminate the exemption on interest earned from municipal bonds.  The impact of such a cap or outright elimination of the exemption on interest earned from municipal bonds to states and local governments would be catastrophic.  For example, in 2013 alone, state and local governments sold more than 6,600 tax-exempt bond issues that financed over $179 BILLION DOLLARS worth of infrastructure projects.  A recent report by the US Conference of Mayors, the National League of Cities and the National Association of Counties showed that in 2012 if the 28% cap had been in effect on interest earned from tax-exempt municipal bonds, it would have cost state and local governments an additional $173 BILLION in interest expenses over the last decade alone!  Further, this study shows that if the tax-exemption had been fully eliminated, it would have cost state and local governments an additional $495 BILLION over the same period.   Where would this money come from? Yes, you the taxpayer, or the streets, hospitals, renovations and schools would never be built.

To bring this threat closer to home, consider this:  during the three-year period 2011 to 2013, approximately $215 million dollars in tax-exempt bonds were sold by City of Little Rock and other issuers of tax-exempt securities inside the political borders of our community.  Assuming an average interest cost of 4% and a loan term of 15 years, residents of our community would have paid an additional $13,765,000.00 in interest if the 28% cap on tax-exempt interest had been in effect during the last decade, and an additional $40,000,000.00 if the interest deduction had not existed during the last decade.  Clearly, the proposal to cap or fully eliminate the interest deduction on tax-exempt securities issued by state and city governments is a threat to a time-tested and successful low-cost financial tool that has served citizens in our City and region for 100 years that must be stopped.  Both the Democratic Administration and the Republican leaders in the House have this issue on the table of tax reform.  So I am asking you, our citizens, to join me in opposing this action that penalizes and cripples our ability to finance public infrastructure projects.  Make your voices heard.

Market Place Fairness

Another threat to our City is our continuing inability to collect existing sales taxes on purchases made over the internet.  A recent Report by the US conference of Mayors and others estimated that state and local governments experienced a direct loss of revenue due to uncollected taxes on E-commerce of nearly $12 BILLION dollars in 2011, rising to almost $14 BILLION dollars in 2013. 

The  Marketplace Fairness Act, which passed the Unites States Senate in early summer 2013, would permit states and local governments to enforce existing state and local sales and use tax laws on remote retailers so long as they simplify tax administration by adopting the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement (the State of Arkansas is a full member). The Bill is currently languishing in the US House of Representatives. 
As example of the impact on the City of Little Rock, it is estimated that between 2011 and 2013 the City of Little Rock lost over $2, 650,000.00 dollars in sales and use tax revenues.  Many of our Congressional delegation support the passage of the Market Place Fairness Act which is being championed by Congressmen Steve Womack from Arkansas’ 3rd District, but not all.  Again, I want to ask you to lobby our delegation to take up and pass the Marketplace Fairness Act this year and stem the loss of revenue to the city of Little Rock and cities across our nation.  It is not a new tax, and it is only fair to our bricks and mortar retailers who provide employment and follow the law by collecting taxes at the time of purchase. Remote online retailers unfairly have a 5 – 10% competitive advantage by not being required to collect the local taxes owed.

Community Resilience

An issue that commands the attention of all Mayors and public officials across our land is the catastrophic loss of life and property that has occurred over the past 24 months from crude oil shipments by rail resulting from derailments and subsequent explosions.  I must admit that there isn’t a day that passes when I see a train passing through Little Rock with oil cars and chemicals cars that I don’t ask myself if we’re prepared for the kinds of tragic accidents that have plagued many of our neighbors.  Recent fires and explosions in Quebec, Alabama and North Dakota have reminded all of us that while crude oil shipments by rail have increased by over 400 percent since 2005, our safety policies need to catch up to the new reality of the recent domestic energy boom.  While rail transport remains one of the safest ways to transport goods such as crude oil and ethanol, rail derailments and subsequent explosions have called for national attention to the safety gap and underscores that we can and must do a better job to keep our communities safe.  Accordingly, I have joined Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Kansas City Mayor Sly James and others on the Mayoral Rail Safety Coalition to advance common-sense measures we Mayors believe are necessary to protect our communities.

          Also, extreme weather and climate events have short and long term impacts on local and regional infrastructure, public safety, natural landscapes and environmental quality.  These events can cost human life, destroy property, damage local infrastructure, jeopardize water quality and availability, lead to energy and food shortages and disrupt entire economies.

