Mayor Tom: Man, What An Amazing Year! And It's Gonna Get Awesomer.

Categories: News
Another Tom Leppert photo, another caption-writing contest -- winner gets a Walker, Texas Ranger Season 5 boxed set!

Mayor Tom Leppert opened today’s council meeting, the last one before the council takes off the month of July, with his first “State of the City Address.” Ironically, the morning open-microphone session, which Leppert wants to shit-can, followed his speech. As I pointed out yesterday, sometimes these speakers spark interesting council debate, and this morning was a prime example.

Sure, two of the five speakers, Marvin Crenshaw and Richie Sheridan, were the so-called “regulars” that bog down the council. But the other three had legitimate concerns, with one talking about conserving water by collecting rain water and the other two (Unfair Park readers, clearly) pleading for higher pay for sanitation workers.

Several council members weighed in, including council members Angela Hunt, Dwaine Caraway, Tennell Atkins and Mitchell Rasansky. And Rasansky’s comments were hard-hitting. He says while he supported past budgets without increasing pay for sanitation workers, he’ll be proposing an amendment to the budget to add $4 to $5 million in funds to increase their pay. He called the situation a “crying shame” and urged City Manager Mary Suhm to get ready to add it in, pointing out that he had several council votes in hand.

Far less interesting was Leppert’s speech, which is after the jump in its unedited entirety. As a bonus, we’ve included Leppert’s “partial list” of accomplishments, highlighted by “Mayor Leppert and all but one council member unite to defeat the referendum to kill the tollway element of the Trinity River Project at the ballot box.” --Sam Merten

STATE OF THE CITY ADDRESS

Good morning. Today marks the anniversary of the inauguration of this Council.

At a time when most messages in our country are focused on what divides us, on where our leaders are deficient in making life better for Americans, or on the deteriorating state of the national economy … I am pleased to communicate a very different picture of our city …

It’s a picture of a City that is coming together …

A picture of a City that is making progress on the real issues that will improve the quality of life for our families …

A picture of a City that is eager to work with other cities and counties in this region to ensure our collective success.

A picture of a City with employees that are dedicated to serving the people of Dallas.

And it’s a picture of a stable economy that is outperforming the nation.

Over the past year, I have spent day after day talking with people from all parts of Dallas, and I can tell you that now more than ever, our “can-do” spirit is shining through … and I can tell you our City is full of hope and promise that tomorrow will be even better than today.

I can also tell you that it’s not just the citizens who are inspired by what is happening at City Hall … it’s also your City Council.

After a year of working side-by-side, I can tell you that the men and women seated up here with me are a true team of leaders who -- when it comes to putting the actions with the words -- have worked diligently and successfully to bring our city together in a thoughtful and caring way … and day after day we are succeeding.

So today I will talk to you about what our team -- your city council officials and city staff, led expertly by our City Manager, Mary Suhm -- has accomplished, as well as the significant challenges that remain.

And while this has been a productive year in terms of making decisions and changes that will show a tangible impact on our City, I believe that our greatest accomplishments -- the successes that are going to make the most lasting impact -- can’t be measured in numbers, percentage or even dollars …

Our true success is measured in the goodwill that is flowing from one side of the Trinity to the other …

And our success can be measured in the renewed trust citizens have placed in our City

Two days ago, I was turning the lights on the Katy Trail … a new, great landmark in our City … and an elderly couple came up to me. We talked about what was going on around the City but the most telling comment was what they said last, “You know, we just feel good about the City now”.

And I see that from north to south, from east to west … and even beyond our City borders. There is a sense of excitement and enthusiasm … an optimism … a genuine feeling that we can accomplish anything we set our sights on if we all work together.

Not long ago, we took down a night club near Fair Park… one that had clearly not contributed to the betterment of the community. When the bulldozers moved in, the faces in the crowd said it all … there were eyes alive with hope for tomorrow, and there were smiles that told the story of a community that had taken back its neighborhood, and given itself a new beginning.

That spirit of hope is not just there to make us all feel good … it is there for us to build a foundation upon for a stronger, better tomorrow.

