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Mayor Poe calls for sacrifice and unity in State of the City address

Mayor Lauren Poe gives States of the City address

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe gave his State of the City address today at the Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center.

While people were gathering, they enjoyed Lanard Perry on the trumpet (take 39 seconds to enjoy this!):

Vivian Filer: “We don’t apologize for the past”

Vivian Filer welcomed the crowd on behalf of the Board of Directors of the Cotton Club Museum, saying that they’ve worked very hard on the building, which represents the history of Gainesville. She said it was fitting that the event should happen in that building during Black History Month: “We don’t apologize for the past, but we must always recognize the past. And we must utilize the past as the beacon that’s going to lead us into the future. Everything that happened in the past wasn’t good; some of it was unpleasant when it happened. We don’t make it better by not talking about it and not realizing it. That is what we will do here at this Cultural Center…”

She introduced Mayor Poe as a man who “wants us to all, everyone, feel as if we belong in Gainesville and that we can make a life, have a future, and enjoy raising our families in Gainesville as we move ahead.”

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Poe thanked Perry for his music and introduced the other City Commissioners, “one of the most outstanding groups of elected officials, not just in the state of Florida, but nationally.” They were all there except David Arreola, who arrived near the end of the speech.

“The promise of becoming a New American City” 

He then thanked all the City employees for their daily efforts and then turned to the Charter Officers. To City Manager Lee Feldman, he said, “I know you just joined us, but I’m sure it feels like you’ve been here for an incredibly long time.” Then he introduced the newest Charter Officer, City Auditor Ginger Bigbie, who was in her third day on the job. GRU General Manager Ed Bielarski was also there in the front row, but Poe didn’t introduce him with the others. He said the Charter Officers are “working harder than ever to erase disparity gaps, become more equitable, and make true on the promise of becoming a New American City.”

He listed some of the events that have commemorated Gainesville’s 150th year as a city. He said the Cotton Club was a fitting place to be for the speech because during segregation, integrated audiences came to the Cotton Club to hear musical acts such as James Brown, Bo Diddley, and B.B. King. 

“What are you willing to sacrifice?”

“One of the primary reasons I ran for office was to reduce the persistent equity gaps we face as a result of generational racial and economic discrimination… This path has and will be uncomfortable… For some of us, our most basic understandings, of our community and our place within it, will be challenged. We will have our privilege called out, and we will be held accountable for our biases. For others, we will be called upon to trust, when perhaps trust has not previously been earned or deserved.

“We will ask each of you, what are you willing to sacrifice? Sacrifices for better housing, schools, employment, environment, health, and mobility. Only when we are willing to make sacrifices as individuals, organizations, and institutions, will we fully reconcile the truth of our past and build a better future together.”

“Equity is central to every aspect of our work”

He went on to talk in more detail about equity: “Previously we have presented equity as its own strategic priority… substantial progress can only be realized when equity is central to every aspect of our work. For that reason, your City Commission has committed significant new resources to begin planting the seeds of change…”

He described the City’s Equity Core Team, which ensures that equity is “explicitly brought into the decision-making process.” Two new positions have been added to the Office of Equal Opportunity, which will soon be renamed the Office of Equity and Inclusion, to “focus exclusively on reducing internal inequities.” A disparity study will soon be underway “to help us identify gaps that exist in our current policies that contribute to inequitable outcomes and to ensure that remedies enacted to combat inequities are legally defensible.” More scrutiny is being given to hiring and promotion practices. 

$1 million to eliminate unpaid prison labor

Poe gave the example of unpaid prison labor. “Your City Commission, working with our neighbors, made a resounding call for the elimination of an inmate labor program… The City has since committed nearly $1 million to create 29 new fair-wage jobs that will bring those services in-house.” 

“Our force will not be used to support ICE operations”

He mentioned new contracts with the local police and fire unions. “Our Gainesville Police Department leadership, along with the City Manager, have been working with our immigrant advocates to make sure that every neighbor is safe and trusts our police department and knows that our force will not be used to support ICE operations or do the federal government’s job.”

He said the City’s approach to public safety “goes far beyond traditional approaches. From community policing policies to deflection programs to the Community Resource Paramedicine Program, we are committed to the full spectrum of public safety, from prevention to intervention to enforcement.”

“We must accelerate our Vision Zero policies”

“With three pedestrian deaths already this year, we must accelerate our Vision Zero policies. Even one death is unacceptable, and we will do more to make our roads safe for every user.” He discussed some grants that the City is using to make roadways safer. 

“In the area of crime prevention, an initial investment of $128,000 to develop a diversion and deflection program will help us to address the underlying social issues that perpetuate crime…”

The Commission is also providing “an additional $80,000 in funding for youth internships, evening activities for teens, and after-school programs. We can say with overwhelming confidence that creating opportunities for our youth to be engaged in positive activities significantly decreases their chances of getting involved in less-desirable activities, including crime. Funding programs like these… reflects our community’s values of collaboration, compassion, and community building.”

