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State of the City Address, Feb 15, 2018, 7pm, Buskirk Chumley Theater

Thanks to our wonderful talent this year:  Fairview young folks just awesome. And thanks to the Bloomington treasure of Scott Russell Sanders. Thanks to the Buskirk-Chumley. And thanks to all the people who put this event together. City staff. Thanks to all who are here, from city council members to other elected officials; thanks to my wife First Lady Dawn Johnsen, my father, and to all of you.


The theme for my remarks tonight focuses on twos. Two years in to this administration, two more years ahead, and our 200th anniversary. But tonight needs to begin with a different kind of 2. Too many.


Yesterday another tragic school shooting killed at least 17 people, in Parkland, Florida. Our hearts are with those families and that community. Our nation has had too many killing sprees. Of the ten largest mass casualty shootings in modern America, three have now happened in the last five months. One is too many.  I know we all worry about where is next.


I’m distressed that we don’t have common sense gun control laws. I’m distressed that as a nation we seem to accept this proliferation of arms and this level of carnage. I’m distressed that we have so much untreated mental illness in our country. I’m distressed that bullying still is far too common among young people in schools. I’m distressed that we don’t have more justice in our world. I’m distressed that from the White House come not words of inclusion and welcome and unity, but words stirring anger and bitterness and resentment and blame.


I’m distressed about all that, as I expect many of you are too. I am also mayor of this, a largely peaceful community. Largely peaceful, but not immune from violence, or prejudice, or bigotry, or untreated mental illness, or injustice, or anger.


I want to talk tonight generally about the state of our city, in many ways, from many angles. Some good things going on, and some challenges that remain. Before I do that, I know the past several days have seen one particular issue arise, about a purchase of a new armored vehicle to update and replace one formerly used by the Police Department. Like many issues, this has viewpoints on different sides, and many legitimate questions and concerns have been raised. I think we in government collectively did not air enough of those questions and concerns publicly early enough, and we’re making up time now. In fact, I’ve asked the Board of Public Safety, which is the civilian board overseeing the police department, whose members I appoint, to hold a public hearing in coming days, explicitly to review the policies, procedures, and training protocols that will accompany this vehicle. I’ve also asked the Police Department to conduct another public session, as was done earlier this week, in an upcoming evening to continue the dialogue about when, how, and why this vehicle can be used for public safety -- and importantly, when, how, and why NOT to be used as well.


I believe deeply that the more our community knows about our police department -- the people who work there, the policies followed, the actions taken, and yes the equipment used -- the better off we all are. And the same goes for police knowing our community better and better.


As your mayor, I will make decisions that I believe are in the best interest of our community. And I will make mistakes, and no doubt make some decisions that each of you disagrees with. We will all continue to listen and learn, and improve our community that way. I have been convinced that in this dangerous and heavily armed world, as we were just tragically reminded again yesterday in Parkland or last year in Las Vegas, or before that in Charleston, or Sandy Hook, or in less notorious but just as tragic domestic violence situations occurring regularly, this tool of an armored vehicle is important to protect our protectors in extremely dangerous situations, to allow them to do their work well, and to increase the chance that, God forbid, any of us is a victim in such a situation, we may survive. It’s an insurance policy for all of us, and a safety measure for our first responders. I appreciate that the discussion will and should continue, and look forward to continued community input about it, at the Board of Public Safety, with the Police directly, and in wider dialogues.


Tonight, I’m turning now to those other more general two’s: years past and future in this administration. And of course, the two HUNDRED years of our Bicentennial.




Right now, Bloomington is in the midst of special times of very big opportunities. Several of our largest employers are undertaking major expansions. Our growing small business and tech sector is building critical momentum. Our city itself is investing in several new public assets that will benefit our community for generations to come. Our levels of civic engagement - how many people are active in causes and for candidates -- are among the very highest in the nation (we learned that from last year’s scientific survey of our residents…) And surely we would say we’re in political times that are, perhaps “extraordinary” is the most polite word.


Last year, we talked about “building the city we want to live in.” That it’s up to us to create the community we want…

Before that 2016 was Say What We’ll Do, and Do What We Say. We outlined the four basic pillars of our work – Jobs/Economy, Aff. Housing, Public Education, and Efficient & Innovative Govt.


Let’s take a few moments to review some of the major activities and developments activities that have gone on in the past two years in Bloomington.