And you can be sure that your City Council is setting a tone that not only attracts people and business to Dallas ... But more importantly, setting a tone that simply reflects the goodness of our City and its people.

And you can be sure that your City Council has taken the true meaning of progress to heart by understanding that if one part of our City is left behind, it is a failure for us all.

So, before we move into the details of the past year, I want to make sure you hear the message loud and clear:

We are working together … and we’re moving ahead!

* * * * * * * * * *

This time last year, we set some priorities as a City ...so I’d like to take a few minutes to update you on our progress and where we go from here …

First, public safety …

No matter where you go in this City, the number one issue facing our citizens is crime … That’s why over the past year we made some tough choices so we could strengthen our police and fire/rescue services.

Last year this City Council added positions for 200 police officers, and we will add another 200 this year … and another 200 the year after that … then 200 more the following year … and we will keep adding officers until we can provide every part of our city with the patrol force and flexibility in staffing they need to protect our families.

Our police have also moved to “beat policing” … a concept that provides consistency in patrol and a greater sense ownership and accountability for the officers and the neighborhood. So instead of chasing down call after call, our police are now chasing down problems and finding solutions. … and the solutions are already working to make our neighborhoods safer …

Here’s an example of how this new approach is already working

Rob Tucker owns the Junius Apartments off Gaston in East Dallas. He had a problem with drug dealers working in the apartment complex, and Mr. Tucker was at his wits end trying to get rid of them … until two officers were assigned to work that beat. Mr. Tucker said instead of simply filing a drug report and sending it off to narcotics, they took a hands-on approach and helped get the drug dealers out of the complex. Then they held crime watch meetings to help residents understand the role they could play in reducing crime. And Mr. Tucker says, thanks to these two officers, he has reclaimed his property from the drug dealers. His complex and the families living there all feel safer.

We’re not just cleaning up crime … we’re cleaning up where crime lives.

We have closed motels and houses that were havens to drugs and in the process opened the door for new development, opportunity and the ability to feel safe.

And we’ve equipped our police and attorneys with the weapons they need to combat the vacant and dilapidated buildings that have become the neighborhood outposts for gangs, drugs and violence.

And we also regard code compliance as a close partner to our efforts on public safety.

We’ve taken a new approach with code compliance, starting with new leadership and a new structure. Rather than housing compliance at City Hall, we are putting our people into neighborhoods across the City …building accountability and resulting in a much better perspective on the real problems our citizens are dealing with daily.

We have also worked with metal recyclers to combat metal theft, eliminated the policy of verified response and initiated the use of cameras and enhanced enforcement to dramatically curb crime in the Jubilee Park neighborhood.

And our efforts are getting results.

Since January 1st, violent crime is down 11%....compared to the same period last year.

And our overall crime numbers have continued to fall.

But with success, we see more clearly the challenges ahead.

So this summer, Chief Kunkle and I will ask the Council to support a series of crime fighting initiatives targeting crime at convenience stores and multi-family complexes.

And, along with the District Attorney’s office, we will soon launch a new offender re-entry program, so that those men and women who have paid their debt to society, receive the best chance to turn their lives around, an honest job, and a fair chance to rebuild their lives.

At Dallas Fire and Rescue, we are opening stations, adding ambulances and providing new, state of the art equipment for the men and women who place their lives on the line each day to protect us. Recently, several of my colleagues and I had the chance to “see” a part of their life by training with them. It was an experience none of us will ever forget and it reaffirmed our admiration and appreciation for what they do each day.

For our public safety officers – police, fire and rescue – on behalf of our City, thank you for the tough job you do every day. And for our citizens, I want you to know that we will continue to fight for the good guys, and we will not rest until crime is a distant memory.

Our next priority … economic development …

Today, like cities across this nation, we are faced with significant budget challenges … but we are more fortunate than most.

As we look to the future, it is incumbent on this Council to build a strong tax base … one that is weighted to the commercial sector rather than placing the burden on our homeowners. Too many areas of our nation have taken this for granted and now there they face limited prospects and are unable to meet the needs of their citizens.

