Visualize with me if you will for a moment. You are sitting in the bleachers at a track meet. You are about to watch the most exciting event – the 4 x 100. The runners are in place. The starter’s gun is in the air. He pulls the trigger, and they’re off!
This illustration is used to point out that being mayor isn’t like being in a sprint or being in a marathon. It’s a relay race.
In the case of Mobile, I’m the 108th mayor to take the baton. Mobile’s place in the race with other cities has been determined by the cumulative actions of every previous mayor, their councils, their city workers, and the desires of their citizens at that time. Additionally, the codes and the laws governing how the city operates have played a crucial role in not only where the city is in comparison to other cities, but also, where it is going.
Every problem we face today is a consequence of decisions, or the failure to make decisions, in our past. We must balance the expediencies of the here and now with our obligations to provide a Better Mobile for our children. Today, we’re focused on what we need to do to be successful as a city. So, we must preserve our heritage, protect our resources, and invest in our future.
Chairman Chambers, Members of the Chamber of Commerce, County Commissioner, Members of the City Council and honored guests, I am grateful to be here today. I want to acknowledge and express my gratitude to our City Councilors, who have shown the leadership necessary to improve our government and revitalize our city.
I ask President Gina Gregory, VP Fred Richardson, Levon Manzie, C J Small, John Williams, Joel Daves and Bess Rich to rise. These City Councilors work tirelessly on behalf of their constituents and the city. Please join with me in thanking them with a hearty round of applause.
My hope is that this City Council will be known as the one who united and did more for Mobile than all of our previous City Councils combined.
I’ve had the baton in my hand for six months now. During this time we have been learning how to build consensus with the City Council; getting to know the capabilities of our city employees; defining the city’s shortcomings and exposures; assessing the effectiveness of city boards and appointees; and reaching a better understanding of the codes and laws governing how we execute city business.
At the same time we have been attending community meetings to hear your suggestions and concerns, meeting with executives about expanding existing businesses as well as recruiting new businesses to locate in Mobile.
As you might suspect, we’ve found some bright spots, but we’ve also found significant opportunities for improvement.
We find our city constrained by age-old, ineffective policies and work procedures. If it wasn’t so, we wouldn’t see rivers of trash floating in Dog River, we wouldn’t see burned-out homes and blight destroying neighborhood property values, we wouldn’t see construction projects delayed by red tape, and we wouldn’t see as much violent crime.
In essence, we find our city with an underutilized String of Pearls downtown… and neighborhoods with open ditches and crumbling infrastructure. However, we also find a citizenry so, so ready to be engaged in moving our city from Good to Great. One can almost taste the excitement.
But based on what we’re finding, we must accept some realities, be willing to embrace change, and become One Mobile if we’re going to achieve Mobile’s potential.
In case you missed it, the first step has been taken. It was taken when the bold vision was cast to be the safest, most business and family friendly city in America by 2020. For those who challenge us to think big: Honestly, I don’t know how to think any bigger than that.
This vision guides city leadership in every decision we make and every action we take. It is the reason we toil long hours to serve our citizens.
This vision, fully realized, means a better quality of life for everyone in the city, and to our children and grandchildren who want to return to Mobile.
Of course, we may not all agree with every step we make on our journey…But we can all agree on our destination: A truly great city, united and proud, with safe neighborhoods, beautiful parks, great jobs and a thriving arts community.
That’s the vision.
Now, some might ask: “How are we going to achieve this greatness?” The answer lies in our ability to do three things:
1. Growing the city by creating a sustainable, robust and prosperous city
2. Improving the efficiency of city government by doing more with less, and
3. Winning support for change by engaging our citizens
The first thing every great city does is to build upon its competitive advantages. For Mobile, these include: affordability, manufacturing know-how that is second-to-none, multifaceted transportation corridors, access to higher education, as well as our environmental diversity, rich history and beauty.
Another competitive advantage is that we’re the region’s cultural center because of our opera, symphony, theater, museums and gardens. And maybe the least known competitive advantage, but possibly one of the most important going forward is our fiber optic network within the city.
In fact, Mobile’s expansive, strong fiber infrastructure could easily support companies like Apple, Google, or Twitter relocating here.
