Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird today called on the community to take the path of transformational change in responding to the adversities presented by the pandemic. She outlined goals to spur economic recovery, to mitigate the impacts of climate change, and to promote a culture of equity, inclusion and belonging. The Mayor's remarks were part of her State of the City Address delivered virtually at an online event organized by Leadership Lincoln.
"The real revelation of 2020 is how strong, capable, resilient, and innovative we are in the face of an enormous, collective challenge," Mayor Gaylor Baird said. "Every day is another opportunity to choose to act with greater purpose and for the greater good."
Gaylor Baird said the City must address deep economic challenges "in a way that allows us to build a more prosperous, inclusive, and resilient future." Her plans include the following:
To slow the pace of climate change, increase our city's resilience, and protect residents' quality of life, Mayor Gaylor Baird announced a community-wide goal to reduce Lincoln's net greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by the year 2050. The goal is included in the Draft Climate Action Plan, which will be released for public review and input later this month.
"Much work lies ahead to determine how the recommended strategies that support this goal will be prioritized and adopted to build resilience in Lincoln, but I'm confident the people of Lincoln - who are demonstrating their own personal resilience at every turn during this pandemic - are up to the challenge," she said.
Gaylor Baird acknowledged the Lincolnites of all races and ages who continue to call for racial justice and equity. She said the City is applying an equity lens to City policies and programs, including implementing diversity and inclusion training for employees; revising police use-of-force policies; strengthening accountability mechanisms like the Citizen Police Advisory Board; prioritizing prosecutorial reform; and increasing the City's investment in mental health crisis response.
"Yet to create a true, enduring culture of equity, inclusion, and belonging in Lincoln, we must combine policy work with community efforts and with our own personal journeys of awareness and transformation," Gaylor Baird said. "We are fortunate to live in a city where so many are reaching across divides to realize the vision of a community where people of every race, religion, culture, class, age, and identity feel understood and enjoy a true sense of belonging."
The Mayor cited the Together, One Lincoln project launched by Council Member Sändra Washington in July and last week's community keynote address on "creating a city of belonging" as efforts to "bridge the gaps in our understanding of one another, and support us in our individual journeys to become the best version of ourselves." Mayor Gaylor Baird said, "We create transformed, inclusive new realities by becoming transformed, inclusive people."
Gaylor Baird recognized Police Investigator Mario Herrera who died last month from injuries sustained in the line of duty. She also acknowledged all those who have responded to the pandemic with positive action - including first responders, health care providers, educators, businesses, and City employees. The Mayor praised City Councilmembers for their strong partnership throughout the year, citing their work in passing a balanced budget; supporting bonding for streets while restoring funds to support libraries and parks; implementing deferred tax payments for restaurants; and passing an ordinance against hate intimidation.
"Commitment to serve others and something greater than one's self is a hallmark of the path of transformational change," Mayor Gaylor Baird said.
The event also included remarks by Maria Salinas Sherffius, chair of the Leadership Lincoln Board of Directors. This year, the organization celebrates its 36th year of providing community leadership training. About 140 people are enrolled in Leadership Lincoln's four programs -Executives, Fellows, Advocates, and Youth Leadership Lincoln.
The State of the City Address will be re-aired at 6:30 p.m. this evening on LNKTV, the City government access channel. It is available on Allo channel 2, Spectrum channel 1300, and Kinetic channel 1005. It is also available on demand at YouTube.com/LNKTVcity.
Thank you, Leadership Lincoln, for hosting the State of the City and for all you do to cultivate servant leaders in our community.
A year ago, I stood on a small stage at Embassy Suites and delivered my inaugural State of the City address, live, to 700 people.
It feels like a lifetime has passed since then. A year ago, I could not have imagined that today, in the midst of a pandemic, I would present my second State of the City address virtually. Only one other time in my life have I experienced anything as jarring as this: I was 8 months pregnant and an earthquake struck. The concrete beneath my shoes suddenly quivered like liquid. As I struggled to keep my footing, I kept my eyes trained on the telephone poles around me, with their electric wires, hoping they would not fall. It lasted only a few seconds, but in that moment I awakened to a new reality that both the earth I had trusted as a solid foundation and the life in my belly that represented hope for the future were in truth, fragile in ways I had never imagined. Today, I feel that awakening again -- and much more profoundly.
Unlike that momentary earthquake, today we aren't dealing with a fleeting shock. We're dealing with an enduring impact on our daily lives. Many of us are wondering, when can we go back to the way things were? We are weary of the precautions predicated by a virus, exhausted by physical distancing and economic uncertainty. As much as we long simply to hit the reset button, we must acknowledge that even once we come through this, our systems and our way of life will bear scars, but will emerge stronger and more prepared for the future.