  • We saw our largest private employer, Cook Group, announce a major new investment in our community

  • We saw Bloomington’s first “Unicorn,” a new company sold for a Billion Dollars, as Cook Pharmica was sold to Catalent

  • And IUHealth and IU have broken ground on a once-in-a-century effort, the new Regional Academic Health Center, the largest single investment project in our community’s history

  • Our region’s largest employer, Indiana University, in the past two years has completed or under construction another $400 million in facilities in Bloomington, and its student body continues to grow and diversify.

  • The North American corporate headquarters and design center of Tasus will move downtown and plant a flag in the Trades District.

  • And of course the new, planned expanded Convention Center and downtown hotel (a big step w F&B tax and now design/planning)

  • These six significant development projects represent very important positive momentum for jobs in our community. Of course, much more than employment projects has been going on too…..

  • Let’s note Modernization of Sanitation; our now weekly single stream recycling and volume based trash pickup is expected significantly to increase overall recycling, and to protect our workforce from injuries.

  • Our community must work for people of all walks of life, and that includes having Affordable Housing. In the past two years, nearly 2,800 new bedrooms in multifamily buildings have been approved for private investment. That’s a big number, 2,800. I’m pleased that about 15% of that -- 422 bedrooms are new, dedicated long-term to be affordable for people with low- or middle-income, disabilities, or other special needs. We passed an Accessory Dwelling Unit ordinance. And we reduced the size of buildings that can build downtown By Right, to allow more public engagement. Those are all a start at chipping away at our affordability crisis; but we have a lot more work to do.….

  • Many of us would contend that climate change is one of, if not THE greatest challenge facing our planet and thus our community. Much much needs to be done. I am very proud to report on the progress in local energy production during the past two years. It took Bloomington 10 yrs to install our first megawatt of local solar. And then in the past six months, we’re seeing an additional five megawatts installed.

  • We completed and are using the first ever scientific survey of local resident attitudes.

  • We could spend a lot of time on Safe and Civil and Just City efforts, recounting last summer’s challenges to public safety and overdoses and homelessness and more. We are spending a lot of time as a community meeting these challenges. I want to thank the many partners who have made great progress in building better safety, and civility, and justice, all three, in our community. Shalom extended to weekend hours. We instituted a new jobs program in our parks, to employ some of our brothers and sisters directly in solving the problem. We are focused on data and best practices to improve every day.

  • Two years ago we were all concerned about rising levels of Disinfectant By-Products in our drinking water from Lake Monroe. Our great team at Utilities has gotten a handle on that and those levels have been dramatically reduced to well under federal health guidelines. CBU also is in the middle of major upgrades of their water, wastewater, and sewer lines, to assure us all of a top quality systems for decades to come.

  • Like at CBU, our public safety departments -- fire, police and dispatch -- also have seen critical improvements in their equipment and training. You heard last week, perhaps, in our second annual public safety report about much of this.

  • And Public Art continues to expand, with new public-private partnerships for beautiful murals adding more than 15,000 square feet of outdoor art brightening up our city!

  • And I am so excited about the activation of the Dimension Mill building and the broader Trades District, which we’ve teed up over the past months with construction beginning very shortly.


We could go on and on with this list. So much has happened -- including our first autonomous vehicle demonstration showing our innovative side,  the first annual community-wide Opioid Summit organized by the county responding to the epidemic of addiction, our first revisions to our Comprehensive Master Plan in 15 years, and on.


And I must mention that pending purchase of the current Hospital site, in which we the community will acquire 24 acres of prime downtown territory, at a very favorable price, to allow us together to chart the future activities there. A new HUB in the HEART of our city. It’s a great opportunity.


That is a huge list of things going on, a review of 100 plus million dollars in public investments coming up and well over one billion dollars in private and non-city investments, and of course it misses hundreds of exciting projects, programs, dreams and plans among all of our people. And even cutting this list in half would describe a very ambitious and active time in our community. This is a Singular time in our history.


These good things happen only because city employees do a great job. And on our entire community’s behalf, I thank them all for all they do….Over the past few months I joined and worked two public safety shifts, with firefighters at Station One for 24 hours. And with police for an 8-hour second shift one afternoon and evening. I wish every resident could experience that as I did (or working alongside sanitation workers, or at scene of a water-main break, or doing housing inspections, or planting trees in our parks…..) We are lucky to enjoy great work done 24/7 by our city employees….


