(FLINT, Mich)– Mayor Karen Weaver presented her second State of the City Address before residents, community leaders and government officials Tuesday, October 17, at 5:30 p.m. This year’s State of the City is taking place a little later in the year because the Mayor wanted to wait for some exciting new plans for Flint to come to fruition. Mayor Weaver was excited to share some of the accomplishments, as well as provide details on her plan to keep the City of Flint moving forward on the road to recovery.
The following is a transcript of Mayor Weaver’s speech:
First, I want to give praise to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I thank each of you for being here. It is an honor and a pleasure to present to you my second State of the City Address, as the proud Mayor of the great City of Flint, Michigan!
It’s wonderful to see so many residents, city council and other local and state officials, as well as pastors, business and community leaders here this evening. I truly appreciate your support.
I also want to thank my family members, who have stood by me through many long and tiring days. And City of Flint employees, thanks for all the work you do to make this City a better place.
A little over a year ago, I stood in this room to present my first- ever State of the City address. At that time, the national spotlight was heavily shining on Flint, as the world became aware of the water crisis we had been dealing with for years. And while we have more work to do, I want you to know over the last year we have made significant progress.
Clean, safe water in Flint
My FAST Start Pipe Replacement program shifted into high gear this year. This past December, after working hard to get lawmakers in Washington to realize the magnitude of the disaster that occurred in Flint, the resources and support we needed to deal with the effects of the crisis, AND how much it would cost to rebuild the City’s infrastructure, Congress finally passed a $170 million dollar aid package that will help the City of Flint address the infrastructure and health issues caused by state, federal, and local government, that poisoned our drinking water system.
I want to again thank Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, as well as Congressman Dan Kildee, for their persistent efforts to get Flint and its residents the financial help needed to make things happen that needed to happen. Because of the funding they advocated for lawmakers to approve for Flint, we were able to hire more contractors, from area companies, and crews have replaced nearly 5,000 lead tainted pipes leading to homes in Flint. So we have almost reached our goal of replacing 6,000 pipes this year. Next year, in 2018, we will continue the effort, working to replace another 6,000 pipes, and another 6,000 the year after that. So make no mistake, we are well on our way to getting the lead out of Flint and making our water system healthy!
As we work to move ourselves out of this crisis and towards recovery, we know that we have to be careful to take steps that are based on science and supported by the medical and public health community. Most importantly before we say that we have moved from crisis to recovery, we will be sure to take into consideration the voice of residents. Having said this, I also want to say that it is indeed encouraging to see that results from tests conducted on the Flint Water system show the water quality in the city, continues to improve, as it relates to lead. However, I know that we have to look at the water system as a whole and make sure that we are monitoring for biological pathogens that may still be found in the water.
I want you to know that in November of 2015 the City of Flint Technical Advisory Board was convened. This group of medical, public health, and technical experts are providing independent advisement to my administration on all potential risks to our health and our water system. Over three months ago, the City entered into a Data Sharing Agreement with a research team led by Wayne State that is providing us immediate updates on their findings related to residents’ water chemistry and any biological contaminants.
So, while I urge residents to keep using bottled water and filters, at least until all the lead tainted pipes have been removed and the FAST Start program is complete, I assure you that we are paying close attention to the research that is being done to monitor the safety of the filters as well. Additionally, my administration has been working in conjunction with the state’s Community Outreach Resident Education program, known as CORE. CORE workers, mostly Flint residents, have been out knocking on doors, visiting homes all over the city, talking to residents to make sure they have water filters installed on their faucets, and they know what to do to make sure their filters are maintained properly.
When the state fulfilled its “legal” obligation of the settlement agreement reached early this year, they were ready to close all the PODs. But, when Flint residents spoke out expressing their concerns that they weren’t ready to rely entirely on filtered water, we fought to keep some of the PODs open. Right now, we still have four PODs in operation in Flint and we are continuing home delivery of water and this is largely due to local organizations like, the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan and the United Way of Genesee County, and several pastors of local churches and community organizations who stepped up to help us continue providing bottled water to residents.
After months of research and consulting with experts, in April of this year I presented City Council, and the citizens of Flint, with a viable long-term and back-up water source recommendation. My recommendation, to continue getting our water from the Great Lakes Water Authority, proved to be in the best interest of public health by not undergoing another water source switch, which could result in unforeseen issues. The recommendation I put forth would also avoid a projected 55 percent water rate increase and ensure the City of Flint gets millions of dollars to continue replacing lead tainted pipes, and make much-needed repairs to our damaged infrastructure, so we are able to deliver quality water to residents. It is my hope that we can soon move forward with implementing this recommendation so that we can concentrate our efforts on providing safe, reliable, affordable, and tap drinkable water in Flint.