Here lies opportunity and responsibility: we possess the power to shape the shifts that are occurring now at physical, economic, and social levels. We can choose how we respond to adversity. And this past year has presented every single one of us with adversity in some form. Some of you may have heard the parable of a young woman who complained to her mother of difficulties she was having. Her mother responded by filling three pots with water and placing carrots in the first, eggs in the second, and ground coffee beans in the third. She then brought the pots to boil. After a while, the mother asked the daughter to examine the contents of the pots. The daughter observed that the carrots, originally firm and strong, had become mush; the eggs, once fragile and full of liquid, had become hard; and the ground coffee beans, which had been raw and inedible, had transformed the water into rich and fragrant coffee. The mother pointed out that each of the objects faced the same adversity - boiling water - and reacted to it differently. The mother then asked her daughter, "When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean?"
Our story, as individuals and as the Lincoln community, can be one of transformational change. When adversity knocks on our door, we can choose to harden like the egg, or soften like the carrot. Or, we can choose to transform ourselves and our surroundings, like the coffee bean - and in the process become better versions of ourselves, and become a more strong and resilient community.
Many Lincolnites are choosing the path of the coffee bean: the path of transformational change. When the pandemic began, health care professionals quickly developed drive-through COVID-19 testing in parking lots. Many residents, organizations, and businesses transformed their daily lives and operations to address the shortage of personal protective equipment by sewing masks, 3-D printing face shields, and manufacturing hand sanitizer for others. Families organized physically distant driveway parties, one Lincoln cul-de-sac even earned recognition from Readers Digest as one of the nicest places in Nebraska. A duo of UNL students developed Brim, a mobile app for takeout, to support local businesses and make food service safer. Educators, most of whom had never taught remote online classes before, answered the call to do so. And, as I'll describe in more detail later, City of Lincoln employees rose to the new challenges we faced in determined, creative ways that both boggle the mind and lift the spirit.
Our public servants are not only responding to present adversity like the coffee bean, they are doing so while maintaining the steady, consistent work key to the ongoing vitality and basic functioning of our city. Just look at Lincoln's City Council Members, James Michael Bowers, Roy Christensen, Richard Meginnis, Jane Raybould, Bennie Shobe, Tammy Ward, and Sandra Washington, who have been strong partners throughout this year. Our Council members came together to listen to the public and adopt a balanced budget during the most trying of fiscal circumstances. They supported bonding for road improvements which helped restore funds for libraries, parks, and more; implemented deferred tax payments for restaurants; and passed an ordinance against hate intimidation.
I wish everyone could see what I've seen our city employees do this past year: their heroic efforts to keep our city running despite being stretched thin by the same extraordinary challenges we all face in these unprecedented times--lack of child care, elder care, self-care. The pandemic gave us a tale of two cities. Most tried to stay safe -- and keep others safe -- by staying home as much as possible. Time passed painfully slowly for adults separated from their elderly parents, for children unable to be in school or play with friends. People had days to fill indoors. They discovered sourdough starters, tiktok challenges, and new shows to binge watch. Jigsaw puzzles sold out.
Meanwhile, first responders, city employees and front-line service workers were racing time, not filling it. Utilities, infrastructure, vital health and social services are not optional. These employees went to work, despite knowing next to nothing about the novel coronavirus, an invisible enemy, but armed with a sense of responsibility, and the understanding that their roles were essential to the functioning of our city.
Viruses don't take weekends off, and neither does the dedicated team at the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department. Our Health team has led a coordinated, cross-sectoral response to keep people safe and prevent our hospitals from becoming overburdened. A team from the Lincoln Transportation & Utilities Department kept the water flowing from our Platte River wellfields to our homes here in Lincoln by taking weeklong shifts at the Ashland plant, sleeping in trailers parked on site. Others at LTU kept the orange cones coming and our Lincoln on the Move streets initiative on track. Our first responders...firefighters, paramedics, police...the people who answer when we call for help, they have an inherently dangerous job on any given day. And here I want to take a moment to acknowledge and honor our fallen hero, Investigator Mario Herrera, who after sustaining injuries in the line of duty last month, sacrificed his life while protecting others. Because of COVID-19, first responders not only put their lives at risk, but also put their health at risk with every call for service.
Commitment to serve others and something greater than one's self is a hallmark of the path of transformational change. If there's anything this pandemic has taught us, it's that we're all inescapably connected. As poet John Donne wrote in 1624 after falling gravely ill during an epidemic of spotted fever, "No Man is an Island." He's right - we are a community of humankind.
In recognition of our shared humanity, we at the City have worked tirelessly to address the real human impacts of COVID-19. We go beyond the cold calculus of available hospital beds and ventilators to protect the most vulnerable among us, and we address disparities in COVID-19's impact on people and businesses. Here are just a few of the ways we've done that:
As the pandemic progressed, we recognized that one of the most transformative responses to a crisis that calls for physical distancing and isolation is to recommit ourselves to finding creative ways to stay healthy and connected. For many, our parks and libraries have become a new kind of necessity, and people have enjoyed and appreciated them like never before.
As we look to the year ahead, our hard work isn't done, and we will redouble our efforts to adapt and transform in order to meet the needs of the moment.
