Gary Mayor Delivers State of City Address

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Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson says she plans to make the "necessary changes and difficult decisions" to reduce Gary's deficit. In her third State of the City address Wednesday, she also discussed continuing efforts to forge ahead on two long-delayed projects, the Gary-Chicago International Airport expansion and demolition of an abandoned Sheraton Hotel. February 20, 2014

Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson's 2014 State of The City Remarks as Prepared

"To the members of the clergy, elected and appointed officials, members of the business and philanthropic community, and to all of the citizens of our great city, good afternoon. Please accept the heartfelt thanks of the New Day administration for your presence here today. There are a few people to whom I would like to extend special gratitude. My family has been a lifelong source of support and inspiration to me. For that I will be eternally grateful. I would like to ask them to stand and be acknowledged publicly. Please join me in giving them a round of applause.

There are elected officials from all levels of government who are present today. Particularly to Mayor James Snyder of Portage and my cohorts in municipal government, City Clerk Raggs, City Judge Deidre Monroe and Common Council members Allen, Brewer, Brown, Pratt, Protho, Robinson, Rogers, Scott, and Shannon. Thank you for being co-laborers in the vineyard and sharing the privilege of service in a way that allows us to work together well even on those occasions when we may not agree. On occasion, we encounter elected officials who have difficult relationships between the Mayor and Council. I am happy to say that is not our issue.

To the members of the clergy and those who readily embrace the role that faith plays in the transformation of a community, thank you for your work on behalf of the citizens of this city and thank you for your effectual fervent prayers. Please keep praying, it is absolutely working in ways you cannot begin to see.

To our team, dubbed Team Gary, although so many of you have joined Team Gary, but I am specifically referring to those who work inside city hall or other city structures every day - thank you for the selfless sacrifices that you make. Thank you for protecting and serving; thank you for burning the midnight oil; thank you for soothing the ire of citizens who have called with complaints about service or the lack thereof; thank you for treating your respective job and responsibilities as something more than a paycheck. I greatly appreciate your efforts and commend your publicly for your hard work.

When I began preparing for the state of the city this year, I was immediately drawn to review the State of the City 2012 and 2013. I made a few observations. I noticed that the 2013 speech was two times longer than most I have given - I also noted that while we have accomplished a number of goals, we have some unfinished business as well. And while it would be easy to give you a score card and sit down - after all someone has decided to give me a report card on Facebook - I resisted that urge. I want to provide enough information to compel those of you who haven’t already done so to partner in the transformation of our city, and to update and encourage our existing partners to continue and expand their efforts to revitalize this city.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended an African American history program in the Indiana State House and learned about the courage, tenacity and perseverance of Mary Bateman Clark, an Indiana woman who took the person who had contracted with her for indentured servitude to the Indiana Supreme Court to gain her freedom, alleging that the indentured servitude that was she was subjected to was pure and simple slavery in violation of the Indiana constitution. She was represented by a trailblazing attorney who did not mind bucking the system and ultimately she prevailed because members of the Indiana Supreme Court were willing to do the right thing. There was a team who worked beside Mary Bateman Clark to gain her triumph.

And in this month when we celebrate the accomplishments of African Americans to the success of this country, it seems appropriate to use Mary Bateman Clark as the shining example of what it will take to transform our community. Simply put, we can only make this happen together. This is best exemplified through a discussion about our challenges.

Crime, specifically, the murder rate, has been the Achilles heel of this administration. This is unacceptable. But sounding the alarm and doing something about it are two different things. We invited independent actors to help us take a long, hard look at our police department. As a result some personnel changes were made, some policies and practices were updated, and the number of officers on the street were increased. And while there are a number of changes still in progress, there are many factors that contribute to crime - lack of parenting, unemployment, lack of educational achievement, self-hatred. Such a multi-faceted problem lends itself to an equally multi-faceted solution.

But we can agree that the lead responsibility to address crime lies with the men and women of the Gary Police Department who work hard every day. And in accomplishing that task we have to work with others to stay ahead of the criminals. So today, I am announcing the development of a task force, led by the U.S. Marshal and our Department, to address the most active criminals, particularly violent actors, in the city of Gary. We will work with probation and parole officers, the regional stop team, the Sheriffs of Lake and Cook County, and our own officers to make sure they are engaged in law abiding behavior. Are you aware that less than 1 percent of the population is wreaking havoc on the rest of us. We have the ability to know where that 1 percent is at all times.

So, if any of these folk are your relatives (and from personal experience I know they are, if these are your sons, daughters, nephews or friends, please put them on notice that we will be watching them. But that is not enough. This is not solely a punitive exercise. We want to catch them doing right and help them stay on the right track. I am asking business people and the educational community to give convicted felons an opportunity to do the right thing. Too often, they tell me of their desire to work and the stigma attached to their felony convictions. That is why we hire those who have been convicted of felonies in city government because we all deserve a second chance. That is why we are also working to provide training opportunities in traditional and non-traditional settings.

I am asking the faith community to pay special attention to those who have had trouble with the law in your congregations. After you testify on their behalf at sentencing, I am counting on you to provide the support necessary for them to turn their lives around. Encourage them to access the educational and vocational opportunities available in and out of prison. Tell them that the math of fast money always comes up short when you factor in the risk of death or jail. If we don’t tell them, then who will?

We will also ask the council to consider an ordinance that will require gas stations and convenience stores that remain open after 10 p.m. to have cameras on their premises. Most businesses have cameras over the cash register and they should, but we need cameras on the outside ground because we have seen an alarming trend of violent crime on the premises of late night gas stations and convenience stores. This requirement is not cost prohibitive and this could provide a significant deterrent to those involved in criminal behavior and assistance to law enforcement as they work to protect and serve.

Despite our best efforts, we have not been able to erase the structural deficit. And while we have little control over the origin of the problem, we eagerly signed up to fix it and as I told a p