Thursday, May 13, 2010

State of the City Address 2010

I Thank the Chamber of Commerce for this opportunity and especially its dynamic and effective Executive Director Jennifer Roosenburg.

I really like Jennifer Roosenburg for her professionalism, her hard work and pleasant demeanor, but most of all, I appreciate her allowing me to present this annual speech at 7 o clock in the evening instead of 7 o clock in the morning.

The State of the City of Ferndale is Strong, Solid, and on Track. We may have been mugged by the same fiscal storm that is affecting everyone, but we have weathered that storm. We have taken huge hits economically in the past year, and have seen the largest budget deficits in many generations with our city. But like a fighter who has taken some hard hits, we may have been stunned for a moment or two, but we are standing and are already back in the fight and and slugging away.

The City has been caught up this year in the same whirlwind that is affecting every city, county, and state in our nation. Beginning with the statewide recession that began several years ago with the decimation of our regions industrial base due to globalization, and continuing with the housing crisis that saw homes and property lose 30 to 40% of their values and with that the devastating mortgage meltdown that saw the incredibly sad sight of millions of Americans losing their homes to foreclosure, our city now sees its own income sinking and shrinking, just like so many of our residents and families.

With the exception of top executives in corporate America, investment bankers and walls street tycoons, most of us are seeing our own incomes and standards of living freeze or decline, something that has not occurred since the great Depression of the 1930’s. The decline of home values and property values, obscene unemployment, and Michigan’s own budget crisis, has caused the City to have to figure out how to make due with less.

This is not easy of course, it is painful and difficult and stressful. But through hard work and endless meetings with the City Council, department heads, and city staff, we have finally achieved a balanced budget that should allow us to maintain most of the high quality of services that our residents expect and deserve.

Like all cities in the region, there was great fear that cutting services and laying off workers, especially Firefighters and Police officers, would be detrimental to the city.

Last night we learned that royal Oak is planning huge cuts to its police and fire departments…As a matter of fact, it could be that Ferndale ends up with MORE police officers than Royal Oak, a city that is more than 3 times the size of Ferndale.

Of course no one wants layoffs, and indeed, as I have said many times, no one is more important to our safety and way of life than able and available public safety officers.

We fully expect that the final number of layoffs in Ferndale, particularly among police and fire, will be much smaller than newspaper headlines would have you believe. Much of the gnashing of teeth and rending of hair is posturing on the part of unions and employees wishing to preserve as much as their compensation and benefits as possible. They are just doing their job, and we on the city council are doing ours.

We have seen 18 voluntary separations or retirements, and some of those folks will not be replaced or will allow us to keep staff further down the line.

Of the total 17 FTE layoffs, a full 14 of those positions can be kept if the unions agree to concessions that include a 5 % across the board cut in pay, and adjustments to the costs and benefits associated with health care. If the unions agree to share the pain across all employees, there could be a total of only 3 persons laid off totally.

It is now up to the city’s unions, especially police and fire, to bargain with the city to reduce some expensive and lucrative benefits for the benefit of all in Ferndale - including those at risk for losing their jobs.

But we HAVE balanced the budget. We will have a strong police force and fire department. The grass will get cut and the snow will get plowed. We have kept our recreation department and the Kulick Community Center open. The streets will get swept and the water and sewer lines will be kept clean and clear and functioning.

This current City Council is working together well, and is one of the best I have seen in my eleven years on Council. We are communicating well, and to a great extent speaking with one voice, and I give a lot of credit to our newest Council member. Melanie Piana is a great new asset to the council, being smart, engaged, and hungry to learn and share her knowledge.

Last week Ferndale was named one of the top five cities in the nation for the great American main street award. This is big, This is very impressive. What the nation now knows is what everyone who lives and works here has known all along, that Ferndale has become one of the neatest and coolest cities around.

Over the past two decades, we have transformed an empty canyon of a downtown into one of the most pleasant and thriving small town downtowns in America. Thanks to hard work by the DDA and the business owners, we have seen ¾ of all of the buildings downtown renovated and reborn. We have seen in the past decade $35 million in new development. We are seeing dozens of new businesses open up each quarter. We have a 93% occupancy rate downtown. It was County Executive Brooks Patterson who said this past Monday…if something good is happening in Oakland County, it is happening in Ferndale.