As we track our performance as a government we always want to measure and be transparent about that, with you the public. For example we track the speed of arrivals of our fire department’s responses to all the thousands of 911 calls every year. We measure how quickly a pothole gets filled after reporting.


Over the past couple of years, we have continued to invest in our workforce. a new four-year labor contract was approved for firefighters. A new Quartermaster system assures each of our 100 firefighters has safe, quality equipment; With council support, now every regular City employee earns at least $15/hour, whether part-time or full. With council’s support, and leadership from HR now at least 1% of payroll is dedicated to training and development.


We’ve embraced Transparency: B-Clear, Bloomington Revealed and our Dashboard share dozens of data sets, with more every month. At the Farmers Market or other venues, I or department heads host weekly public availabilities. I open my own office weekly for an hour of one-on-one meetings with any resident on any topic they choose.


Our new Innovation department has dug into operations all over City Hall and beyond, and helped implement new, more efficient ways to operate:  from using drones in missing-person searches and fire inspections, to using LIDAR equipped trucks to map the quality of our streets and sidewalks, to using transcription services to get public meetings transcribed, online, and searchable so residents can access information much more easily.


Now not everything has worked as we intended. Remember I’ve always said we’ll try things and they won’t all work.  We worked on our boundaries, also known as Annexation. I continue to believe that our local governments need to align better to provide better, reliable, sustainable services to all of our people. The state house had another idea. They also decided up there to outlaw inclusionary zoning down here -- a tool used all across the country to help support affordable housing. We’re still working hard every week on digital infrastructure, despite hiccups and a national regulatory climate that has gotten more hostile to creative municipal solutions.


And there are certainly big challenges that persist in Bloomington:  poverty, especially children experiencing poverty. Addictions, especially the explosion of opioids. Wrenching high housing costs - the highest in the state - that burden thousands of households. Homelessness, including for many families with kids. Rapes reported in our city went up nearly 50% last year.  Even in our progressive community, women are objectified and harrassed; transgender people face threats. And CASA caseloads, times when our community needs to step in to protect a child from danger, have skyrocketed.


I cannot help pausing and noting that our federal administration, which COULD do so much to help, often makes things harder these days: re opioids with a new focus on criminality and jails; affordable housing with funding cuts; infrastructure needs with proposed new private leverage prioritization; with irresponsible deficit spending to reward the top 1% of our economy with more and more wealth; and ultimately with a culture of disrespect and bigotry that weakens our country.


We witness failures in our own beloved community, People of the Muslim faith have been assaulted. So have people of color. We have seen swastikas painted on public places. It happens here. (In a state that still will not pass a hate crime bill, which the Herald Times appropriately deemed “APPALLING”) Local institutions can objectify women in terrible ways.


We know we live amid state, national, and global trends that can be daunting. And we are not immune. But we are not passive either. I am so proud to see our community rising, over and over again, to respond to challenges like these. From Hands Across the Trail, to Women’s Marches and pink hats, to Peace marches, to Black Lives Matters protests, to PRIDE events, to Bloomington United, to just this week the first State of the Black Community report.


Bloomington didn’t change our character with the last election. And we continue our full-throated and deeply held support for ALL people, of whatever color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, abilities, religion, ethnicity -- ALL are welcome in this community. And we know we are stronger in our diversity.


So for 2 years in, we’ve seen progress on jobs, housing, public education, and a government that works, and works more transparently for us. Our community is far from perfect of course. We have much work ahead. But we are improving. We are making progress. And I believe the State of our City is strong with very positive outlook ahead.




A wonderful glimpse into the future came at the New Year’s Eve event six weeks ago kicking off our Bicentennial year. One activity featured Wishing-Well notes for our community. Here are some favorites:

  • To always be a welcoming, inclusive city that cares.

  • I wish for Indiana ha[ve] more kindness.

  • I wish people will stop feeling sorry and start seeing light in the dark.

  • To have love in the air.


In the coming two years, we have VERY full plate of activities already, most of which have been outlined above. A few aspects deserve some special mention:


First, We have to manage all these active projects well, and leverage these investments for maximum public benefit. Given unprecedented activity levels we need to do these things right!! Therefore, we will be requesting additional support in the 2018 budget year for project management resources, to assure appropriate oversight of this unprecedented array of major projects. As well, strategic public investments can leverage the impact of these foundational projects. Think of the city as an investor on behalf of all of us, to get the most good out of these projects, for the long haul. You’ve already seen prudent but strategic property acquisition near Switchyard Park, and the Trades District, and the major property acquisition of the current hospital site. Expect to continue to see proposed public investments that can leverage the community value of these projects, for public benefits like affordable housing, community facilities, targeted development, greenspace and more.


