Text: 2009 State of the City address

Mayor Tom Henry’s State of the City address as prepared for delivery on February 12, 2009, at the Public Safety Academy.

Good afternoon and welcome.

This is the first time a State of the City speech has been delivered here in the Regional Public Safety Academy of Northeast Indiana.

I certainly hope you will take advantage of any opportunity to tour the building.

The main mission of the Academy is to deliver integrated public safety training to regional 1st responders and we are proud to be associated with a number of education partners.

I’d also like to recognize the four members of the current board of directors for the Regional Public Safety Foundation: IPFW Chancellor Mike Wartell; I & M president Helen Murray, Bluffton Mayor Ted Ellis and Kendallville Mayor Suzanne Handshoe. The four of them are in the process of selecting additional members for their board and will be moving forward with the mission of this facility and the regional vision it represents. The board members join us today.

Today is the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln – many say, our greatest president (pause) so far. Lincoln had ties to Indiana, and he recalled moving from Kentucky to Indiana in his eighth year: “it was a wild region,” he said, “with many bears and other wild animals still in the woods.”

I think we’ve taken care of the bears, but plenty of challenges still lurk in the shadows.

I try to keep Lincoln’s second inaugural address in mind as we face those challenges: “With malice toward none but charity for all,” he said, “Let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds”

That seems to be the tone of the times, binding up the wounds of an economy in freefall and a market gone haywire – we’ve just come out of an historic presidential inauguration, and, as I sat on the steps of the capitol on that cold January day ‘President Obama said: “what is required of us now is a new era of responsibility – a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.”

Times are difficult. But we, in Fort Wayne, will persevere and succeed.

Politics did put us on the map in 2008 – and we enjoyed our moment in the spotlight. Former President Bill Clinton, Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Ted Danson in support of Hillary, President Barack Obama came twice, as did his wife, Michelle—and while, not political, Coach Tony Dungy and some of the Colts players were here for Oprah’s Big Give in April, teen star Hillary Duff visited area schools, and we welcomed gold medal olympian Lloy Ball.

But what was very special to me, in 2008, was to see how many of our citizens responded with hospitality and help on December 19th, when we faced one of the worst ice storms in Fort Wayne history. At one point, more than 100-thousand customers of Indiana Michigan Power were without power. And it was cold. Very cold.

We didn’t know what mother nature had in store for us, but for many, it ended up being days without heat or lights. Shelters were quickly set up, arrangements were made to get people out of their homes and into places that were warm and safe and we continued to ask our citizens to check and make sure friends and family and even strangers were safe and had a place to go.

Our 3-1-1 call takers worked extra shifts and answered nearly 12 thousand calls from people who had no way of knowing what to expect.

And I am still hearing stories about the acts of kindness that came during that time.

One story I heard, involved Don Hall’s Guesthouse and Restaurant. Tim hall was managing that weekend. Probably a weekend he thought would be typical.

But after the ice storm hit, he began seeing many panicked residents, some of them, parents with small children. As neighborhoods remained dark and without heat, temperatures continued to drop and it wasn’t long before the hotel was filled up.

Tim Hall sensed immediately that they needed to do more to help their community – so, they pulled out every spare bed and cot and opened up every conference room and hospitality room to put up their visitors in need. Staff members stayed to help, manning the restaurant so that those who were displaced could get a warm meal. Even the lobby was used.

The guesthouse didn’t have to do that – but they did and I think the efforts of that staff pulling together to help the community in a time of need is exactly why we should all be proud of Fort Wayne.

There were many stories like this during the ice storm. Tim is with us today, and I’d like to ask him to stand.

I have often said my commitment to this community is to each and every citizen of Fort Wayne: it does not matter to me what a person does for a living, each voice deserves to be heard… That’s how I was raised.

I value the conversations I have with citizens and I take seriously their efforts to talk with me about their concerns, during neighborhood walks, during Mayor’s Nights In and Mayor’s night out,  and at all of the many events I attend each week.

I have lived here almost all my life, and yet, I learn more about us, as a community, with each of those conversations.

What I learn, and what I know, is that we have many individuals, businesses, and public servants working very hard every day to make this a better place, for themselves and for all of us.

Just last week, here in this building, we had the second gathering of dozens of local non-profit organizations, it was part of the social services summit i had wanted to do during my first year as mayor.

The groups got together and began looking at what gaps may exist in serving our citizens’ basic needs, like housing, healthcare and food.

Action plans are now being developed and in about 90 days, we will have information about new ways to meet the needs of all of our citizens.

Soon after our city began to exist as a community, there were neighborhoods, and we are still a city of neighborhoods. I ran for office on a promise to strengthen neighborhoods and we made a good start on that commitment in 2008.

The Southeast Strategy Group, made up of staff and community business leaders, developed the city%9s first ever non-residential code enforcement ordinance in order to protect commercial and other property values throughout the city. Along with the new ordinance, we are currently working to refine and update the city’s residential code to better serve the public and meet s