Mayor Chris Beutler
State of the City Address
October 2, 2008
Thank you for being here today to discuss the State of the City: where we’ve been, where we are and where I hope the future will take us.
When I took office nearly 17 months ago, we faced many challenges. Confidence in City government was low. Job creation efforts were yielding small returns. We had an enormous budget gap. Citizens complained of City processes being too slow and otherwise inhibiting. Deep rifts among the City’s political interests created roadblocks to progress.
Today, I am pleased to report that City Hall is on the right road. There is a new spirit of optimism, growth and cooperation. We continue to make progress every day. We have made many hard, but important, choices that have planted us on solid ground for the future.
Our commitment to fiscal responsibility is nearly unparalleled in the history of the City. Over the past two budget years, we’ve prioritized, re-organized and found new ways of doing more with less. We have cut over115 jobs from City government. The $9 million gap we inherited upon taking office is nearly gone. With continued prudent management, we can enter the next budget cycle with an eye toward the future instead of an eye to the past.
City Hall’s revival isn’t just about the budget. We have changed how we do business and restored confidence in how the City conducts itself.
The PRIORITY LINCOLN public engagement process opened up City Hall and allowed us to hear what the public thinks. You have helped us create performance standards based on your priorities. We intend to continue PRIORITY LINCOLN so you can continue to help us evaluate City Hall’s performance and give us feedback on how we can improve.
We have restored accountability. We implemented new tools to help us monitor our success and ensure your tax dollars are well spent. Every department now has or will soon have a clearly defined set of outcomes for which they will be held accountable. Combined with our new City Audit Board, these changes will help us measure and demand the results people expect from City Hall.
We have set the standard for ethical and transparent government by banning City directors and mayoral aides from having contracts with the City. The City Council has also made progress in this area.
With help from the citizen members of my MOVE Council, our economic development council, we reformed our tax increment financing policies to better focus our economic incentives on job creation and blight removal. TIF should be used wisely, sparingly and toward improvements that benefit the entire community.
We are making it easier to build new streets. I convened a task force comprised of community members and City staff to review our road building standards. We are now ready to implement their recommendations, allowing us to build more streets at less cost without compromising public safety. We must continue our focus on roads and infrastructure to encourage new jobs and new opportunities. We are now poised with the State Legislature and with the federal government to get more financial assistance for roads and greater authority to help ourselves.
These are just a few examples of management changes that make government more responsive, more efficient and more ethical.
No Mayor does it alone, and the Lincoln City Council’s partnership with my administration has been central to our City’s acceleration. Ken Svoboda and John Spatz went the extra mile during the budget process, working diligently with my office to find a budget compromise. Robin Eschliman has been a leader on business policy and City government support of economic development. Jonathan Cook continues to be a champion for our neighborhoods and our quality of life. Jon Camp challenges ideas at every turn to ensure that City policy is thoughtfully conceived. Doug Emery’s work on housing code violations showed his passion and spirit for protecting our core neighborhoods from blight. Dan Marvin’s creativity and unique ability to find consensus has definitely made a stronger City government.
I am proud to report that our energized approach to economic development and job creation is paying off. Perot Systems will add 150 jobs in the coming year and maintain 1,000 jobs already here. We’re seeing expansion at Lincoln Industries, Talent Plus, ITI, Bosch Telex, TMCO, Kawasaki, Lincoln Composites and other local firms, notwithstanding problems with the national economy. We continue to encourage plans for job creation and business expansion across the City.
We are tearing down the barriers and cutting the red tape at City Hall by creating the new Development Services Center. The DSC will speed the development process and enhance job creation. Space has already been set aside for the DSC and the funding source identified. By January 2010, businesses and entrepreneurs will spend less time on their projects because they’ll spend less time navigating the bureaucracy.
The business community has responded to our efforts. Investors are lining up, for example, to be part of the new Innovation Park, which will transform the University of Nebraska research efforts, creating new businesses and good jobs for our City.
The Antelope Valley project is well past the halfway mark, and we are now beginning to see the economic dividends. The new Assurity headquarters represents a $55 million investment in the area. The planned research and development corridor will be a huge economic engine for our City. The new Union Plaza in the east downtown will be a donor and taxpayer legacy for the next generation – a legacy like Pioneers Park that a previous generation left for us.
That kind of generosity and public spirit can be seen across the community. Our neighborhoods are energized like never before. Our Stronger Safer Neighborhoods program is helping focus our resources to resolve issues such as crime, unsafe homes and graffiti. We are bringing landlords and neighbors together to find innovative solutions. Over 350 people attended the first meeting to find out how they could help. Over 80 landlords met at Police Headquarters determined to improve their properties and their neighborhoods. Business leaders have donated time and materials for clean up and improvement projects. Organizers have hit the streets, going door-to-door to help us build a sense of community. We are making neighborhoods stronger, and we are making them safer.
Lincoln continues to be one of the safest cities in the nation. In the first six months of the year, crime has dropped compared to the same period last year. Despite our City’s limited resources, our police officers continue to find creative and cost efficient ways to protect Lincoln’s families. Our emergency response system is strong and getting stronger. Three new 911 operators allow us to more quickly send help where it is needed. Our firefighters and paramedics are maintaining a high level of service and efficiency. Under new Chief Niles Ford, the Ambulance Service Fund finished in the black for the first time.
