It is my honor and privilege to come before you today to report on the State of the City and Parish after ten years, as your Mayor-President.
Just one hundred days into my first term in 2005, we released our “Framework for Progress”… the blueprint for our administration… focused on creating good jobs… a better quality of life… and most importantly, a
City-Parish government that serves everyone.
As many of you recall, my first State of the City address after being in office one year… came just 141 days after Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana. I spent half of my time telling you of the incredible efforts by our first responders and the people of East Baton Rouge Parish
to help those who evacuated to our city. But the second half of that address told you of the progress we had already made, despite two devastating hurricanes… we passed the Green Light Plan to help get local traffic moving. We began online permitting in DPW... leadership training with BRCC for our frontline supervisors… we implemented a technology network so our firefighters no longer had to fill out reports by hand and fax them back to headquarters… we created our Office of Neighborhoods… and the list goes on and on.
That year, I reported to you that we successfully hosted the American Bowling Congress and the Miss Teen USA competition… and friendships formed at those events helped me land the 2012 National Bowling Championship… the 2017 Women’s Championship… and the 2014 Miss USA Competition which put Baton Rouge on the international stage as a contender for hosting high profile events. And remember in that first year... I asked you to imagine with me... Baton Rouge as America’s Next Great City.
Hey we’re not finished but I think it’s pretty great. As Shakespeare said, “What’s past is prologue.” Our history influences and sets the context for the present and the path for our future.
So, when I think about all we have done in just ten years, I know this: Our best days are before us! I like to start by reporting on public safety because it has always been our number one priority. Our most recent graduating Police Academy Recruits are currently in the Field Officer Training Program and soon to join Uniform Patrol putting more officers on the streets. We conducted a manpower assessment of the entire department in 2014 to help us use our staff efficiently.
And I want to take a minute to congratulate our Police Department for their handling of the newly acquired areas of service resulting from recent annexations. We have added patrols to these areas and even taking the mounted patrol to the Mall of Louisiana and the results have been tremendous. We have an expanded police presence in downtown Baton Rouge with plans for a fully functional 24-hour precinct in the Downtown area later in 2015. We implemented a new initiative to track Chronic Domestic Abuse offenders with information immediately forwarded to the District Attorney... the Victim Assistance Program Officer and other law enforcement agencies. Domestic violence offenders are such a large part of our violent crime problem and this allows the criminal justice system to be fully aware of those who have been involved in previous encounters.
We saw a 22 percent drop in Violent Crime calls for service in Baton Rouge in 2014 and while the Uniform Crime Reporting statistics are not yet complete this reduction in calls reflects improvement. With help from our BRAVE Program, homicide rates in Baton Rouge have been trending downward. We are beginning to see some success with the juveniles who have expressed their wish to leave a life of violence.
We will submit a proposal to the Metro Council next week to put a measure on the May 2nd ballot asking voters to fund a new parish prison... a new juvenile detention center... and create a mental health center that would stop treating mental illness, as a crime and begin treating it as the disease that it is. This proposal would save taxpayers’ money... solve our unsafe conditions at the existing prison... and take pressure off our emergency rooms which have become a revolving door.
Every five years, our Baton Rouge Fire Department is graded for our national rating and in 2015, I am confident they will remain the longest Class 1 rated Fire Department in America!
Over at the Mayor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, our staff plays a vital role in public safety… We remain prepared by participating in exercises like one held recently at the River Bend Nuclear Station… and a full-scale exercise at the Baton Rouge Airport. We got out ahead of any possible Ebola outbreak by hosting 300 Responders for a tabletop exercise at the River Center. We hold a community day at the Mall of Louisiana to prepare for hurricane season and this year we will work with Together Baton Rouge to help educate and prepare citizens in the North Baton Rouge area.
All of this keeps our community “Red Stick Ready” for any emergency.
Based on our high standards in public safety and best practices, we were selected by FEMA to participate next week in an Emergency Management Course at the national training center in Maryland. This means our community will be trained in a week-long exercise designed to test our ability to respond to a coordinated attack on Baton Rouge. Our city was chosen because we emerged as a number one target because of our assets and also because we ranked first in our ability to prepare and respond. The scenario is designed to be specific to Baton Rouge so we can review our existing response plans and identify gaps.