I understand that many citizens of Flint are still frustrated and upset about what happened here, how the man-made water disaster occurred, and the feeling of being rushed through the healing and recovery process. We have to trust that those responsible will be held accountable for their decisions and their actions, even if this means the governor or/ no matter how high up the ladder this goes.
We will remain watchful as the legal professionals do their jobs to uphold the law, and obtain justice for Flint. And just as important, we will keep focus on making sure our children and families have what is needed to have bright and healthy futures and making sure Flint has the greatest comeback story the world has ever seen!
My administration and I are focused on moving Flint forward, rebuilding and rejuvenating this city that we all love so much so we can see it return to being the thriving, vibrant place we remember. We are already seeing the signs of the turnaround… it’s already begun.
Locally elected officials, including the Mayor and City Council, now have most of their powers restored. The control the State has had for so long in Flint has been loosened almost entirely and our city government is well on its way to returning to home rule, as it should be. And I will continue to fight until democracy is restored.
When we were seeking contractors to replace the lead-tainted service lines as part of the FAST Start pipe replacement program, we wanted local companies and local people to get those jobs and we did just that. Contracts were awarded to qualified and capable companies from our area and they have hired local people who are now working to literally help us get the lead out of Flint and restore our community.
Before the CORE program launched, we got with GST Michigan Works! and said we have qualified people right here in Flint that can do these jobs and that is who was hired to do the work.
When the state had the National Guard at the water distribution sites passing out water, we said we appreciate the help, but there are people right here in Flint that could be doing that work and they have been. It is going to take people from this community to heal this community and so we are making sure our residents are involved in this process, and where there are opportunities for our residents, we are making sure they are not overlooked.
This spring, we worked with Best Practices Consulting to hold a small business training boot camp to help individuals ready to do business in the City of Flint reach their goal. More than ten business hopefuls from a variety of fields including food service, photography and transportation completed the program and some have already reached their goal of making their business operational. And I am proud to say our second group has started training.
We also have companies wanting to invest in our Flint, which means a variety of new opportunities for Flint and hundreds of new, good-paying jobs for our residents! Earlier this month, I took part in the official ground breaking of the new world-class facility the Lear Corporation is building on the former site of the historic Buick City complex. The new seat manufacturing facility will employ about 600 workers when it reaches full production, around 450 of those will be new jobs right here in Flint. The facility will be the first plant built from the ground up here in Flint in 30 years! I want to thank the leaders of Lear Corporation for their vision and for believing in Flint! We know this is going to have a positive impact on the entire City.
And just last week, General Motors announced it was making a $79 million dollar investment to improve its operation at the Flint Assembly Center. This shows that GM is with Flint for the long haul and will be providing jobs and making award-winning vehicles here in the Vehicle City for many years to come!
We want jobs and new business in Flint so people will want to make Flint their home. And we know people want to feel safe at home. That is the top priority of the leaders I put in place to lead the Flint police and fire departments and they are getting the job done!
Significant improvements have been made in Public Safety over the last year. Chief Barton worked hard with his team at the fire department, and they did what was necessary to secure the SAFER Grant once again! The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grant provided Flint with more than $3.7 million dollars from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The funding allowed us to restore 33 positions and fill an additional eight vacancies in the fire department to help better protect and serve the people of Flint. With the additional staff and resources available, Chief Barton was able to re-open Fire Station 8 on Atherton Road.
As Chief Barton will tell you, Flint has one of the hardest working fire departments around and the additional staff and improvement we’ve been able to make this last year has made the department even better. I am so proud of this, because our police and firefighters put their lives on the line every day they go to work. We should be able to give them the back up and tools and equipment they need to do the outstanding work they do.
Speaking of police…. Crime is down in Flint! The City was once ranked number one on the nation’s list of most violent cities compared to other cities in the U.S. with about the same number of residents. But now, things have changed and progress has been made! Chief Timothy Johnson and his staff are working hard to make Flint a safer place to live, work, and play, and they are doing just that.
The chief will tell you, we need more officers and we are working to make that happen, but the officers we have are hard-working and dedicated to serving this city. Chief Johnson re-instated the Crime Area Target Team, known to some as the CATT squad, and they have made a tremendous impact on reducing crime in Flint, by focusing on key areas where criminal activity is occurring.