          As local government, we act as first responders, preparing in advance of emergency situations; offering immediate assistance to those impacted; and identifying strategies, solutions, and partnerships to address situations quickly and efficiently.

          As a community, we must prepare for extreme weather events and a changing climate by taking a number of important steps now, including studying particular risks and vulnerabilities faced by the community; developing short and long term plans to address these vulnerabilities; and upgrading facilities and infrastructure to withstand impacts.  By partnering with the private sector, utilities, regional and state agencies and other stakeholders, we can more efficiently and effectively coordinate limited financial and technical resources.  Congress can help by passing the STRONG Act (which stands for strengthening the Resiliency of our Nation on the Ground).

          Cities need strong federal government support through improved development and distribution of relevant educational resources, streamlined processes for funding and policies and programs that will help communities become more resilient.

Transportation

          Authorizing a new, comprehensive federal surface transportation program is critical with the current MAPS-21 funding set to expire at the end of 2014.  Any delay in reauthorization or funding an expected shortfall, will be harmful to our local economy.  Just last week the AHTD shelved the construction of the new bridge to be built by the Arkansas State Fairgrounds.  Congress must move quickly so that our economy and job growth is not harmed.

          Also, mayors from across the nation are urging Congress to pass Immigration Reform.

          The nation’s broken immigration system hurts families, communities and our economy.  It is time for Congress to acknowledge the economic vitality that immigrants bring to this nation and adopt a reform policy that supports secure borders and a path to citizenship for the millions of immigrants currently contributing to our local and national economies.

          Local governments are caught in the middle of the national debate with no control over the regulation of immigration, but with the responsibility for integrating immigrants into our communities and providing the services necessary for stable neighborhoods.

          Immigrants are also taxpayers and consumers.  They pay taxes on their wages and spend their earnings on the purchase of goods and services including food, clothing and homes.  This increased consumption boosts business sales, expands the economy, generates new jobs and increases the earning of all Americans.    Recognizing this, civic and business leaders both Republican and Democrat across the country have joined with municipal leaders to highlight the economic necessity of comprehensive immigration reform.  Again, I urge you to communicate with your congressman to move this issue forward to a successful resolution.

          And finally, a real threat exists on our streets that commands the attention of every one of us.  That is the disporportiate and increasing existence of violence and deaths among young men and boys of color.

          So far in 2014, very disturbingly we have experienced 11 homicides.  All of the victims are African Americans – 9 males, 82% and 2 females.  So far all of the suspects arrested have been African American males.  100%.    Similar statistics can be found in 2011, 2012 and 2013.  The increase in violence and aggravated assaults, including robbery, last year is alarming.  This is an issue that all of us need to tackle.  The future of our city depends on it.  There must be a sense of urgency that swells up from our community if we are going to kill this cancerous disease.

          The future of our city and the nation depends on safe, prosperous communities where everyone has an opportunity to succeed and everyone’s life matters.  Our highest responsibility is protecting the safety and prosperity of our communities and our people.  That means doing everything possible to prevent violence and finding additional ways to allow our young men and boys of color to invest in opportunities which engender self – worth, confidence, and hope about the future. 

This is why I joined “Cities United” which is a coalition of 56 mayors under the leadership of my friends and colleagues, Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia and Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans.  Both cities, as well as our own and many others, have experienced an all too high rate of violence among African American young men and boys.  Our Cities United commitment is to reduce and end the high levels of violence that affect too many African American men and boys.  Our common commitment is to engage the community and to engage with our neighborhoods and the men and boys on the streets to find solutions that end violence.  By showing our collective experience and wisdom, this Coalition will help us succeed through prevention instead of just prosecution, and intervention rather than just incarceration.

          Why does it matter?     

          Because, every 15 days, we lose 435 members of our communities to violence.  This is the size of Congress – these are lives that could be future leaders, doctors, researchers, entrepreneurs, lawyers, or teachers.   The loss is incalculable.  The leading cause of death for African American men and boys aged 16 – 24 is homicide.  It is an epidemic.

          Estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that, in addition to preventing human suffering, cutting violence in half would save our country over $35 billion each year in medical and productivity costs alone.  Those resources could go to improving our schools, supporting families, and building the prosperity of our communities.

