2012 State of the City Address
Ladies and Gentlemen . . . it’s my honor to be here today to report on the State of our City and Parish . . . and to participate in what has become a great
tradition of reporting at this Rotary Club that does so much to make our city better.
Let me thank the people of East Baton Rouge Parish for working hard through tough economic times . . . which has allowed our community to remain strong.
I want to also thank our local men and women who serve in the armed forces . . . and the families they leave behind who share in their sacrifice so
that we can all live free. It’s my privilege to lead a number of ceremonies each year to honor and remember our veterans, and I know you join me in giving thanks for their service.
I would also like to thank my wife, Lois, and my family for their support in doing a job I love.
And I think we all thank God for this great community we live in . . . the dedication and resilience of our people . . . and the incredible way we come together when we face hard times . . . or crisis.
But some of our people are hurting.
Struggling to take care of their families . . . or victims of the ills of our society.
An innocent four-year-old shot and killed by a loaded handgun carelessly left in his reach.
Five young men killed in a fiery car wreck by a driver going the wrong way.
Two bicyclists run down by a drunk driver.
Our friend and Council member Chandler Loupe’s young son seriously injured . . . and our prayers continue to be with him today.
There will be those who may try to use his family’s tragedy for political gain.
This is not the time.
Crime is an issue that concerns us all . . . and fighting it involves us all.
Since I was first elected Mayor, it has been my priority to support the men and women of the Baton Rouge Police . . . and to always work with our Chief to provide the tools they need to keep our community safe.
Although you may find it hard to believe . . . homicides in Baton Rouge were down for the second straight year . . . and overall violent crimes were also down. But these statistics get lost in the headlines . . . and mean nothing to anyone who loses a loved one.
Overall serious crime in Baton Rouge has dropped for eight of the last eleven years . . . and since the year 2000, overall serious crime in Baton Rouge has declined by over 30%.
But I bet it surprises you to hear these official statistics from the FBI.
Lately, we’ve seen some highly publicized incidents at the Mall of Louisiana and the Glen Oaks neighborhood in the Sheriff’s jurisdiction . . . and the incident involving Councilman Loupe’s son in the Mayfair neighborhood in Baton Rouge.
I know the Sheriff’s Office is working the hot spots in his areas . . . as are our Baton Rouge Police inside the city limits.
We cannot allow violent crime to define our city and parish . . . and it doesn’t.
In 2011, all law enforcement agencies combined in East Baton Rouge Parish reported 81 homicides . . . too many. But by comparison, Orleans Parish, with 100,000 fewer people, had more than twice as many.
83% of the people killed in our parish are black males under 30 years of age. And 9 out of 10 of the perpetrators are black males . . . with an average age of 23.
I have two sons who fit those demographics, so I know better than most of you the anxiety you feel when you look at these statistics . . . and the constant responsibility we have as parents to teach them to avoid drugs . . . guns . . . and peer pressure.
Getting drugs and guns out of our community is going to take effective law enforcement. But it’s also going to take tough judges . . . strong
families . . . dedicated clergy . . . good jobs . . . and a functional public education system that educates our children.
Your fears and calls for a safer city and parish do not fall on deaf ears.
Our Baton Rouge Police are working tirelessly . . . and I believe they deserve our support.
Chief DeWayne White has already put more Uniform Patrol on our streets by using existing personnel . . . and our most recent Police Academy is just a few weeks away from joining them.
He’s using crime mapping techniques to target where he puts new Criminal Uniformed Patrol units in high crime areas.
We’re working with the Council on an ordinance to crack down on repeat offenders of false alarm reports, a huge waste of police manpower.
We have a new Cold Case DNA program with the State Police Crime Lab to help locate wanted violent offenders . . . and we’re working with other law enforcement agencies to go after those who are committing a disproportionate number of violent crimes.
And to help stop crime where it begins. I introduced the idea in 2008 that we open a Truancy Center and we have worked since then to make this a priority. For two years now, we have budgeted the funds and are now in
final negotiations with the state to secure the building. We have partnered with the DA, Sheriff and School Superintendent and are expected to open in August of this year. To date, at least nine different programs and agencies have stepped forward to partner with us to address the needs of
families with truant children . . . and help us stop crime in its tracks.