Flint’s Reserve Police Officer program has also been re-instated. The program has allowed us to bring on 18 more uniformed officers who provide administrative and patrol support. We’ve also been able to utilize the reserve officers to staff the neighborhood mini-stations that have opened around the city.
Our police officers have joined forces with residents like Mary Guy, a mom who took action after being frustrated by her daughter and other children not being able to play in their front yards because of reckless drivers ignoring stop signs, in a pedestrian area, putting the lives of children in danger. Because of her persistence, City of Flint Police Detective Tyrone Booth conducted traffic enforcement at the location and they are now working on getting lighted speed signs as well as children at play signs in the area. We thank her for commitment to the safety of the children of Flint.
Flint police officers are working more and more with our youth building positive relationships through programs and activities with the Police Activities League or PAL. I am proud to say there are 70 promising young men, ages 7 to 14, participating in the program under the direction of Officer Willingham and others. The boys actually won the Football Championship Series, World Championship 9, and the under age division in Orlando last December! The City of Flint PAL is working with community groups like the Big Homies and Corey Smith, the Dayton Family and Ira Dorsey, and Matt Hinkle and K. Miles to ensure that all of our community members are playing a role in healing our community, even those who have criminal records. And I want to take this time to thank not only our City of Flint police officers but also officers like Jeff Neville who put their lives on the line daily to protect each of us.
The effort to get rid of blight and vacant houses in Flint is ongoing. As this work continues, it will have more and more of a positive effect in the area of public safety. Last month, the Genesee County Land Bank awarded Flint a grant for blight removal in three areas of Flint. The planned blight elimination work includes demolition of five vacant and fire damaged apartment buildings, three commercial buildings, and the removal of approximately 30 abandoned mobile homes.
City officials worked with the Land Bank, to select these key redevelopment sites located on North Saginaw Street, Ballenger Highway and North Averill, to support both current and proposed private investment and development, and to promote public safety for residents and businesses. We are very proud of this partnership with the Land Bank and very pleased that our joint efforts were recognized through this important funding award.
Earlier this year, an AmeriCorps team from the North Central Region campus in Iowa spent around two months in Flint. They cleared several tons of debris and garbage from vacant houses, then cut boards and nailed them over doors and windows of about 300 vacant houses in Flint.
This year, my administration and I joined with several community partners to launch the first annual Mayor’s Beautification Initiative to encourage Flint residents and stakeholders to come together to clean up areas around the City. We recognized 17 residents for going above and beyond to make their homes and neighborhoods look its best. We also hosted the first annual Environmental Justice Summit where we honored Flint residents noted as Champions of the Environmental Justice Movement and individuals and agencies for their health justice work during the Water Crisis. This two day summit provided space for residents and national EJ and health leaders to engage in bold and courageous conversation about the root causes of the Flint Water Crisis and other environmental injustices lingering in Flint.
Building Capacity to Help Move Flint Forward
When emergency managers were calling the shots in Flint, their primary concern was the bottom line, saving money, cutting costs. But, when you make decisions about operations and when money is your primary concern, it can end up costing a lot more in the long run. The water crisis is a clear example of that, and city operations and effectiveness overall is another.
I’ve seen firsthand how cutting staff down to the bare bones, has limited the city’s ability to be more productive and the burden it has put on the hard-working and devoted people who come to work every day and do a job that two or three people used to do. I have been working to correct this problem by increasing staff levels with qualified and capable people who have great vision for the future of Flint and the people who live and work here.
My team and I have filled, and in some cases created, positions necessary to address critical issues and needs in Flint in this historic time. We’ve been able to accomplish this through the assistance and support from philanthropic organizations across the country, who have stepped up. Special thanks to the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Ford Foundation, Ruth Mott Foundation, Skillman Foundation, and the Genesee County United Way. We were able to compensate our FAST Start Coordinator, General Michael McDaniel. McDaniel worked without pay for months, as he helped organize, plan and manage the first four phases of the FAST Start pipe replacement program.
Last October, we hired Dr. Pamela Pugh to be our Chief Public Health Advisor. She is working with us to help address many health and medical issues and concerns facing the citizens of Flint. Having her as part of the team, helps to ensure that the decisions we make in Flint are not solely based on finances but consider health and well-being of residents.
As we focused more on a successful recovery plan for the city, it became clear that there needed to be someone in the administration to help city leaders be more in tune with the thoughts and concerns of the citizens of Flint, who could also help the community be more informed about efforts underway to make Flint a better place. We hired a Chief Recovery Officer, Jameca Patrick-Singleton, to fill that role and the Skillman Foundation provided funding for the position.