But presently, there is no comprehensive, up-to-date, city-wide plan to exploit these competitive advantages or to direct our city’s future growth and development.
Our city-wide plan must be part of a larger, robust regional plan because as we go forward, we’ll be depending on collaboration with municipalities in Mobile, Baldwin and Washington counties.
In next year’s budget, we will look for funding for not only the creation of a plan, but also for a transparent metric system that will keep it on track. Keeping the plan on track after implementation is so very important because Mobile already has too many past planning efforts sitting on the shelf.
Growing Mobile smartly is vitally important, because in doing so we’ll increase our revenue stream. Increasing our revenue stream will create opportunities to spend money in areas that have been neglected over several decades. The end result will lead to infrastructure improvements that are essential to an improved quality of life for all citizens.
The second point to every great city is – Improving the efficiency of city government by learning to do more with less. Municipalities learn to do more with less simply because they have to. Within Mobile’s budget, unless we get our operational spending under control and properly allocate capital spending, we’ll never do more with less. Therefore going forward, we’ll closely scrutinize all expenditures to make sure they’re in alignment with our vision.
It’s also very important to collect all revenue that is due to the city, which is something that is NOT being done today. Additionally, we will continue exploring public-private partnerships, and put a very high priority on technological improvements across city government. All of these will improve our ability to do more with less, thereby increasing the success and vitality of the city.
The third point is that mayors of great cities have to win support for change. To do so, many mayors, like myself, have crafted a vision statement to drive their city’s endeavors. The vision statement’s real value lies in the changes the citizens see coming to their lives. Said another way, for the citizens to embrace the vision, they have to see something in it positive for themselves.
In this regard, I would ask: What citizen doesn’t benefit from a safer city? One with more job opportunities and one with improved opportunities for their family?
That’s why we must change the culture in city government to be vision-focused. We’re working to build a team of high performing civil servants and to create a working environment where all employees are accountable for their actions – city employees who seize every opportunity to do things better. By doing these things, we will be winning support for change.
Now, let’s go back to that relay race that I asked you to envision. We all know that the race goes not only to the swift, but to those who best execute the passing of the baton. The relay runners we referred to earlier were running to win a gold medal. Let’s make it clear, we’re not running for a gold medal.
We are running for safer streets, better jobs, more competitive schools, superior parks, a cleaner city, a more vibrant downtown, and neighborhoods where you know and care for your neighbors. We’re in this race to improve the quality of life in every aspect for every single citizen in Mobile.
The key to winning any race is to never quit running – that’s how the tortoise beat the hare. There are no shortcuts to the finish line. Each of us has the choice right now either to accept the status quo or start moving toward a better city.
Yes, the baton is in my hand. Coach Don Kelly, my high school track coach and a community leader today, would tell you this isn’t the first time I’ve held one. He would also tell you that while holding it, I’m going to give you everything within my power to improve Mobile – to achieve our vision.
But this race isn’t about me and my ability. It’s about us collectively holding the baton. We all know that it will take all of us to win this race. That’s why the movement to unite our city is so important.
Together, as One Mobile, there’s nothing we can’t achieve. When the baton is passed to Mobile’s next mayor, let’s have given it our all to make sure that when history is written, this will be one of Mobile’s brightest chapters.
But lest we get cocky or arrogant, boasting about what tomorrow brings, let us be reminded of the humbling scripture in the book of James, where he specifically says, “When planning for tomorrow, you should say ‘If the Lord wills and we live, we shall do this or that.’”
It is with that advice in mind, I say, “If the Lord wills and we live, and we unite, we will become the safest, most business and family friendly city in America by 2020.”
My remarks today are a call to action for us to join together and invest whole heartedly in Mobile. Your take-home today from the city is NOT a party favor but a challenge – a challenge for each of you to voluntarily grab the baton with me, so we can move Mobile from good to great.
Don’t hold back and wait to be told what to do. You know your passion and strengths. Use them! Through your volunteerism and prayers, we will transform Mobile by growing our businesses, by helping to improve education, by cleaning up our neighborhoods, by rooting-out crime, and the list goes on.
There’s never been a greater opportunity than right now. We’re fighting to remove the label of being the city of perpetual potential. Time is of the essence. This is OUR city. Let’s fulfill our destiny!