Mayor Tom Richards delivered the 2012 State of the City address Monday night, the first of his administration.
Richards was matter-of-fact and plain-spoken. He’s not trying to solve the world’s problems. He acknowledged he can’t solve all the city’s problems. Sometimes being mayor “means just doing what you can.”
The mayor shows great compassion and a hint of sadness when talking about city school children:
Someone loves these children…We have so many good kids. We have so many good teachers. Yet, when you look into the eyes of those students, you cannot help but remember the statistics. Less than half of them will make it to graduation. How could we have come to that? How can we be failing them so badly?
Richards, who admitted he didn’t have any solutions, offered up what he can do: provide city help with truancy and youth services coordination. He also offered up some sage wisdom not heeded by his predecessors in City Hall or Central Office.
We must be dependable and stable—like adults are supposed to be. Our children must be able to depend on us. At its most fundamental level, this need for dependability—for stability—should not be overcome by some debate over educational philosophy. Or by which group of adults gets to decide which philosophy is correct. It means that we pick some fundamental programs and approaches and that we stick to them.
This is not just a message for the School District, but also for those who want to help. This is where the failed good intentions come in. I question how helpful it is, that with the best of intentions we try to push on the school system a constant barrage of the newest ideas and programs. Dependability and stability trump the theoretical optimal.
Was that a knock on the current brand of education reform and mayoral control?
On Public Safety:
Richards said a lot of public safety is the public feeling safe, no matter what the statistics say about how fast a fire truck arrives or falling crime rates.
But public safety personnel are super-expensive and eat up much of the city budget. As he crafts his budget for the next fiscal year, he issued a warning.
Public Safety is important, often the most important, but it is not sacrosanct. That we need to provide public safety is beyond challenge. That we need to do it the way we always have done it is not. This approach can be threatening. Especially to those who believe that no departmental organization, work rule or benefit should change. The Mayor is sometimes the agent of that threat. My response is that we need to work together to balance the need for public safety and our financial stability or we will wind up losing both.
On Saving Cities:
Richards said the city has a major structural deficit. The city cannot tax its way out of the problem, nor can development occur fast enough to generate new revenue.
Cities do not exist to produce a balanced budget. They are vehicles for delivering services that create and preserve the quality of life that attracts people to urban centers. Cities will first face cultural and social bankruptcy before they encounter financial bankruptcy. We will be forced to cut services that make city living attractive, negatively impacting our quality of life. Libraries, recreation centers, festivals, fireworks and much of the investment that you saw earlier in this presentation are the sorts of things that get cut on the way to bankruptcy. And it is just such cuts that force those who would consider living in our city to make other choices.
If we don’t get control of the system, there is a real danger of the innocent getting shot with the guilty. It is not a matter of finding fault. It is a matter of dealing with the problem that we must admit we all have. Government is not the gift that keeps on giving. It can break and when it does, we will all get hurt.
Next month when Richards unveils his 2012-13 budget, we will see what kind of control he has in mind. We’ll see what he can do. But that also means we’ll see what he can’t.