By Paul Rozycki
For the first time since the COVID pandemic Mayor Neeley gave his state of the city address to a live audience at the Capitol Theater. Because of the pandemic the previous two state of the city address were given virtually. He said “I’m excited to share highlights from the past three years, as well as the new direction our administration is engaging to move our community forward.”
Working on the theme of “One united City of Flint. Together we are strong. We are not victims but victors,” Mayor Sheldon Neeley delivered his third state of the city address and outlined his accomplishments over the last three years, and his goals for the next four years.
The audience was notably sparse with most of the people present being members of the Mayor’s administration, city and local officials and local dignitaries. State Representative Cynthia Neeley sat in the front row with friends and family.
Neeley began by commenting on the fact that it was his first in-person state of the city and thanking the essential workers who dealt with the pandemic and urging people to remain vigilant in combating any future outbreaks. He offered a moment of silence for several individuals lost to the pandemic, UAW leader Ruben Burks, Flint School Superintendent, Nate Burtley, and took special note of County Commissioner and former City Council member Bryant ‘BB’ Nolden, who passed away recently.
He addressed six major areas in his address—Flint’s financial crisis, the water crisis, crime, economic development, education, and blight.
He first spoke of the financial crisis that Flint has been facing and said that the city has had three balanced budgets, has stopped drawing from the water and sewer fund, and thanks to $220 million in state funds, the retiree’s fund is now on more solid ground for both past and current city retirees. Chief Financial Officer Rob Widigan gave a video presentation of the steps the city has taken to achieve greater financial stability, earning a national award for its efforts.
Flint water crisis
Neeley spoke of the efforts to deal with the Flint water crisis and said that “the city water has not failed a safety protocol” and that many steps have been taken to assure that the city will have a safe and dependable supply of water. Mike Brown, Department of Public Works Director, spoke to the audience by video outlining some of the steps the city has taken to deal with the water crisis, in particular by assuring that it would have a reliable back-up supply of water in an emergency. A video outlining the many steps taken to provide a clean source of water to Flint was also shown. Neeley said that 97 per cent of the pipe replacements have been completed, and that the EPA has given Flint a one-year extension to complete the rest. He expects it all to be done by spring. To reduce the cost of water to the Flint community $8.6 million of ARPA funds have been used to give a $300 credit to Flint water users.
Neeley said that one of his first actions as mayor was to declare a state of emergency over the crime issue, and thanked both Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson for assisting in fighting crime in Flint. Police Chief Terrence Green said that the homicide rate in now down 36 per cent. Neeley said that the city has now hired 12 new police officers, 12 new firefighters and that it’s offering bonuses to trained police officers who come to Flint. He also said that a gun buy-back program got more than 2000 guns off the streets of Flint and they were destroyed rather than being resold. Working with Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton, a witness protection program has been created that encourages those who see criminal activity to speak up.
Saying “The City of Flint is open for business” Mayor Neeley spoke of several new economic developments. He called the plans to redevelop the old Buick City site a “game changer” where funds have been found to clean up of old industrial area, with the hope that a new business would bring as many as 3000 new jobs to the area. Economic Development Director Samantha Fountain spoke of the importance of the new Chevy Commons state park now being developed in downtown Flint with significant state aid. Both Neeley and Fountain highlighted the need to diversify the local economy and presented a video highlight a number of local businesses that have sprung up in downtown Flint.
Though not officially a city function, Neeley stressed the need for better educational opportunities and said that the city “needs to partner with Flint schools” both public and private. He said that “children are the future” of the city and that they needed role models such a former Flint Mayor Floyd McCree, the women honored as “Heroines and Humanitarians” in the City Hall lobby or Joe Davis Jr., Flint’s first African-American fire chief. He said that “We must build a new educational system” for the children of Flint.
Neeley said that the fight against blight is a serious one in Flint and that the city can’t become a dumping ground for trash. He said that $16 million of ARPA funds would be used to demolish as many as 2000 vacant structures in the city and urged people to report those who are dumping trash on empty lots by saying, “If you see something, say something.” He said that over the years the goal of the city it to rebuild and repurpose those properties that have been demolished and that would be a major goal for the next four years.
A call for unity
Above and beyond any particular policy accomplishment the mayor’s state of the city speech was a call for unity. He said that the “one united City of Flint must work together.” Several times during his presentation Neeley reached out to the city council, and urged them to work with him to improve the city. He said that if he offended any member of the council that he apologized, and hoped they could work together for effectively in the future. In recent years the council and the mayor’s office have often been in conflict. He said “Let’s work together for the greater good of this community.”
EVM political writer and commentator Paul Rozycki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.