Second, we will need significant public involvement in lots of planning work coming down the pike, from the Urban Land Institute process beginning to address the downtown 24 acres in early April, to our Unified Development Ordinance meetings, to Transportation and Sustainability planning sessions in the coming months. Or parking planning, if that’s your thing. Or planning around the I-69 corridor, which we do expect will be completed to Martinsville this year. There are LOTS of opportunities to get involved in major planning for coming years, and I hope you will do so.


Third, beyond physical infrastructure, in which we see enormous activity and investment, how do we invest appropriately in the softer/human side to assure progress and opportunity and justice? This can get difficult with budget realities. As a city, how do we best increase investments in child care, education, health care, food security. And the arts, diversity and inclusion? We’ve made our first-ever direct investment of general funds in supporting Child Care slots this year. I want to thank the city council for your far-sighted support of this investment in our future. Getting our youngest residents a better start in life. We’re expanding arts funding through the Arts Commission. And we’re working to support our local food economy and healthier living.


Fourth, we must continue to get more effective, and innovate with, and expand transparency in, our daily government activities.

Continue modernization, for example finally getting computers for the thousands of field inspections we do annually of rental properties. tablets for HAND?  we’ve grown to 1%, is it time to get to a training budget worth 2% of our payroll? Accreditation of police, and then fire departments…. (going from one to three nationally accredited departments). Animal Shelter opening. And sometimes the old is new too -- we plan to relaunch the old sidewalk-match program, to encourage private owners to improve the public sidewalks on their properties? And an announcement: this afternoon the city and IU signed a contract with Zagster/Pace, a leading company out of Massachusetts, to launch our community’s  New Bike Share in the spring!!  Very exciting! Watch for it.


We have been energetically committed to sharing data about who works for the city, our diversity and our training. And data about how we are doing on meeting our goals. Check out the new website and public accessibility. By budget time this fall, I hope you all will find new accountability useful: we will focus on ways to make community investments, goals, and results even more transparent: here is an example of what I’m talking about. Every department will have public goals, and public report cards on how we’re doing on those.


We also will continue work on big challenges, like our Digital infrastructure. And community development finance. And Our city boundaries and our collaborative role in the region.


Throughout it all we will hold fast to Bloomington values – inclusion, equity. Opportunity. Creativity. (Beverly Calender-Anderson has used this quote):  “Diversity is being invited to the dance. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”  (Verna Myers)    Equity is having your music played …  Belonging is knowing all the songs … Acceptance is when you get taken home from the dance…..”


One other important thing to mention about the coming couple years: we’ll be completing a signature new PARK FOR THE AGES!!  Construction will begin in May and be completed in 2019. And here’s the new logo! Switchyard Park will bring multiple social, recreational, economic and environmental benefits to the community, and will include a signature pavilion and platform to draw visitors in for festivals, gatherings and recreation, A big outdoor stage to attract performers near and far, never-before-seen playground structures, a splash pad for hot summer days, pickleball and bocce courts, skate park, dog park, community gardens and more. The design is a tribute to the past and nod to the future. The Switchyard Park will be a destination park that is innovative, memorable and dynamic.   




So….this is a lot to process. There is a LOT going on in Bloomington, with your city government. (When you see a city employee, please thank them for all they are doing -- they are working very hard on a big number of efforts on behalf of all of us!!) And we SO appreciate all the partners who make this work possible. That’s partners today, and of course all the partners from the past on whose shoulders we stand.


I want to turn for just a bit to think together about this Bicentennial Year during which we can be Looking Back and Paying Forward??  A year during which we can remember how lucky we are to benefit from 200 years of thousands (millions?) of individual and collective decisions that made Bton what it is today. And a year to commit to do our job, to do the same for future generations.


Change is coming. Bloomington will change. It WILL CHANGE. It always has, and it always will. And our job is to change well, not badly. The Bicentennial reminds us of our obligation to the next generations -- to pass along a city that will thrive, a community that will welcome and work for people from all walks of life, and from all corners of the globe, a place where justice is evident and where opportunity abounds. Bloomington needs to be a city of choice for the next generations of caring, creative people who will chart the course and steer the ship for the coming decades.