Your safety . . . and the safety of your families . . . continues to be our top priority.
We broke ground yesterday on our 8th new fire station . . . replacing aging stations that are an average of over 60 years old . . . with one built in 1926.
This will allow us to provide even better fire protection . . . and maintain the longest running Class 1 fire rating in the U.S. - a great tribute to the Baton Rouge Fire Department.
In these difficult economic times, other cities have struggled to deliver even the most basic services to citizens . . . laying off firefighters . . . police . . . and other critical employees.
Even our own state is grappling with layoffs and cutting services to balance its budget.
It hasn’t been easy . . . but with conservative budgeting, we’ve kept our city-parish on solid financial footing and our local economy strong.
And we’re not just surviving . . . we’re thriving.
Baton Rouge is ranked 7th in the nation for job growth through 2020 . . . and we’re the only city in the Southeast to make the top ten.
We’ve been ranked the “Best Mid-Sized Market for New Corporate Facilities” by Site Selection Magazine . . . and a “Top 10 City for Young Adults.”
We’ve achieved these rankings because we’re diversifying our local economy and targeting good paying jobs.
And while other cities have lost jobs and seen businesses leave . . . we’re breaking ground on projects like the Louisiana Digital Media Center at LSU.
This building will house 600 employees of Electronic Arts . . . the global leader in electronic gaming software . . . and will be the cornerstone of our ability to attract digital media companies worldwide to Baton Rouge.
And that’s just one way we attract young, creative talent.
Honeywell will spend $30 million to modernize and expand its facilities here with help from new market tax credits that we provided to help save 200 jobs . . . and add more.
Just last month, West Sanitation announced it will move its California headquarters to Baton Rouge . . . and you can expect at least three more announcements in the next 60 days . . . putting us ahead of the pace we saw in 2011.
Baton Rouge is also short-listed for three major projects that would bring significant jobs to our community . . . and I’ll continue to work with the Chamber and the State to give us every advantage.
As you know, we have successfully grown Baton Rouge as a major market for film and television production over the past few years.
In 2008, we had $25 million in direct spending by film and video productions in Baton Rouge.
By 2009 . . . $70 million.
In 2011, they spent more than $208 million in Baton Rouge.
In three short years, we’ve grown this industry to over eight times what it was in 2008.
We don’t get to report success like that very often, and I’m very proud of the position we’ve put Baton Rouge in with the top producers in the film industry.
Already this year, we have 28 projects lined up, including a big budget Tom Cruise film that will put over $56 million directly into our local economy.
I also want to thank the people of Baton Rouge for their patience with street closures for filming . . . for opening their homes and businesses for location shoots . . . and for making the stars and crews feel welcome.
I meet personally with a lot of producers to sell them on coming here, but I have a pretty good marketing team in our great restaurants . . . live entertainment venues . . . and friendly people . . . and I thank you for that.
While we’ve become a destination for the movies . . . we’re also attracting conferences, world class entertainment and championship games . . . thanks in part to the expansion of the River Center and the vibrancy of our downtown.
This week, we kicked off six months of the U.S. Bowling Congress Open Championships which will bring 60,000 visitors and nearly $100 million in economic impact to Baton Rouge . . . and please join me in welcoming U.S. Bowling Congress Tournament Manager Duane Hagen, and giving the bowlers a big round of applause and welcome to Baton Rouge.
In May, we will host our third Bayou Country Superfest as we continue to create a major music festival destination with some of the world’s top country music stars.
And speaking of stars . . . do you know what Alexandria, Egypt . . . Beijing, China . . . and Baton Rouge all have in common?
Baton Rouge joins these as a host city for the prestigious International Planetarium Conference which arrives in Baton Rouge in July . . . proving again that Baton Rouge can compete with the best cities in the world.
Now, turning to something that affects us all every day.
In 2011, we completed eight Green Light projects . . . and will have a total of 29 finished by the end of this year.