We are now engaged in a community discussion about the future of the West Haymarket, including the building of a new arena. Pershing Center, built over half a century ago, was a tremendous gift from a previous generation, but it has outlived its time. Every year, we are threatened with the loss of high school sports championships, concerts and shows because Pershing cannot support more sophisticated, modern events. The proposed civic arena would be a catalyst for entertainment and sporting events that could be worth millions of dollars a year to Lincoln’s economy. It’s hard to believe now, that the building of Pershing Auditorium was controversial 50 years ago, but it was. Our children and grandchildren are depending on us to show the same foresight and generational responsibility as those who built Pershing long ago.
While signs of Lincoln’s progress abound, we must always remember that our future is more than just concrete and steel. It is more than policy and politics. The soul of our City isn’t in our skyline and it isn’t at City Hall. It’s in the hearts and minds of all of us who call Lincoln home.
Lincoln is a great City because of our values: our commitment to one another, our sense of community and our strong work ethic. Unity is our strength, cooperation is our calling card. It is our commitment to family and children, our belief in the importance of the civic interactions that take place at our places of worship, our public schools and other public and private places, that is a hallmark of a great city.
We express these community values in the choices we make for our future. During the first months of my administration, we have been rightly focused on the present. The issues of trust in City Hall, putting the City budget in order and restoring faith in City institutions had to be solved before we could look forward.
Now is the time to begin to address the future: what choices will we make to strengthen those community values for the next generation?
A good starting point is to reaffirm our commitments to each other, to the common good. We are one community. We will hopefully reject the old budget process that pitted elements of the community against one another and embrace positive choices that recognize the common good and move the entire community ahead together.
We can, we should, and we will prioritize. But we will not use prioritization as the rationale to starve parts of City government that are essential to the common good. We must recognize that a well-rounded community that provides a diverse menu of opportunities contributes to a safe and financially sound City.
We must reaffirm our commitment to families. Good paying jobs are critical to the ability of families to put down roots and become part of the community. Economic development is key.
But so are the quality of life amenities that attract families to our community: good schools and parks for their children, trails for recreation, local venues for entertainment and a vibrant downtown.
We must reaffirm our commitment to economic opportunity for all members of our community. It means finding resources for the City services and the non-profits services that help support self-sufficiency. These efforts provide the critical foundations that people need to succeed in raising themselves out of poverty.
We must reaffirm our commitment to face-to-face civic interaction. Public amenities bring people together. They create the ties that bind and make us a unique community. They form the historical and signature cornerstones of what makes Lincoln a great place to live. That is why they must be part of our community’s future.
During the budget process, I have heard some say the only community value City Hall should express is frugality, that cutting City services is the only future they will support. My vision for Lincoln is bolder – I believe the future is a strong and vibrant community investing in good jobs, economic development and safe neighborhoods, with a sense of purpose, a sense of proportion and a sensitivity to unity.
Certainly, careful fiscal management is crucial. But investment is also necessary to create the future. And the windows of opportunity may be open only for a short time. Right now, we have seen a tremendous commitment from the private sector on a number of projects that will move Lincoln forward. Citizen groups are raising money and volunteering their time, because they understand the importance of these projects to our quality of life. Philanthropy has touched Lincoln in many ways lately, most recently with the donation of money that will build the Breslow Ice Facility and Union Bank’s leadership on Union Plaza. With private sector and citizen leadership, these opportunities for growth will be realized in the next couple of years.
We have to act. Lincoln’s time to move forward is now. We have plans. We have accountability. We have bold, new ideas. We have civic leaders who are stepping up to the plate. We have leadership in City Hall ready to marshal these great public and private forces. And above all, we have a great and giving people who treasure their community.
To close today, I’d like to tell you about a national organization called the Foundation for a Better Life. Its mission is to communicate the core values that make a difference in our communities and personal lives, such as honesty, caring, optimism, hard work, integrity and hope.
You’ve probably seen some of their values messages on billboards. Some are humorous. A message on “living your dreams” features Kermit the Frog with this caption: “Eats flies. Dates a pig. Hollywood star.”
Others are a bit more thought provoking. A message on “unity” features a picture of a child in a crowd waving the American flag and these four words - “what makes us great.”
Some inspire us with amazing stories of real people, like a man who climbed Mount Everest – a great feat for anyone, especially this man, who is blind. The value this billboard promotes is vision. But the Foundation doesn’t stop at merely communicating these values. It sends the message that the values we live by are worth more when we pass them on.
And so I ask, “What values will we pass on to the next generation?” Will we dare to hope and “live our dreams” or fall short or our potential? Will we act in “unity” or in self-interest? Will we pursue a “vision” or miss seeing what could be?
These choices will determine the future state of our City. We are becoming the progressive, dynamic City we have envisioned. We should not doubt ourselves. There is no doubt in my mind that we can and must preserve our small town values as we evolve into a vibrant urban center. We can be and will be an example to the nation that no value need be left behind. I hope you will join me in passing on the values that will set Lincoln on a positive course for generations to come.
I have the great honor and good fortune to be Mayor of Lincoln. I am proud to report today that the state of our great City is strong and growing stronger every day.