First, we must address the deep economic challenges confronting us in a way that allows us to build a more prosperous, inclusive, and resilient future. Affordable housing is central to people's well-being and ability to thrive, so we have created an Affordable Housing Action Plan, and we are setting a goal to provide 5,000 new or rehabilitated affordable housing units by 2030. To kickstart that effort, we already have incentivized redevelopment projects that, as we speak, are creating 144 affordable housing units, and are providing more options for families with the use of housing vouchers. We are also committed to doing our part to implement the recommendations of the Economic Recovery Task Force that I convened in May. Those recommendations provide a framework by which all of us - residents, employers, and public and private sector leaders - can participate in Lincoln's economic recovery. The recommendations include cultivating opportunities for direct business-to-business support; investing more in local businesses, micro-businesses, women-owned and minority-owned businesses; upskilling and reskilling Lincoln's workforce to ensure more people have good-paying jobs and the security and opportunity that good jobs provide; supporting businesses in creating a safe work environment for customers and employees; and providing targeted financial support to our businesses. We invite you all to work with us to execute these strategies and reinvigorate our local economy, starting with this: take the 1% pledge to spend 1% more locally.
Second, while it hasn't arrived as a distinct event like the pandemic, our planet's accelerated rate of climate change also poses a global threat and one of the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced. Here in Nebraska, we know that flooding, drought, extreme heat and related impacts on our agricultural sector are some of the most important climate risks we face in the coming decades. Recognizing that these climate impacts will affect all of us - everyone who calls Lincoln home -- one of my top priorities after taking office last year was to commission a study to evaluate our local climate vulnerabilities and develop recommended strategies to build resilience. In addition, we assembled a Climate Resilience Task Force, the City's Sustainability Working Group, the Mayor's Environmental Task Force, and a diverse cross-section of residents to inform the development of recommended strategies to increase our community's resilience. As a result of this year-long effort, we will soon release a Draft Climate Action Plan for Lincoln and ask for your review and feedback. As you know, the achievement of any great undertaking begins with a vision. I am pleased to announce today that the Plan contains an ambitious goal: in collaboration with our publicly owned Lincoln Electric System, we have committed to a goal of an eighty percent net reduction in Lincoln's greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050. Much work lies ahead to determine how the recommended strategies that support this goal will be prioritized and adopted to build resilience in Lincoln, but I'm confident the people of Lincoln - who are demonstrating their own personal resilience at every turn during this pandemic - are up to this task. We look forward to finalizing the draft Plan in partnership with the public, as together we solidify our commitment to building a better future for our children to inherit.
Third, we are in the midst of a national reckoning with deep-seated, systemic inequities, racism, and cultural and social division in American society. This year, we've seen Lincolnites of all races and ages come together to call for racial justice and equity. Locally, we are responding by applying an equity lens to city policies and programs. We are implementing diversity and inclusion training for city employees. We revised police use-of-force policy. We are strengthening accountability mechanisms like the Citizen Police Advisory Board. We have prioritized prosecutorial reform. And, we invested even more in mental health and other resources that support the important work our dedicated law enforcement officers do to keep everyone in Lincoln safe, including their exceptional community policing and violence prevention work. These policy responses are vital, and they are ongoing.
Yet to create a true, enduring culture of equity, inclusion, and belonging in Lincoln, we must combine policy work with community efforts and with our own personal journeys of awareness and transformation. We are fortunate to live in a city where so many are reaching across divides to realize the vision of a community where people of every race, religion, culture, class, age, and identity feel understood and enjoy a true sense of belonging. On the path toward the vision of a City that is welcoming for all, my administration was a willing partner on the Together, One Lincoln project launched by Council Member Sandra Washington in July. Together, One Lincoln is a partnership of community members and organizations that are committed to strengthening Lincoln by creating dialogue and driving action that combats racial inequity by talking and listening deeply with one another. Last week's community keynote address on the topic of creating a city of belonging was one more way to move Lincoln toward greater equity, inclusion, and belonging. Both of these efforts aim to bridge the gaps in our understanding of one another, and support us in our individual journeys to become the best version of ourselves. When we commit to entering into a relationship with and listening to the stories of those with different experiences, cultures, or views, we transform. We become enriched as individuals; our community becomes stronger and more resilient by drawing on people's unique strengths and capacities; and the world as it could be becomes not so far out of reach. Everyone has a place in this work. We create transformed, inclusive new realities by becoming transformed, inclusive people.
Let's start by taking intentional steps across the fault lines, by choosing to be steady in our commitment to the path forward even as the ground beneath us shifts. The real revelation of 2020 is not that the ground beneath us has always been shifting (it has--just less perceptibly), nor that we were previously living with a false sense of security and stability. The real revelation of 2020 is how strong, capable, resilient, and innovative we are in the face of an enormous, collective challenge. People ask me how I can possibly like my job as mayor right now, and my response is this: At this moment, I have never felt greater purpose. And what this pandemic brings to the fore is how true this is for all of us. Every day is another opportunity to choose to act with greater purpose and for the greater good. And when we choose to take action in response to the challenges of the moment, we prove to ourselves and to each other that we can live purposeful and meaningful lives, even when confronted by a year filled with endless pots of boiling water. We choose the path of the coffee bean. And we take these intentional and powerful steps to transform the world not only for our generation, but for generations to come.