It is an honor to be selected for this course with the entire cost for a 75-member delegation of stakeholders covered by the federal government. We look forward to learning best practices used throughout the world to maintain the highest possible standards for East Baton Rouge Parish.
On the jobs front... Baton Rouge area unemployment rates remain lower than the state. While our employment growth outperforms Louisiana and the nation. In 2014, Baton Rouge was ranked the second-best economic growth potential of any city in the U.S behind only Austin, Texas and we are projected to continue strong job growth through 2016.
It’s no secret our downtown is booming with IBM opening this year… Matherne’s, our first full-service downtown grocery in almost 50 years… construction beginning on The Water Campus construction underway on the new Courtyard by Marriott which puts us over 1,000 hotel rooms in walking distance of the River Center... the Holiday Inn Express opening this spring on North Boulevard, more residential projects, more small businesses and more reasons to enjoy downtown Baton Rouge.
Our public investment has spurred private investment… and we have won 20 local, national and international awards for our public projects.
We just kicked-off 2015 with our second Red Stick Revelry New Year’s Eve celebration which brought record sales to downtown restaurants and clubs… filled our hotels… and drew visitors to Baton Rouge from Central Louisiana and southern Mississippi. Our goal was to make Baton Rouge a New Year’s Eve destination… and we did it in just one year.
We rebranded our Baton Rouge Business and Career Solutions Center to “EMPLOY-BR” to increase employer and customer outreach and recruitment.
We’ve partnered with the Mayors’ Challenge to End Veterans’ Homelessness this year in 2015… and I don’t miss a chance to ask if you have the ability to help our Veterans get back on their feet… please join us.
Our Office of Community Development serves as the lead agency for HUD and continues to work with volunteer groups to make needed improvements to single family owner-occupied homes. Our weatherization program assisted 83 homes this year throughout Baton Rouge, Baker, Zachary and Central. With temperatures like what we are seeing this week, these programs make a difference in the lives of citizens, especially our elderly population.
Working with the Capital Region Builders Foundation, we provided funding for a new training program in the building trades that is already seeing results. It has also been accepted by Judges as an alternative to incarceration for at-risk youth.
Step by step... it’s making a difference!
We’ve trained 110 locals through our “Ready, Set, Film” workshops to provide a quality workforce for movie production... and that’s just part of the reason Louisiana was just named the film production capital of the world... ahead of runners-up California and Canada.
In 2014, Baton Rouge hosted film production that brought $180 million in direct spending to Baton Rouge… including the movie “Pitch Perfect 2” which returned because of their first incredible experience here. The much-anticipated “Fantastic Four,” stayed over a year at Celtic Studios and spent their production dollars with over 300 local vendors. 2015 promises to be another great year…with three film projects starting production this month. We are also working with both Sony and the AMC television network to bring more long-term television programs here for production.
Since we began the Baton Rouge Film Commission, television, and movie production have brought $810 million dollars into our local economy resulting in job creation and a better bottom line for local businesses.
Our Healthy BR Initiative hosted our first Open Streets event last year which drew over 800 participants to a Family Fit Day. Baton Rouge joined more than one hundred communities around the country in temporarily closing streets to build a sense of community… support local businesses… encourage biking, walking and a healthy lifestyle. To help give our youth a healthy start… we taught 10,000 summer campers to think: 5-2-1-0 plus 10. So, to make sure you stay healthy. I’m going to teach you to remember this:
- 5 fruits and vegetables every day
- 2 hours or less in front of the TV or computer
- 1 hour of physical activity
- Zero sugary drinks
- And for kids... 10 hours of sleep a night... you and I can get by with a little less.
To further fight childhood obesity, we secured funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and served over 344,000 free and healthy meals last summer to children age 18 and under, regardless of income… a 26 percent increase over 2013.
We worked with two local emergency rooms to implement opt-out HIV testing, which is a CDC best practice and as of November over 10,000 individuals had been screened.
Facing an especially bad flu season, eight area hospitals joined us in announcing a Universal Flu Prevention Policy to have all of their employees get a flu shot and we have already exceeded 90 percent participation. We worked with Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center to hold a 90-day challenge to register potential bone marrow donors and help save lives. We set a goal of 250 new donors and because African American donors represent only 7 percent of the national total. We knew that need was greater. In the first 90 days, we held 14 registration events throughout the city and signed up 305 new donors with 50 percent of them from drives held at Southern University.