We are now a city to be emulated. We are a model. We have shown the region a new way…and these are not just my words any longer. They are uttered by county leaders and even national political figures.

Over the past couple of years I have had the pleasure of meeting many other leaders in our region, including mayors and congressman and county officials, and one of the most impressive I have met is our County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper. Mrs. Cooper is a smart, effective, and very able leader who has a most impressive history of political and legal successes. She blazed new ground decades ago being among the first elected women judges and has an amazing history of being tough on crime while protecting the most vulnerable among us. We are lucky to have as our County’s top law enforcement a woman like Jessica Cooper.

Credit for our city goes to so many, people like Former Mayor Goedert who led the vision of rebuilding and narrowing 9 mile road and bringing back on-street parking. People like former Mayor Porter who had the vision to to rebuild our infrastructure and help lead the effort
for an independent Library, and people like our Library Board members who led the effort that will culminate in a gorgeous new $4 million library opening in just a few weeks. And the hundreds of volunteers who work with the downtown, or sit on all of the boards and commissions, and who put on the pride festival, the dream cruise, the pub crawl, and all of the other events that make this city so cool.

Credit goes to the seniors and hard working families who stuck it out in Ferndale when the times were darkest and to the hundreds of gay and lesbian homesteaders who saw the diamond in the rough and using gentrification turned that rough into a diamond.

And now we see the new young millenials, professionals, and artists following the Gay community in what is a common evolution played out in cities around the country - Young families with children making Ferndale their new home.

These are the next generations that will take Ferndale to the next level.

The good things just keep coming. The new Diablos is a fantastic new place to eat and hang out with friends. The bicycle shop downtown, even a new gardening store where you can get all of your indoor growing needs fulfilled…

By the way, you have heard places like Royal Oak or Livonia rushing to place moratoriums on any type of medical marijuana care facilities or growing operations claiming that the state laws are too vague or they wish to see zoning codes evolve.

With regard to medical marijuana, the City of Ferndale has no such interest in a moratorium or reactionary policies based on fear. The people of Ferndale have voted overwhelmingly three times to decriminalize the use of marijuana for medical uses, and we already have all of the standard codes and zoning rules in place as for any other legal product or business.

New stores, new families, new ideas keep coming. More people walking, more people riding bikes, more people helping their neighbors.

We aren’t done yet. Not everyone gets it. MDOT officials recently said that they will want to study Woodward Ave to see if the traffic speed is too slow. We still can find tiny pockets of racism and even homophobia in our town. It is usually uttered in hushed tones or dark corners, in euphemisms….but we have made too much progress ever to go back now.

I still have a couple of unfinished goals. I still want to reinstall a crosswalk at Withington and Woodward, in part selfishly as I don’t want to be run over by a speeding bus. And I do want to see the memorial for Vincent Chin set up across from the Post Bar on Woodward. This plaque was given in trust to the people of Ferndale as a tribute to our belief that bigotry and prejudice is evil and that all must be vigilant against such evil.

This may be my last State of the City, at least for the next few years, as I am on the ballot this August in the Democratic primary for Oakland County Commissioner for our district. I have absolutely loved being on the city council these past eleven years, and in particular have enjoyed being your mayor. I have taken a lot of flak for my decision to run for commissioner, many residents saying they wanted me to stay as their mayor. But it is necessary for my survival to always be challenged and reach for greater goals.

When I first ran for Council in 1995 I had many goals, including to help rejuvenate the downtown, to advocate for sound fiscal and green policies, to support and protect the gay and lesbian community, to instill the philosophy that diversity is a strength…not to be merely tolerated but encouraged and celebrated, and to make Ferndale a walkable, lively, and fun place to live. I think we together have succeeded in all of those goals.

We have a new budget, and a new Fire Department Chief. We have a new Library coming and soon perhaps a new Chief of Police. We have a new City Councilwoman and next year maybe a new Mayor. This is the way it is, and it is all good.

Last week I was out at one of our restaurants, and a young man came up and said he wanted to shake my hand and meet me. He said that he absolutely loved living in Ferndale…and knowing that I might be leaving next year, he said he didn’t want me to go…and I said I had followed several great mayors, and that more great mayors would follow me in the future…and he said…”But you were the fun one”. That makes it worthwhile.

Thank you for coming tonight, and now I will take questions.


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