But to be successful, we need to balance investment … focusing, especially, on the southern and western part of our City where for too long we have seen neglect … these are parts of our city that still lack not only good paying jobs and homes… but even the luxuries we take for granted like grocery stores, retail shops and even quality family entertainment.

But the seeds of growth and opportunity are finally beginning to grow … Two bottled water companies have invested nearly $200 million, providing hundreds of jobs.

The first two buildings at our Inland Port - have gone up. And later today the Council will consider incentives for another group to build seven new buildings which could result in 18-hundred jobs.

The Inland Port received a major boost in February when the US Government designated part of the Inland Port as a free trade zone making it an important import and export hub.

Recently, this Council met at Dallas Executive Airport and we announced a major effort … targeting tens of millions of dollars … to reinvigorate the Lancaster corridor.

And Fair Park and the surrounding areas are critical to our City’s success. That area goes to the heart of our City. We are working with the community on a new master plan for the area and investing millions in the Park itself.

The challenges in the southern sector are significant. But so is the commitment to see real progress and expansion.

Another area where we are succeeding is in the heart of our city, Downtown Dallas. The turnaround is slowly but surely leading to one of the city’s great success stories. And you only need to look at the changes in the city’s skyline to see the difference.

Look at the excitement at Victory, and experience celebrations on New Years Eve and for Mardi Gras that show the area is fast becoming Times Square of Dallas. And soon a new Science and Nature Museum.

Then see the cranes leading to the finest Arts District in the world, and a new economic engine and tourist destination for Dallas.

And across the street, where there once was an entire block of vacant buildings, the Mercantile Tower has been renovated, residents are moving in, and the iconic clock tower from the 1940’s has been restored to its glory days.

Soon, there will be a lot more green downtown. Later this year, you will see the work begin on the deck park over the Woodall Rogers Freeway, as well as the new Main Street Gardens across the street from Old City Hall.

Speaking of Old City Hall, later today, the Council will vote on a package to renovate and restore that architectural piece of Dallas history, which we anticipate will be home to the University of North Texas Law School.

And after decades of debate, Dallas is finally moving forward with a Convention Center Hotel.

The convention industry is a vital piece of the Dallas economy. But more and more conventions have not been choosing Dallas. And survey after survey of these customers showed the major factor is the lack of an attached, convention center hotel. But we’re about to change that and in a way that does not require the use of taxpayer funds.

We are using a model other cities have found successful … using tax exempt financing which is an advantage cities can offer. We are choosing this method because it offers the best deal for taxpayers.

And once it is built we fully expect it to be like Denver, where the city-owned hotel has been a boost to convention business, and instead of harming other hotels, their business has risen as well. In fact, since we decided to move forward, our bookings have increased by 200,000 in just the past few weeks. And in Houston, its publicly owned convention center hotel has done so well, the city is selling that hotel, and using the proceeds to build a second hotel. Can you remember when Houston couldn’t even compete with us in the convention business?

But we get more than just a hotel. We are creating a new economic engine in the downtown core that brings retail and restaurants nearby.

Now with any project like this, there are some naysayers. In fact, they are saying much the same thing as was said 10 years ago. There was a brownfield site with old industrial structures. I can remember looking out at it from my office in downtown.

The city went forward with the project, though. It had a tax base of $16 million. And now, that tax base will be in the in billions. We all know it as the American Airlines Center and Victory. What would Dallas be today without this “risk”?

You see it not so much the risk or having “faith” in a convention center hotel … rather, it is the faith in our City … that we can prosper and grow and achieve our dreams. That’s what it is all about.

And in downtown, you are also seeing the humanity of this City. The Homeless Assistance Center, called the Bridge has opened. And its impact is being felt. Fewer of the homeless are panhandling and lingering on the streets. They are moving out of the doorways and shadows, and into the Bridge where they find temporary shelter, food, and the medical, psychological and job assistance to help them get back on the path to a normal life. It focuses on long term solutions.

While we are working hard and investing serious money to create economic vibrancy downtown, the owners of vacant buildings … like the Grand … are letting their buildings sit empty, sealed up. We’ve counted 35.

