2021 STATE OF THE CITY
Mayor Dobies Speech Transcript
Hello Jackson, and welcome to the 2021 State of the City.
As your mayor, this marks my fourth state of the city address. And while the Masonic Temple, the MLK Center and the historic Michigan Theatre were great venues, we bring this one to you digitally, here, from my office on the 14th floor of city hall, as we continue to take any and all measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
This State of the City will surely be unlike any other. Because it is digital, we aim to keep it shorter, and to bring you more information on specific projects throughout the year. So I appreciate you tuning in throughout the year.
Look: one year ago today, on March 17th, I became the first mayor in our history to declare a local state of emergency. This pandemic, and the local, state and federal policies put in place to slow the spread of the disease and save lives has also changed how we live our lives, how we run our business, and how we even socially interact with one another.
And while we continue to practice social distancing and our government helps to get more people vaccinated, like many of you I look forward to a return to normalcy — a time when we can come together…even while this pandemic has taught us how we can be alone together.
One thing this pandemic has reassured in me is that this city — it’s people — we have an incredible amount of true grit. We can weather any storm. We can shoulder an international pandemic in stride. We adapt. Evolve. Persist.
Looking back on this past year, I see that in our community’s collaborative, cooperative response to the pandemic.
Throughout 2020, City staff worked alongside other community organizations in the Jackson COVID-19 Action Network (JCAN) to make sure residents had accurate information, resources, food, and basic need items.
The Boos Recreation Center was put into use as a distribution center for much-needed supplies. And by end of the year, more than 1 million pounds of food had been distributed to the community with the help of the City.
We’ve halted water shutoffs and put more than $945,000 into direct support to our residents to respond to COVID in the form of programs like utility bill assistance, foreclosure prevention and rental assistance all to keep people in their homes.
We’ve waived fees across departments and changed our poverty exemption guidelines to ease the financial hardship faced by residents and businesses alike.
Our Fire Department assembled a special COVID-19 unit with the Summit Fire to respond directly to COVID-related emergencies. — and we’ve now used some of our old fire stations to administer the early doses of the vaccines to first responders.
Working with Consumers Energy and community partners we’ve launched the Our Town meal distribution program — giving away some 36,000 boxes meals — both helping families with food insecurity and keeping restaurants afloat — a program now receiving statewide recognition.
And, we’ve recently opened the MLK Center to expedite vaccines to some of our most vulnerable neighborhoods.
That’s just some of our specific work as a city to combat covid. But just look at what we have been able to accomplish as a community in the last year:
We opened our new DPW Operations Center on water street and managed over $5.7 million in street and trail projects to improve our infrastructure.
We opened the MLK Center after a $1.9 million dollar, once-in-a-generation renovation, built a new trail and court at Loomis Park and began substantial renovations at the Boos Center. We now have new trails underway along the MLK Equality Trail and new connector trails within Ella Sharp Park.
We created Workers Memorial Park to honor our union members and other frontline workers who continue to combat covid, and even secured funding to create our city’s first dog park.
We made efforts to improve public health by by banning tobacco use in our parks
Last summer, after the murder of George Floyd and the racial strife that ensued, your city stood on the side of change:
We worked with organizers to become the first city in the state to have a Black Lives Matter mural painted on a city street, and helped to fund another lasting mural behind the county courthouse.
We hired a Chief Equity Officer, a Department of Diversity Equity and Inclusion, we created a Racial Equity Commission all to advance our work in racial and social justice.
The Jackson Police Department increased transparency with the community and bolstered efforts in use of force training for officers.
As the focus of in-service training, the department reviewed and amended its use of force policy changes, along with studying defensive tactics, deescalation, and role-playing scenarios.
We’ve furthered our resolve to combat discrimination by passing a Fair Chance Housing Ordinance to ensure housing stability for returning citizens and those with prior arrests or convictions.
Spearheaded by myself and Vice Mayor Robinson, the City Council also created the MLK Corridor Improvement Authority in hopes of bolstering efforts to revitalize and encourage redevelopment of the commercial corridors along S. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Prospect St.
We had sizeable commercial investments in Jackson during the pandemic too:
In 2020 we saw permits pulled for more than $21.8 million dollars of new construction work.
We’ve seen more than a dozen new investments come to completion — like the Francis Street Lofts and The 200 downtown’s new market rate housing building, businesses like Lume, Christoff’s, and yes — Freddie Dancy, Popeye’s.
And we’ve seen others in progress, the new Comerica location downtown, Ogma Brewery, the Albert Kahn apartments.
Think about this: even during an international pandemic, our city welcomed eleven more new businesses: Sister Sister, Apricot Lane, Doll n’ Burgers, FarmSudz, Metropolitan, and so many more.
Thanks to the hard work of Chief Hitt and the Jackson Police Department, my last three years as mayor we have seen a 13% reduction in overall crime. Those three years have witnessed the lowest crime rates in more than thirty years. Just in 2020, we saw a 14% decrease in calls for service, and a -4% reduction in overall crime.
All of this work was made possible by the hard working city administration and staff that you have working for you, right here at City Hall.
In the midst of the pandemic our talented staff conducted one of the most unparalleled elections in our city’s history — a 10% increase in registered voters, and a 450% increase in absentee voters.
That’s people showing up to engage in the decision making process. It’s encouraging. And in that spirit of engaging in and with our future we’ve also appointed and convened our first Youth Council.
And, despite continuing to navigate the biggest public health crisis in over a century, we won’t slow down. This year I look forward to working with City Council to:
- Relax policies to encourage urban farming, urban apiaries and chickens
- Codify a neighborhood association ordinance to strengthen neighborhoods
- Address our lead service line replacement to ensure safe drinking water
- Continue to fix our streets and collaborate on the Elm Street and West Ave interchange redevelopment projects.
- We will further combat poverty and promote equity through a responsible contractor policy and a living wage ordinance
- Deal with financial and housing instability through a trauma informed approach to homelessness, and explore facilities that allow us to join together in that collective work
Without rolling through the rest of my ambitious agenda, suffice it to say: as your mayor, I am excited to help lead our city in this work and so much more.
We can do all of this, with your support.
We take this work seriously. We take your public health — and the health of this community, this city, seriously.
And with your strength and resolve, we will get through this pandemic together.
We are Jacksonians. We have true grit.
We will continue to rebuild our city, to make ourselves economically competitive, and show the rest of Michigan that Jackson truly is a great place to live, to work and to play.
It is the honor of a lifetime to be your mayor. To my colleagues on City Council, our city staff, and the citizens that make Jackson so great: thank you, god bless and stay safe.
And let’s get back to work.
Delivered March 17, 2021