          Whether it is your children, your nieces or nephews, your students, your employees or kids who live on your block – we may not all be at fault, but we are all responsible, we each have our role to play.  Through our collective work, we can inspire our city and the nation and prove that out of tragedy can come triumph.

          To succeed in making communities safer, we have to work together.  Elected officials, community groups, black men and boys, faith organizations, business and labor groups, educators,  police, health, and human service agencies, prosecutors and the courts.  Each is a part of the solution, and must have a collaborative role in crafting that solution.

          It is time we took a hard look in the mirror and recognize our own personal responsibility to strengthen our families, to improve our communities and change the culture of violence.  We need everyone on board – every parent and grandparent, every pastor and every coach, every friend, every neighbor.  This violence will not stop until we all get involved.

          We do have it in our power to fix this.  There is nothing broken here that cannot be fixed.  No problem here that cannot be solved.  But the challenge of violence is both wide and deep and must be addressed broadly as an issue of public health with close connections to economics, education, poverty, law enforcement, race, and American culture. 

Here is the point.  A lot must change to stop the shooting, to stop the violence.  So it is time to marshal every resource – federal, state and local, private, faith based, and not –for -profit – to turn the tide.  This is difficult hard work.

          Thus, I am calling on our staff over the next several weeks to inventory all of the programs in our City, both public, private and non – profit so that we can see the big collective.  The City must lead in this effort.  We must first do a data assessment of all programs to determine those that are successful and those that are not; to determine those that are evidence - based and those that are not.  We must coordinate these programs and identify them in at least these following categories.  Public health, Education, School Reading programs, poverty (we know that by age three, a child born in poverty will hear 30 million less words that a child who is not born in poverty).  Employment programs, law enforcement efforts and faith- based community efforts all need to be identified.

 I am calling on our preachers to get out of the sanctuary and into the streets, to help us identify male role models who will take the time to teach character and self – worth to our young men and boys.

          At the same time I am directing our staff to inventory other programs that exist throughout other cities in the country so that they can be examined and considered by us.  Such programs as “Wrap around schools”, a program in Cincinnati where the schools house a variety of support services aimed at helping at risk kids – everything from healthcare to hunger; from truancy to counseling.  Our schools and teachers know who these “At Risk” kids are.  We can positively affect change if the children and their issues are identified and addressed at a very young age.

          We need to seek out other programs and promote our own O.K. Program where at-risk boys learn to respect each other and the police.  Programs need to be researched such as the Eagle Academy for young men of color in the Bronx, where since 2004 over 1,000 current and former students are taught the value of an education, self – worth, and how to become successful men.

          We should investigate programs such as New Orleans “Cease - Fire District” where the neighborhood, churches, community groups and law enforcement worked together to reduce the number of homicides occurring in a particular area of town.  New Orleans went 156 days without a homicide in the “cease – fire” district because the community, all segments of it, came together with a common resolve to end the violence.

          I am also asking Bruce Moore, our City Manager, to identify employees in each of our municipal departments to work as a team to build shared ownership and understanding of the issue.  With this inspiration, I will be creating a city advisory group focusing on young men and boys of color.  And knowing of Director Ken Richardson’s passion on this issue, I am going to ask him to assist me in assembling a team of committed individuals from these various sectors.

          We have other partners as well.  Paralleling Our Cities United effort is the announcement of President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper Initiative” which focuses on the same issues.  This is a new Presidential initiative to help every boy and young man of color who is willing to do the work to get ahead.  The President has reached out to what are now 10 of America’s leading foundations to help fund new initiatives to help young men of color who are facing tough obstacles stay on track to reach their full potential.  These 10 foundations, including some that have worked with the City, such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation are committing an additional $200 million dollars to this effort, along with an already existing $150 million that is being spent.

          We will be working with these foundations and certainly doing everything possible to leverage our $5.5 million annually that we currently invest in this effort. We will develop a youth master plan that is evidence based and is a call for action.  Then we must implement.  We cannot delay. 

So, I urge you to take action on this matter too.  We must reverse the cycle.  It matters to all of us:  these young people are the future of our City.

  As Dr. Martin Luther King wrote, we are “tied together in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly, affects all directly.” And finally, this being St. Patrick’s Day –

“May good luck be with you

Where ever you go,

And your blessings out number

The shamrocks that grow.”

         

Thank you for coming today and May God Bless you and our fair city.

 

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