This work has been spread among 92 firms . . . which means the Green Light Program is also helping local small businesses stay strong.
We’re planning our third bond sale this year, which will allow us to break ground on 7 Green Light projects and get the remaining planned projects shovel ready.
The success of our Green Light Plan continues to be a model for cities around the country who are trying to address traffic congestion.
We have proposed a traffic loop around Baton Rouge, which independent polls tell us more than 75 percent of the people want.
After an extended period of time for the public to weigh in on the project, 300 written comments from five parishes were submitted opposing the Loop.
That’s 300 people out of a region of 802,000.
And if you saw I-12 shut down for 12 hours last week . . . and again yesterday during rush hour because of overturned trucks . . . you know just how badly we need alternate routes.
When I meet with other Mayors around the country, we talk about how we balance the impact of smaller, more vocal groups who often drown out those who support progress.
I think most of you are familiar with the NIMBYs - those who don’t really oppose growth as long as it’s “Not in My Backyard.”
But some of my fellow Mayors have warned me that there are also CAVE people living in almost every region of our country - that’s “Citizens Against Virtually Everything.”
I’m sure we don’t have any CAVE people in this room . . . but I hope you’ll be on the lookout for them.
With the prosperity that comes with recruiting big box retail stores like Bass Pro, Sam’s Club, Best Buy and others to the Capital Region . . . comes a
trade-off that you must also improve access to them . . . and that’s what we’re trying to do.
According to Dr. Loren Scott, 63% of the income earned by people living in Livingston Parish comes from Baton Rouge, primarily because our economy has been on fire.
Widening Interstate 10 and 12 won’t solve our traffic problems or get those people to and from work quicker . . . studies show our congestion is far, far beyond that.
And alternative roads that have been suggested don’t need to be built instead of a Loop . . . they need to be built in addition to a Loop. We’re that far behind.
On a local level here in East Baton Rouge Parish, we have to balance the priorities we believe are best for the city-parish as a whole . . . and those of
twelve Metro Council members . . . and I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you that we do not always start out on the same page.
So what are we doing to improve communications between our administration and the Metro Council?
We’re stepping up regular scheduled meetings and communications not only with Council members, but also with their staff.
DPW meets monthly with the aides to each Council member to get their input and report on upcoming changes.
We meet one-on-one with Council members and our senior staff attends district meetings to help them answer questions for their constituents.
This isn’t all new, but we are being much more proactive in sending information to the Council to try to make sure their questions get answered before Council meetings.
And for the record, my door is always open to any Council member . . . or citizen who wants to help move our city and parish forward. It always has been . . . and always will be.
My job is to put forth a vision and plans for our parish. There will always be a bit of a tug-of-war between the priorities of 12 districts . . . four
municipalities and the parish as a whole. But this is the process of our city-parish form of government . . . and I respect that.
At times, it may seem a little bit like making sausage . . . you don’t always want to watch.
some unpleasant truths are bound to emerge during the process . . . but in the end, the results are pretty good. Well, I want that sausage to not just
taste good . . . but great . . . and we’re going to leave no stone unturned in working for even better results.
In other news, we have a massive rehab of our sewer system underway that is reducing backups, insurance claims and hazardous overflows. This work is
affecting every neighborhood and the benefits will be evident throughout the parish.
Construction is being managed for cost efficiency, and when it’s completed, we will have all 484 pumping and treatment facilities safe from power failures . . . which I felt was important because of what we have experienced during hurricanes.
CH2MHill, the program managers for this sewer rehab program who are here today, are doing more than just what was asked of them. They are organizing
a fundraising drive this month that will provide job training for the homeless through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul . . . financial literacy
programs and even support for the literacy programs championed by this Rotary Club . . . and we thank them.
We’re also in the process of transforming our Department of Public Works to function like you run your businesses.
I’ve charged DPW Director William Daniel with improving efficiency . . . using technology and data to improve service and at the end of the day, creating a new Department of Public Works . . . because that’s what changing times require.
You may run into him at civic meetings throughout the parish . . . getting input and updating on the new ways we can serve you better.
