State of the City

2018 State of the City

Remarks as prepared for delivery

People everywhere are wondering what's creating the excitement and change in Mobile. Well it's people like Reggie Washington, Lynn McDonald, Thelma Owens and John Serda - ordinary people doing extraordinary things. These are but four of the hundreds of Mobilians who are believing and investing in Mobile; shaking up the status quo; creating a better city for all of us; working to improve our quality of life.

Today, sprinklers are pumping water through the Africatown community garden fostering new life. Beer is brewing at Serda's. Something good is cooking at Southern National and the 51 other restaurants in downtown. Restored homes, like those on Mobile Street, are resurrecting the haunted and blighted houses of the past.

There is a movement of excitement. You can feel it pulsing throughout our City. You can see it all across Mobile as new businesses, new greenways, new asphalt and new and remodeled homes reinvigorate our neighborhoods. On Monday, we announced a new public-private partnership for the Three Mile Creek Trail, and we broke ground on a new kayak launch. Just yesterday, Nations Roof announced they are relocating their corporate headquarters to Mobile.

The announcements and excitement are the result of the leadership of the City Council working closely with the Chamber of Commerce, Mobile County, the State of Alabama, the Port Authority, our State Delegation, our Federal partners and many others - let's pause and give them a big round of applause for their service and collaboration.

With the projects which have been announced over the last year and those yet to be announced, this is surely one of the most exciting times in Mobile's history. But for all the excitement, there is one very disturbing indicator that can't be ignored. It's the City's population.

Yes, the state of the city is stable. Sadly, as you can see, the city's population is less today than it was in 1960. I hope this is as startling to you as it is to me. This can be changed and it must be changed! Change is never easy. It makes people uncomfortable, but we must grow the within city. It will take tremendous community collaboration. But it can be done. It must be done!

Another disturbing indicator is represented by data comparing enplanements between Mobile and Pensacola. In 1990, we were approximately equal. As Mobile continued to do things as we had always done, Pensacola aggressively expanded it's market. In doing so, they literally took the Baldwin County market from us. Today, there are one million more enplanements from Pensacola. Do you wonder why they have cheaper fares and more direct flights?

Today, those in leadership of our airports are embracing change by challenging the status quo. They envision a vibrant downtown airport, with easy access and affordable flights to great destinations. Proof of this is the recent announcement that Via Airlines has agreed to fly direct flights to Orlando out of Brookley once a terminal is built. The status quo would say, "This is controversial. There are a whole lot of our citizens who don't fly and don't care about this." My response is you don't have to fly to be positively affected by the economic impact of a million more people flying out of Mobile.

There are other influencers in Mobile who have recognized that we must be willing to embrace change if we want better results. Visit Mobile is ushering in change to increase our number of leisure travelers. They have recognized that the greatest growth potential isn't in conventions, it is in leisure travel. To increase market share, they have realigned the organization and their marketing strategy. The end result will be more visitors coming to Mobile and greater prosperity for the city.

Possibly the most emotionally charged issue in any community has to do with the education of its young people. Today, Mobilians want to explore options, options that will lead to ALL our children getting a better education. Our job is to advocate for our students. We can and must do better.

Also, there are many things that must improve under my direct responsibility within City government. I'll mention only three. First and most importantly is fighting crime. The amount of violent crime we are experiencing is unacceptable by any measure. Today, while MPD is a national leader in implementing innovation and technology, we have not achieved the desired results as a safer city.

As Chief Lawrence Battiste continues to incorporate 21st century policing, we will be upping the tempo by improving collaboration with our law enforce partners to get better results. Additionally, we will work with our judicial partners to keep the violent recidivist criminals off the streets. As we relentlessly pursue the vision of becoming the safest city in America, we will drive crime down!

Secondly, under the leadership of Chief Mark Sealy, Mobile Fire Rescue has set a goal for the City's fire department to achieve an ISO-1 rating. Of the 45,000 fire departments in America, only 0.2 of 1% have achieved this. Currently, we are an ISO-3. For MFRD to set such a high goal, it's apparent they are willing to disrupt the status quo. Ultimately, the beneficiary of this will be you, the citizen, who will see improved services.