This is why I know our best days are before us. When the people of East Baton Rouge Parish see a need… you respond. Step by step... we’re making a difference.
To bring City-Parish services to the public more efficiently… we have upgraded our 13 year old computer network system with funding from the State Homeland Security Grant Program... increasing our capacity by ten times. I’ve challenged our staff to make Baton Rouge a more digital friendly city because we are uniquely positioned to be a growing hub for technology in the South.
Our Town Square and Galvez Plaza areas provide free public Wi-Fi internet access… and we’re looking to deploy this technology in areas across the Parish. This month, we will begin to roll out an Open Data
Program that will completely change how we manage and publish public records collected by the City-Parish.
While much of this information has been traditionally used internally… we are making it available online at no cost to either the public or the software development community.
Best practices across the country have shown that when this data is accessible… there is greater transparency in government and the private sector is encouraged to develop applications that are beneficial to the public.
While many of us use social media daily… I have also tasked our staff with implementing policies to better engage with citizens, businesses and the entire community. I am especially interested in social media applications to improve public safety and we will soon begin implementing this strategy in phases to enhance systems already in place.
On December 6th, voters approved a revision to our Plan of Government that will change the face of our Department of Public Works. DPW will be decentralized to provide six new departments with self-contained budget units with more transparency, efficiency and accountability.
Now for just a minute… let’s get down in the sewer. Our sewer rehab program is the largest capital improvement program ever undertaken by the City-Parish and it has made significant progress. There are 110 separate projects identified in the program and to date, 63 are complete, 20 are under construction and 27 projects remain in various phases of design. This program is on schedule to be completed in 2018.
Today’s speech is not a political one, but you know I have announced that I will run for Lt. Governor this year. I do this with the encouragement of so many people from around the state who have seen what we have accomplished here in Baton Rouge and believe that Louisiana’s best days are before us, too.
I have an amazing network of friends and supporters from my years of service in the Legislature… but most importantly, I have a story to tell like no other... and that’s your story. It’s the story of how we dared to dream big... how we put aside partisan politics... brought business leaders together with labor organizations to train workers and fill jobs. It’s a story about setting aside our differences... to focus on our common goals. Because for the past ten years when we’ve come together for the greater good… it’s magic!
My story is your story… and I hope you are as proud of the progress we have made together in East Baton Rouge Parish, as I am. It is my honor and privilege today to report that the State of our City and Parish is strong and I believe Baton Rouge can be a place any business, any major event, or any family is proud to call home.
I will never love any job more than the one I have held for the past ten years but I will serve East Baton Rouge Parish and each of you in this room with the same loyalty and commitment... no matter where I sit. And if I am fortunate to be elected to a higher office... I don’t leave you behind... I take East Baton Rouge and all of you with me.
I’m going to close by going back to my Baptist roots for a minute... George Washington Truett served as pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas for 47 years until his death in 1944. His sermons were so inspiring that during World War I, President Woodrow Wilson invited him to address the Allied Forces in Europe.
Truett felt a close bond with the cowboys in his home state and was concerned about them being away from their families and church during long cattle drives… so for 37 years, he left his church in Dallas for several weeks a year and traveled with the cattle drives through West Texas. He was my kind of guy… going wherever the need is to serve.
Truett delivered his most famous sermon on the steps of the United States Capitol in 1920 with 15,000 people in attendance… including Supreme Court Justices, Cabinet members, Senators, Congressmen and Foreign Ambassadors.
He spoke for an hour and 15 minutes without notes or a microphone… don’t worry, I’m not going to give his sermon. And on that day, he reminded his audience that the United States of America was founded on the principles of religious freedom… the separation of church and state… and respect for all. 87 years later, Congressmen gathered again on the steps to read portions of his speech and recall how liberty is what makes this country great. Some of them said reading that sermon changed their lives and changed their priorities.
Those of us in public service owe it to you to remain focused on making life better for those who come behind us. So I close with Reverend Truett’s words… a message... I try to live by.
"To know the will of God is the greatest knowledge…
To find the will of God is the greatest discovery… And to do the will of God is
the greatest achievement.”
Thank you all... Happy New Year... May God Bless the good people of East Baton Rouge Parish... the State of Louisiana and may God Bless America!