The Mott Foundation awarded the City of Flint with a grant to help us increase the salary we are able to offer for the Director of Public Works position. The DPW is a key position that has been vacant for too long. We have finally made an offer to a qualified candidate and hope to get approval from City Council to hire this person, one of our own current City employees, Rob Bincsik.
We are engaged and in conversation with two major philanthropic organizations to secure additional funding to help the City of Flint move forward and make the progress that must be made to rebuild our great city and hope to make announcements on those partnerships very soon. We truly appreciate the generosity of these organizations and their willingness to help!
I have to thank the folks at the Mott Foundation again… It’s because of the assistance they provided the City along with ReCAST (Resiliency in Communities After Stress and Trauma) funding received from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, that allowed us to recently hire a Director of Community Recreation for the City of Flint, Sean Croudy. Like Jameca, Sean was born and raised in Flint and has worked in this community for years. He is now responsible for working with our partners from MSU and U of M Flint to make sure the City provides residents with high-quality sports, and recreational activities to help remediate the trauma people are experiencing due to the water and economic crisis in Flint.
Our youth, along with their families, deserve to play sports and have fun just like other children and we are committed to providing them with that opportunity. This past summer we took advantage of an exciting opportunity to partner with U.S. Conference of Mayors, Major League Baseball and the Detroit Tigers to host a ‘PLAY BALL’ event to promote the creation of a new Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program in Flint. Jackson Park RBI will serve as a low-cost baseball and softball league for young people throughout the City of Flint.
Also this summer, Flint welcomed around 300 athletes from Hamilton, Ontario for the 60th Annual Canusa Games. It was out first time hosting the games since the water crisis, and it was an honor to be able to welcome the athletes back to Flint and show them the progress the being made here. Everyone had a great time and we look forward to continuing Flint’s involvement with CANUSA for many more years to come.
Over the last year, new playgrounds have been built in several Flint neighborhoods. I want to thank playground partners and contributors: United Way of Genesee County, Make an Impact Foundation, WEYI NBC25 and FOX66, Keep Genesee County Beautiful, Flint Child Health and Development Fund of the Foundation for Flint. The bright, colorful new playgrounds have made a big difference in the look and feel of local neighborhoods, and you will see more of them in the years to come. According to standards set by the National Recreation and Park Association and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources planning guidelines, the City of Flint needs more than 30 additional playgrounds to adequately meet the recreational needs of the nearly 100,000 residents living here. The goal of the playground builds is to enhance the communities and improve the quality of life of children and families in Flint. We are also working with the Community Foundation, Literacy Network, and Tech Trep, Inc. to explore how Flint can become a STEM City, a place for kids to learn real life skills to build, do, and share cool things with our very own collective impact STEM immersion initiative.
While it is no secret that the City of Flint does not have an abundance of resources, we are doing the best we can with what we have. I want to commend the hard-working people in our Finance and Treasury departments for that.
The City of Flint was awarded a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting from the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada. This was for our comprehensive annual financial report for Fiscal Year 2016. The Certificate of Achievement is the highest form of recognition in the area of governmental accounting and financial reporting, and its attainment is a significant accomplishment for Flint. While the City faces some significant financial challenges, the City adopted a balanced biennial budget for Fiscal Year 2018 and ’19 with 3-year projections for Fiscal Year 2020-2022 which is in accordance with the adopted Financial Stability Ordinances. I am pleased to report, all operating funds are in compliance with state requirements.
The City has worked through the defined benefit employer pension contributions for the next five years. The unexpected increase in the Defined Benefit contribution, along with the water crisis, have presented serious challenges and created some major hurdles as we work to move forward and become a positive, driving force to revive and grow this community and we have to find ways to overcome this road blocks. On the bright side, the General Fund has a healthy fund balance for the first time in years. The Administration continues to monitor the budget on a monthly basis, and the City anticipates we will close out this fiscal year with an increase to the General Fund balance.
The City has received millions of dollars in state and federal grants to replace lead-tainted service lines and other infrastructure throughout the City, we have been promised millions more. And Flint, I won’t rest until it comes. I will continue to use my voice to shed a spotlight on Flint until we receive all that we are deserved. I will unapologetically look near and far, high and low, until we receive the resources necessary to make the improvements and repairs that need to be made to our damaged water system. I will not stop until we have the resources to rebuild Flint’s infrastructure in a way that protects our health, creates economic opportunity, and helps to make our water more affordable for all residents. And I ask that you continue to raise your voice too, to hold all of us, your elected officials accountable, and to stand united with me as we look forward to the rebirth, rebuilding, and rejuvenation of Flint!