“Criminalization [is not] a solution to homelessness”

“These same values define our approach to ending homelessness. Unlike many communities that pursue criminalization as a solution to homelessness, we are doing just the opposite… We have successfully transitioned more than 60 of those living in Dignity Village to permanent housing, and nearly 100 others are moving onto the GRACE campus, where they can ensure that they are receiving wrap-around services and the support that they need.

“We know that housing ends homelessness, and since GRACE opened its doors, homelessness in our community has dropped by 36%.”

“Every resident deserves a safe, high-quality, and affordable home in which to live”

“You might have heard the word ‘housing’ around Gainesville City Hall a little bit in the past year or two. Affordable housing, attainable housing, accessible housing, equitable housing. Whatever you wish to call it, we need more of it.”

The City is now working on a Comprehensive Affordable Housing Action Plan. The Commission has authorized a pilot program to donate 12 city-owned parcels for the development of affordable housing by qualified local non-profits. “The City is set to create positive, visible change in the Duval neighborhood…. Every resident deserves a safe, high-quality, and affordable home in which to live. They also deserve a choice of where they choose to live. We are all stronger, the more economically and racially diverse our neighborhoods are. We must work to end 150 years of exclusionary housing policy.”

Poe said that state and federal funds are critical to these programs, and an accurate Census count in 2020 “will ensure that Gainesville receives its fair share of funding… Due to undercounts during the 2010 Census, our community lost nearly $390 million of federal funding over that decade… Your engagement and participation is essential, but it’s our job to make participation easier in all aspects of government. We are doing just that.”

He listed a number of new initiatives:

  • New public records portal
  • District-specific Town Hall meetings
  • Several ways to submit written public comments into the official record of meetings

“These solutions are aimed at reducing frustration amongst community members and offering more convenient and equitable access to all of our residents.”

“We must be willing to risk change if we are to see real progress”

“Like many American cities, Gainesville will continue to face fiscal challenges, so it is imperative that we reshuffle our budget to align with our priorities and ensure Gainesville remains competitive, fair, and future-facing.” He discussed the combination of four previous Community Redevelopment Agencies into a single agency. He spoke of transformative plans for the 8th Avenue and Waldo Road area and the Power District, “but we must be willing to risk change if we are to see real progress.”

“We are at near full-employment, and our city continues to welcome new businesses, meaning more jobs and an expanding tax base.”

“Unswerving in our pursuit of a Zero Waste community”

“We have also been working to continue providing high-quality utility services through GRU, while working to keep rates stable. GRU is consistently the most reliable utility in the state. Gainesville is first in the state for its use of renewable energy, using up to 42% at any given point in time, compared to the state average of 4%… Additionally, Gainesville is actively working to diversify our energy portfolio, aiming to triple our solar footprint by 2022. 

“Yes, these investments for our energy future have had an immediate impact on today’s utility rates, but residential electric rates are lower now than they were in 2008.”

“The City is also concentrating on environmental equity by reducing air pollution and carbon emissions through its electric vehicle program, and we are working to reduce waste by supporting policies and lifestyle choices that minimize litter now and for our future generations.”

“Unswerving in our pursuit of a Zero Waste community, the Commission will be working on updating our recycling ordinance, increasing composting opportunities, and crafting a new waste contract that supports these goals… We encourage you, our neighbors, to replace disposable plastics with reusable, recyclable, or compostable alternatives.”

He spoke about the Wild Spaces Public Places program, which has “safeguarded thousands of acres of environmentally-sensitive lands, while bringing the City closer to its goal of having a park within a 10-minute walk of every neighbor.” The City is also partnering with Alachua County Schools to build parks. 

Some 2019 firsts:

  • Gainesville was named a Tree City of the World by the U.N. and the Arbor Day Foundation.
  • Paris Owens was named the first-ever African American female captain at GPD.

“We intend to show the rest of the world what a New American City looks like”

“In this age of increased nationalism, resulting in increased incidences of hate crimes, racist rhetoric, and anti-Semitic activity, it is more important now than ever to celebrate our international community and character.” Gainesville is working to become the first city in Florida to be certified as a Welcoming City by Welcoming America. “We want Gainesville to be a safer community for our immigrant neighbors. In Gainesville, we celebrate our diversity, whether you are a first-generation American, new American, aspiring American, or just visiting. No matter where you are from, how long you have been here, we are glad that you are our neighbor… Our diversity is one of our greatest assets; it is what makes us exceptional; it is what will lead us to our future, and it’s the way that we intend to show the rest of the world what a New American City looks like.”

“Our neighbors have called upon us to address monumental historic and systemic community challenges: fewer arrests and less crime, fair housing, sustainability, fair wages, equitable access to transportation, more economic opportunity, better cultural options, and better inclusion. Today we celebrate our progress towards these goals, but also we acknowledge the difficult and sometimes uncomfortable work that lay ahead. Your City Commission is up to the challenge, and so are you, so let’s get to work.”

  • I would like to see less crime which could lead to less arrests, not the other way around!!

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