City of Lincoln
Mayor Chris Beutler
State of the City Address
August 30, 2007
Thank you for being here today to discuss the State of the City and its future.
A new day is dawning in Lincoln. Our City is awakening with the hope that surrounds a new morning and the opportunities it brings. There is a new attitude at City Hall. Bold new ideas are emerging. Old divisions are being bridged. The City’s growth and development are being invigorated. Leadership is being asserted.
I am pleased to report that the State of the City is strong and growing stronger. Our finances are fundamentally sound. Our neighborhoods are vibrant. Our economy is gaining momentum. Optimism is around every corner. But I still start every day asking, “How can we be even better?”
We have worked hard to develop a new attitude at City Hall and to reassure people across this community that we have a new way of doing business.
I have reached out to my colleagues on the City Council and encouraged them to be part of the solution. And they have reached back. We are working together as a team, and it is clear they share a great love of this City and a great faith in its possibilities. With those things in common, we have no need to dwell on our differences. We can work together. We have worked together. We will work together in the future. And Lincoln will be better off for it. I am thankful for our partnership, and I want to personally thank my Mayoral opponent, Ken Svoboda. Ken has put the past behind and worked for the greater good. I salute him.
City Hall’s culture is changing. We are asking the hard questions. We are insisting on accountability. We are demanding more. And City employees are responding wonderfully. We should not forget that we have exactly the same number of non-public safety employees in 1990 as we do today, 17 years later, despite a City that has grown nearly 40 percent over the same time period. City employees have been making tremendous strides in productivity, and they have a Mayor who is listening to their ideas and creating an environment for success. Several of our City employee leaders are here today.
Kathleen Burda is here representing the PAGE employees. Although they are not here, I want say thank you to Les Helms of the ATU, Gary Meier of LCEA, and Joe Wright of the M Class for all their cooperation. Thank you all.
Just over 100 days ago, I took the oath of office and made certain promises. As your Mayor, I am making good on each and every one of those promises. And we have already accomplished much.
I promised that we would conquer our budget problems, and we are meeting the challenge. We faced a nine million dollar deficit in the budget when I took office. City staff was instructed to re-organize using the hiring freeze and early retirement program introduced by City Council Chair Dan Marvin. Dan’s leadership on this issue was a key starting point. Together, our public and private sector cooperative effort found ways to do more with less. We eliminated nearly 70 jobs from City government and balanced the budget – with no property tax increase – just as promised to this community during the Mayoral campaign.
The new attitude at City Hall was evident in the relationship between the Council and the Mayor’s office during the budget sessions. Robin Eschliman worked closely with our office on a number of issues, including the Aging Department’s Lifetime Health services. Doug Emery’s common sense leadership and integrity were important to a successful budget process. I enjoyed working with them both.
I promised that we would improve our management systems and we are making progress. My Council colleagues and this administration have worked closely together and we are implementing a plan for an independent audit board to conduct performance audits. Performance audits initiated by our council offer a meaningful look at what City departments do and how they do it. The audits will result in a City government that operates with greater efficiency and provides better service. No one will trust us with the future if we cannot manage well the present. Jon Camp has been the leader on this issue for many years, and I appreciate very much his willingness to work together to make this happen.
I promised to speed the business development process to encourage economic growth and new jobs. In the past, City red tape has too often impeded development and held back growth. We have taken the first steps to create a centralized development permitting process for business. We are surveying the development community to identify the barriers and focus our efforts. The people who use the system every day know best what needs to change. We look forward to continuing to work with the Chamber, LIBA, the Realtors and the Home Builders to make Lincoln the most business friendly City in the State.
We should also take a minute to recognize and thank these groups. They have been very supportive and I appreciate the good working relationship we have developed. So Wendy Birdsall of the Chamber, John Hoppe of LIBA, Pat Ohmberger of the Realtors Association and Fred Hoppe of the Homebuilders – thank you. Please stand and let us recognize you.
I promised to hire a top-quality Fire Chief, and it is done. Chief Niles Ford and his wife Carrie are with us today. Join me in welcoming Niles and Carrie to Lincoln. I asked this community to unite behind Chief Ford and support his efforts to make our Fire Department the best in the nation.
Our Firefighters have always done the job well – Lincoln is a safe community because of their unyielding commitment. Now we have leadership worthy of the men and women who serve. We must now set aside the divisions of the past – we cannot resurrect old feuds with so many new challenges ahead on the horizon. It’s time to lay aside those old disagreements and work together. Let us recognize Dave Engler of the Lincoln Firefighters. Thanks Dave for all you and your colleagues are doing.