So we are taking action. We are getting warrants to go inside to make sure they are complying with code. And we are asking the Dallas County Appraisal District to review the appraisals for these properties to make sure the values accurately reflect market value. The value of the Grand building is the paltry sum of $1000. And we will consider other action as well to encourage these owners -- many who live out of town -- to either develop the property, or sell it to someone who will.

But our economic reach goes far beyond our city limits. For Dallas to succeed economically, we need to compete internationally. That’s why we invested in two trade missions that will pay dividends for years to come.

During our trip to Mexico we strengthened our business and cultural ties with our close neighbors to the South, and the president of Mexico, Felipe Calderon returned the favor when he lead a major business delegation to Dallas where they met with local Hispanic leaders as well as the region’s top CEOs.

And our delegation to China established new formal relationships with several major cities, laid the groundwork for a direct flight to China, and announced that ZTE, a major Chinese telecom firm, was establishing its US headquarters in Dallas.

To be a major player on the world economic stage, our words must be followed by our actions. We cannot sit back and hope the world will find us. We must take the initiative and the Dallas story out to the world. That is the only way that Dallas will have a seat the global economic table.

We are also seeking to build our housing stock … making housing affordable and attractive.

We have nearly $27 million in loans and commitments which leverages $250 million in catalyst projects.

But more importantly, we are working with partners from the profit and non-profit sector, groups like the Central Dallas Ministries and Habitat for Humanity. Working with these and other groups, we recently turned dirt at projects in South and West Dallas to provide a variety of housing units.

Overtime, we have the goal of creating a capital base through a housing trust fund from the City’s next bond program to further address our housing needs.

Next, the Trinity River Project is a unique opportunity

Last year, Dallas voters sent us a message -- move forward with the Park and the Tollway. This is a complicated project with many moving parts and many governmental agencies involved.

So it is our task to work more closely with our partners to reduce redundancy, to cut red tape, to accelerate this project as aggressively as we can.

And we are now seeing the “fruits of our labor”.

This fall, you will see the opening of the Trinity River Audubon Center near Joppa (JOPP-ee) in Southern Dallas. And you will be amazed at this stunning building.

This summer, work begins on Trails that will allow visitors to see the natural beauty of the river.

And construction has begun on the Moore Park Gateway in Oak Cliff. This will expand the park, and a covered pavilion and eventually connect Oak Cliff with the Trinity River.

Later this year you’ll see work start on the standing wave, which will create a whitewater course for kayaking.

And this summer, you can expect to see the approach spans under construction for the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, and later this year the prefabricated steel for the bridge will arrive from Italy.

And you will soon be able to watch all of this from a fast track observation deck at Commerce and Beckley that will open in October of this year.

The Trinity Corridor Project will transform this City. There are great challenges … there always are in a project of this magnitude and this potential impact.

Next, we turn to education …

Perhaps more than any single issue, education will impact the strength of this City in the decades ahead.

That’s why we have launched a series of Education Initiatives … programs ranging from early reading to scholarships to internships to improving the physical appearance of our schools.

These in and of themselves will not turn around education in Dallas, but we are hoping it supports the changes underway at Dallas ISD. We need to see real improvements in our public education … only in that way can we assure ourselves the vibrancy of this City.

And, finally we turn to the environment ….

More and more, we are faced with the challenges of protecting our environment. A decade ago, no one in this room, much less throughout the country would have thought of Dallas as being at the forefront of environmental progress.

Today, we are. Forty percent of the energy we are buying this year is from renewable sources. We have one of the largest alternative fuel fleets in the nation. We are one of only two cities that have adopted comprehensive green building standards. And just two weeks ago, the EPA Administrator was in town to present an award for standing alone in Environmental Management.

We are taking these steps because they are right … they improve the air and water for our citizens. But, we also know it is makes sense for our City economically.

* * * * * * * * * * *

So yes, we have had many great successes in the first year for this City Council, and there are many challenges ahead. But I have great optimism that we can get there.

I am encouraged because I see a city in the midst of redefining itself …

I see leaders who are doing less talking and more listening to our citizens …

I see a city government that is becoming more responsive and less reactive …

I see neighbors searching for similarities instead of dwelling on differences …

And I see a future being shaped by our possibilities, not our problems …

Our aspirations are clear: We want Dallas to be known as the finest City in America.