We continue to work closely with my good friend Walter Monsour and the Redevelopment Authority to improve the quality of life in all of the
disadvantaged areas of our parish . . . and Walter remains a valued part of our team.
The RDA is working to increase the supply of affordable housing, help develop small businesses and facilities that serve the community . . . and
create and retain jobs through their Community Improvement Plans that were developed in partnership with these neighborhoods.
To date, the RDA has deployed approximately $28 million to projects to help revitalize our community.
Projects like the YMCA in North Baton Rouge where families can get healthy together . . . and Habitat for Humanity, which now has seven more lots for building affordable, single-family homes.
And we will work even more closely as the RDA plays a key role in the implementation of our Future-BR plan for development.
We’re doing more than ever before to invest in the lower income areas of our city . . . and this is another tool we use to address the root cause of crime.
Our Office of Community Development continues to pump over $15 million a year in federal funds into neighborhoods for housing . . . health . . . pre-school
education . . . drug and alcohol addiction assistance . . . and food programs for low income families.
This past year alone, we improved the quality of life for over 10,000 residents and provided housing assistance for over 500 families.
Soon you will hear details of a new $4.5 million federally funded effort to provide small business loans, business planning and other technical assistance that targets low income neighborhoods.
Our “Bank on Baton Rouge” program, which we launched in January, will offer free or low cost bank accounts to people who cannot afford basic checking or savings accounts.
Research shows the average American who does not have a bank account will spend $40,000 over their lifetime with check cashing or payday loan companies.
This is money that should be used to take care of their families . . . and thanks to our partnership with a group of local banks and credit unions, we’re doing something about it.
Downtown development continues to transform Baton Rouge into a vibrant business and leisure destination . . . and to amaze visitors.
We have completed Phase 1 of the Town Square and kicked off construction on Repentance Park . . . implementing our Riverfront Master Plan and Plan Baton Rouge II.
The new Hampton Inn and Suites hotel is under construction at Lafayette and Main, bringing $17 million in private investment to downtown . . . with more to
come. It also puts us even closer to having 1,000 hotel rooms in downtown, which will open Baton Rouge to a whole new level of convention business.
Our Healthy BR Initiative continues to connect residents with health and wellness resources . . . and we’re working with our outstanding medical and
research facilities to brand Baton Rouge as a medical mecca.
Cities like Houston . . . Birmingham . . . and others have seen significant economic development around world-class healthcare . . . and we can, too.
With groundbreaking research at Pennington . . . a growing relationship between St. Jude’s and Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital . . . a new campus for
Women’s Hospital and expansion by the Baton Rouge General . . . we’re aggressively marketing the services available now . . . and working to attract related businesses.
For many generations, we’ve had pioneer families in Baton Rouge who have stepped up to move our city and parish forward.
It wasn’t always easy, but they always worked for progress . . . and we cannot let those dreams perish with our generation. It is our responsibility to
leave this community even better for our children and grandchildren.
For like Eleanor Roosevelt said, “When you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die.”
And Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
The staff at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital gave me a framed print that speaks to giving meaning to your life.
It says, “Life is not a race, but indeed a journey. Say “Thank You” . . . “I love you” . . . and “Great Job”…to someone each day.
Let your handshake mean more than pen and paper.
Dreaming does matter . . . it allows you to be that which you aspire to be.”
Baton Rouge has a special relationship with St. Jude’s . . . because of the lives they touch and the families they bring hope to in our community.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am proud to report that the State of our City and Parish is strong . . . and I ask that you continue to stand with me for the
things that matter to every person in East Baton Rouge Parish.
Every year, my time spent here with you is very rewarding to me personally. I thank you for the opportunity to report on the State of our City and
Parish . . . and look forward to spending four more years working with you to lead Baton Rouge forward.
“If the world seems cold to you . . . start a fire and warm it.”
“If you can’t feed a hundred people . . . feed one.”
We live in a truly remarkable place . . . let’s work together to make it even better . . . always . . . always . . . steady as we grow.
Thank you . . . and God bless.