And thirdly, and possibly the most daunting challenge will be addressing city owned properties and facilities. Recently, we received the results of an inventory and assessment of what the city owns. The information was startling. We own 1,159 parcels of land and 367 buildings! The most serious revelation was that we have a 225 million dollar unfunded liability regarding deferred maintenance.

Over the decades, the city has continually acquired buildings and properties, but with little regard for budgeting for escalating maintenance and operating costs. As they say, the chickens have come home to roost. Now we need to create a funding stream of approximately 20 million dollars per year to address this problem. If we do not properly fund it, maintenance issues will spread like cancer and the costs of the cure will only escalate.

Thankfully, even in the face of the challenges mentioned, great things are happening in Mobile. The wind has changed and is blowing in our favor. God willing, as momentum continues to build, greater things are yet to come. Just think of the impact of Airbus building 12 jets per month. Yes, four years from now, we could be building 12! Also, think about the additional impact that Austal will have if they are chosen to build the Fast Frigate.

Additionally, the future is very promising for the growth of our medical community and for the growth of our universities. A deepened channel; port expansions; a new iconic bridge crossing the river; the Three Mile Creek Greenway; rebuilding Beauregard and Broad Streets; rebuilding St. Louis St; the on-going implementation of the Capital Improvement Program - who can really visualize the impact of all these projects? To me, it's almost mind blowing.

But, based on the historical population trend, if we do not reduce the crime rate, improve public education, and improve our housing stock - we will be providing lots of jobs for people living outside of the city.

Again, great things are happening and many things are going well, but we can't sit on our laurels. When things are going well, that's the time to address the difficult issues. The call to action to myself and to everyone in this room is to set the bar higher. Be willing to tackle the difficult issues. We have before us the opportunity to fix things that have prevented growth in the City for decades.

Often I ask myself are we becoming One Mobile - a united city? Is there evidence we are making progress? You bet there is! I want to read a Facebook posting from Officer Justin Billa's step father, Kyle Jackson.

I'm Justin's stepfather. I wrote this last night after I got home. I just want to share it with someone from Mobile. I'm back in Louisiana. I hope you don't mind it if I share it with you. As I lay in bed, where that dreadful knock at the door came right after midnight, one week ago, I want Mobile to know, as we drove from the funeral home to the grave yard, we saw you. The miles and miles of families holding the American flags, we saw you. The mothers standing in the sun holding small babies, we saw you. The firemen who stood in line alongside their truck and wept, we saw you. The African American woman in the wheel chair with her hand on her heart, we saw you. The veterans with missing limbs, standing at attention, we saw you. Random people who were stuck in traffic, and got out of their vehicles and placed their hands on their hearts, or saluted, we saw you. The rider-less horse formation, we saw you. All the schoolchildren with signs that read, 'Justin Billa, we love you, you are our hero', we saw you. Today Mobile, we saw you. Today Mobile, you are my hero. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Even in our toughest and saddest time, people outside of Mobile are seeing good things happen here. They are seeing progress. They are experiencing our friendliness. What they are seeing and experiencing is the love we have for our city and for one another - One Mobile!

With us today is Erin Billa. She is accompanied by Margo Andrews, Justin's partner. Thank you both for being here. Moreso, Erin thank you for stepping forward to make Mobile a better place to live by creating the Justin Billa Memorial Foundation to bring the community and police together. Thank you Margo for putting your uniform back on and going back to work to make Mobile a safer city.

Even with your broken hearts, by your example and your actions you are helping improve the quality of life in Mobile. In doing so, you are contributing to creating One Mobile. You are part of our story. Again, thank you!

In closing, the challenges I have laid out today will be more easily solved if we have love in our hearts - love for God and for each other. We've shown it; we have it; let's let it shine brightly. Our future has never been brighter. May God continue to bless and protect us as we seek to fulfill his destiny for Mobile.