Working together as a community, I am confident that is a goal well within our reach.

Thank you.

LIST OF ACCOMPLISHMENTS

Mayor & City Council:

Dallas City Council establishes new tone. Most meetings are on time, and Councilmembers treat visitors, staff and each other with respect.

Council established new electronic campaign finance reporting system providing more transparency for the public.

Council establishes new ethics rules providing clarity, consistency and transparency on acceptance of gifts, tickets, meals and travel.

Council is more nimble. For example: When 12 year old was found dancing in a club, the Council acted within about three weeks to close loopholes and protect minors.

Public Safety:

DPD: In its first budget, the City Council approved 200 new police officer positions, is set to add 200 more in the next budget.

DPD: Moved to a beat management policing system.

DPD: Since January 1st, violent crime is down.11%....compared to the same period last year.

DPD: And Murder is down 23% for the same period.

DPD: And for the 5th year in a row, our overall crime numbers have continued to fall.

DPD: Eliminated the controversial verified response policy.

DPD: Taken down troubled hotels and closed up homes with chronic drug and crime problems.

DPD: Added three new helicopters to DPD’s arsenal.

DPD: A police leadership institute established at UNT Dallas.

DPD: Strengthened metal recycling laws to stop metal theft, and pressed other cities to adopt equally strong measures.

DPD: Adopted a financial incentive program to encourage Dallas Police officers to live in the City of Dallas.

DPD: The use of cameras and enhanced enforcement has dramatically curbed crime in the Jubilee Park neighborhood of South Dallas.

DPD: Working with Dallas ISD, Dallas police have dramatically curbed the supply of Cheese Heroin killing the children in our schools.

DFR: Added an ambulance unit to improve response time.

DFR: Will have added three satellite Haz/Mat stations by the end of 2008.

DFR: Received 45 Thermal Imagers that will allow us to equip every engine, truck, and Battalion Chief vehicles.

DFR: Dallas Fire-Rescue Department partnered with Leadership Dallas to install 1,035 smoke detectors and provided fire safety information to the residents of the Hamilton Park neighborhood in April 2, 2008. This was the largest number of smoke detectors that were installed in one day.

CODE: Reorganized Code Compliance moving more officers out of City Hall and into the neighborhood.

CODE: Council is set to add more Code and Animal Control officers.

Economic Development:

State of economy is vibrant.

Major growth continues in many areas of the city.

Real estate prices relatively stable when compared to the rest of the country.

Downtown: Mercantile Tower renovation complete. Residents begin moving in. Clock tower is restored and relit.

Downtown: Council is set to vote today to restore Old City Hall.

Downtown: Legislature is on track to create UNT Law School in spring, which will call Old City Hall home.

Downtown: Comerica Bank relocates from Detroit to downtown Dallas. For the first time in 20 years, a major financial institution is again based in downtown Dallas.

Downtown: City purchases land for a Convention Center Hotel, selects a developer and begins negotiations. After Council decision, convention booking jump.

Downtown: Development continues at Victory. Tens of thousands turn out on New Years Eve and for Mardi Gras. AT&T Plaza is fast becoming the Times Square of Dallas.

Downtown: Third Place Lofts opens. First new residential construction in downtown in decades.

Downtown: The old Fidelity Mutual building is renovated and reopens as Mosaic, a residential loft complex.

Downtown: The historic core bustles with people on weekend nights. High end restaurants now share the streets with patio bars and night clubs.

Downtown: Work on the Winspear Opera House and the Wyly Theatre is on budget and on schedule and set to open in two years.

Downtown: Chase Bank, Jason’s Deli and CVS Pharmacy are the first major retailers/bank in decades to set up shop in the Historic Core.

Downtown: Accelerated planning on Woodall Rogers Deck Park and Main Street Garden. Construction set to begin by year’s end.

Downtown: City moves to tackle the problems of vacant buildings downtown.

Downtown: The Homeless Assistance Center, called the Bridge opens downtown. Fewer of the homeless are seen panhandling and lingering on the streets

Southern Sector: Niagara Bottling agrees to open $90 Million water bottle manufacturing and distribution plant will employ up to 200 people.