I promised to take up the battle against meth crimes, and we have. Our outstanding Police force has made Lincoln one of the safest cities in the nation. But, we cannot rest on our laurels. Crimes such as prostitution and methamphetamine abuse plague several of our neighborhoods. We pledged to attack the meth problem by replacing federal and state funds lost to our local drug task force. We have done that, and found the means to add a financial investigator to the task force, putting even more pressure on those drug dealers who profit from the misery of others. And thanks to the hard work of our Council members, particularly Jonathan Cook, we were able to make sure that our Police force is up to full strength, ensuring the safety of our officers and the public. I also want to salute Jeff Hillebrand of the Police Union. He has been a pleasure to work with. Thanks Jeff.
I promised to keep the neighborhoods strong. Safe and strong neighborhoods need more than law enforcement. We must adopt polices that promote and protect home ownership so people will put down roots. We need strong neighborhood schools and quality parks to attract families and maintain stability. Most important of all, we have to preserve and re-establish the neighborhood fabric of life, where neighbors look out for one another. Pat Anderson Sufentes is a neighborhood person doing just that in the Everett area. She works for the Neighbor Service Exchange program where residents can trade on the skills and assets that help each other and build stronger neighborhoods. She is organizing neighborhood watches so residents can keep an eye out each other and establish positive relationships. Since Pat came on the scene, service calls to the Police from the Everett neighborhood have fallen by 25 percent. Pat, thank you. We are lucky you are part of Lincoln’s team.
I promised to make education a City cornerstone and initiate an even stronger partnership between the City and Lincoln Public Schools. Thanks to the cooperation of our School Board and superintendent Susan Gourley, we found a way to preserve our School Resource Officers, protecting our kids and making a difference in our neighborhoods. Councilman John Spatz and I worked together with the public schools to create a community use gym for the soon-to-be-built Arnold Elementary School, seizing the opportunity to save tax dollars and provide better service. I want to thank Susan and John for all their cooperation and good work.
I promised to create a Mayor’s Opportunities for a Vibrant Economy or MOVE Council and it is done. The Council is comprised of members who represent the various interests across our City. Already, we have developed a new, more useful policy on our most important economic development tool. The MOVE Council’s work on the City’s tax increment financing policy will help our City grow and expand while ensuring accountability to the taxpayer.
I promised to find new ways to build the roads we need to attract new investment and create new jobs. We are pursuing two tracks to solve our roads funding deficit gap. First, we are reviewing how we can build roads more cost effectively. At the suggestion of Chairman Marvin, I asked a group comprised of industry and City officials to review road standards to help get more bang for our roads dollars. Second, we are examining modern financing tools and State law to determine how we dedicate more money to road building. We must aggressively pursue the road building options to help our community grow.
In the past, our visions of the future seemed fuzzy and unattainable for most people, because the challenges of the present obscured our vision of what we could become. As a result, Lincoln has been defined by its limitations, rather than its tremendous strengths. The voices of obstruction have been louder than the voices of cooperation. We have been forced to accept too little, and not demanded enough. It made a hopeful vision of the future difficult to see and nearly impossible to reach.
Those days are over. A new optimism is growing in the heart of Lincoln. People are starting to embrace a new, powerful vision of what we can become. They are beginning to understand that now can be our time.
I envision a Lincoln with a national reputation for great people, a great economy and a great quality of life; a Lincoln where every neighborhood is safe and crime-free; where every kid can fulfill their educational dreams; where every young entrepreneur can open up shop and set down roots in our community. I envision a Lincoln where new roads speed passengers to good jobs; where good jobs lead to more money in the pockets of Lincoln families and Lincoln businesses; where young people stay after college because they can’t wait to seize the opportunities that line every street; where those families and businesses continue to invest in Lincoln, because the return on investment in both financial terms and in terms of quality of life is unparalleled.
I envision a Lincoln known across the land as the place to enjoy an active life; where beautiful parks and trails build our bodies and our spirits; where we see first-rate entertainment in a thriving downtown and in a new arena; where a new sports triangle provides new opportunities for kids to live their dreams on the fields, on the courts, and on the ice; where libraries and a fine university and great colleges feed our hunger for knowledge, and the arts quench our thirst for beauty and perspective.
In short, I envision a world class city that backs down from no challenge; where we tell every potential new business and every potential new family, “We are Lincoln, Nebraska, and we are on the move.”
I ask you to join me. A community’s vision is bigger than a Mayor or a City Council or any small set of community leaders. It is the vision of us all and must include us all. We can only achieve what we all set out to do with community consensus. Everyone must be at the table. We need our senior citizens and our youth, businesses and neighborhoods, south and north. It takes all our resources, all our commitment to make this community truly world class.
With your help, I will lead this community to a higher and better place. I look forward to meeting the challenge with you. Thank you.