Southern Sector: Nestle Waters North America agrees to open a $82 Million facility that will employ 400.

Home Depot sets up distribution facility.

Southern Sector: The Allen Group has completed the first two buildings at the IIPOD, The International Inland Port Of Dallas -- creating 820,000 square feet of space.

Southern Sector: Council will today consider incentives for another group to build seven new buildings -- 4.3 million square feet of industrial space within the Dallas Portion of the IIPOD.

Southern Sector: US Government designated part of the IIPOD as a free trade zone boosting its importance as an import/export hub.

Southern Sector: Almost every week, trade and business delegations visit Dallas and the IIPOD.

Southern Sector: Planning begins on the second phase of Greenleaf, an affordable housing program in West Dallas.

Southern Sector: City development agreement with Ambassador Aviation at Dallas Executive Airport to support the construction of infrastructure and two new hangars that will replace smaller, 50-year-old hangars. The city also extended Ambassador’s lease in exchange for a commitment of an additional $1 million in capital improvements.

Global Trade: Mayor Leppert leads trade mission to Mexico to strengthen business and cultural ties.

Global Trade: Mexican President Felipe Calderon accepted Mayor Leppert’s invitation to visit Dallas. He meets with local Hispanic leaders as well as the region’s top CEOs.

Global Trade: Mayor Leppert leads trade mission to China. Established new formal relationships with several major cities, laid the groundwork for a direct flight to China, and announced that a major Chinese telecom firm was establishing its US headquarters in Dallas.

Green Issues: Environmentalists, builders and city officials together create comprehensive green building standards. Council approves unanimously.

Green Issues: The Environmental Protection Agency presents Dallas with an award for leadership in environmental management.

Green Issues: Dallas establishes Green Web Site, www.greendallas.net

TRINITY RIVER:

Mayor Leppert and all but one Councilmember unite to defeat the referendum to kill the Tollway element of the Trinity River Project at the ballot box.

City brings together project partners to tighten timelines, better coordinate planning and studies, and accelerate work on the Trinity.

Completion nears for the Trinity River Audubon Center in Southern Dallas. Set to open in fall.

Work set to begin on the Buckeye and Trinity Trails.

Construction begins on the Moore Park Gateway in Oak Cliff. This will expand the park, add a covered pavilion and eventually connect Oak Cliff with the Trinity River.

Work to begin in fall on the standing wave, which create a whitewater course for kayaking.

Work has begun on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge designed by Santiago Calatrava. This summer work begins on the approach spans and later this year the prefabricated steel for the bridge will arrive from Italy.

Council approves construction of a fast track observation deck at Commerce and Beckley. It will open in October of this year.

EDUCATION:

Dallas Voters approve Dallas ISD’s bond proposal.

Mayor’s Chesapeake Energy Scholarship Fund is launched with Education is Freedom and the Dallas Foundation. Starts with a $625,000 donation from Chesapeake Energy, which offers another $625,000 in a matching grant. Dallas Mayor launches fund drive for matching grant with a $200,000 pledge of his own salary.

In June, the match challenge is met. 13 scholarships totaling $95,000 awarded.

Mayor launches fund drive to raise $12 million to expand Education is Freedom to more schools.

Mayor and partner AT&T launch the Mayor’s Intern Fellows program. 40 different companies offer fellow positions for 87 students. Internships began last week.

Mayor launches Operation Front Door to improve the appearance at the fronts of schools. Atmos Energy leads the way with a major makeover at James Madison High School. Since then Deloitte transformed Thomas Jefferson High, and Valley Crest Landscaping redid the front of South Oak Cliff High.

More businesses are moving through the pipeline as well. If this continues, it could mark a renewed partnership between the Dallas ISD and the city’s business community, one the city hasn’t seen in years.

Dallas Council approves Ready to Read @ Dallas, a pre-literacy program run through the Dallas Library System. So far, the program has trained 100 volunteers, and already reached more than 42-hundred Dallas children. We are well on our way to reaching our goal of 10,000 students in one year.

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