With the Bicentennial we are taking some extra steps. Many events will come up this year, as City and County both celebrate together our joint birthday year. Tonight I want to share new details to help us honor the Bicentennial, helping create a more connected, sustainable, and equitable community:


  • First, Trees. More trees make a healthier, more beautiful, more welcoming community, and a better future. A new initiative I’m announcing tonight is a tree program for residents to join: a way personally to join the Bicentennial tree effort as a family, grateful for previous generations, and investing in future generations. Details will come about planting in your own yard, or for donating a Bicentennial tree at a park or school, including as a memorial or gift. I hope you will seriously consider participating personally. (make mental notes of those birthdays, anniversaries, special dates coming up!)

  • Second, Trails. We love trails, and so will the next generation. We’re outlining an exciting new set of community-enhancing trails planned with the Bicentennial:

    • A Griffy Loop trail, to circle Griffy Lake with beautiful vistas, and new connectivity to the east and west

    • Including through Lower Cascades -- our oldest city park -- where we propose to limit vehicular traffic to one lane, one-direction, and create fabulous bike and ped connectivity through a beautiful valley

    • B-Line extension, both north and south -- up to 17th Street (and then west to county trails), and down along the Rail Trail to connect with….

    • A Jackson Creek Trail southern loop from Rhorer Rd to Fairfax Road, through the abandoned railroad, crossing South Walnut Street to the Clear Creek Trail Head at Church Lane/Rogers St

    • And here you can see the vision of a trail system looping all around our community, connecting to region, and with great inner spokes and links!

  • Third, Jobs. We’re announcing a Bicentennial Job Corps. A public works program to bring hard-to-employ people into the workforce (modeled after our successful efforts led by Parks downtown this summer). This Job Corps will help with some special Bicentennial efforts -- like extra pruning of trees, and mulching or invasive plant removals, like extra painting or overgrowth clearing or maintenance of sidewalks, helping hard-to-employ folks get jobs and build a record of successful work

  • And if you have some more ideas about what we should be doing this Bicentennial Year, by all means let us know, and get involved!!


So we live in a place where, for a couple hundred years formally under the name Bloomington, people have gathered together, for the reasons people have been gathering in cities and towns across the planet for a few thousand years.


People gather in cities and intermingle. We interact and combine in new mixtures of faiths, backgrounds, languages, viewpoints, values, ethnicities, races, goals, …..  And with that great intermingling, that increasing diversity and inclusion, we also get more creative, we innovate, we learn new things, from each other, from new combinations.


Recently I’ve been reading a book called “The New Localism: How Cities can Thrive in the Age of Populism.” The age of populism referred to is the dangerous populism we’ve seen recently, nourished here and abroad, that is nostalgic, nationalistic, and nativist. This book urges that it is cities where the opposite can and must happen: that cities have the forward-looking, open-to-the-world, inclusive and welcoming approach to the world, where intermingling and innovation are valued and where diversity and inclusion are celebrated as strengths.


A year ago, we weren’t really sure what was going to happen at the federal scene. Now we know more. It’s dysfunctional where we would like support. It’s not hard to get frustrated or maybe even furious these days about all manner of things. And that’s OK, But look at this picture.  And think about the the New Localism.


There really are hundreds of cities charting the future of America. We are one of of those (in fact we’re number 251 of MSAs if you’re counting by size) We’re one of those communities….. that Malcolm Abrams described in the current Bloom mag “where people still care about truthfulness and science, refugees and climate change, fair elections and competent judges, the value of art and the danger of guns, affordable health care for all, and treating people with dignity no matter their race, color, religion or gender identity.” And we are far from alone -- America is full of cities and people like this.


As we’re at our 200th birthday, let’s remember how America celebrated its 100th birthday -- the symbol we chose, and the lasting power that symbol carries, for us, and across all our communities and the planet. Last year we spoke about this torch and our relay race of democracy… we in our community must continue the progress toward a more perfect union -- step by step, forward not backward -- and that is right.


This year, and in this place, I want us to remember that we in our relay race, here in Bloomington, we are part of hundreds of these efforts across our country. There is a GREAT RESILIENCE to our country and our people. As Jim Sims said at the wonderful Rosa Parks birthday celebration at our downtown Transit Center earlier this month [led by the fabulous Gladys Devane and Liz Mitchell] -- the power in people is greater than the people in power.


And I also very much want us to remember that our city -- despite all these projects and activities -- our city is really our people, and who we are, and what we want? and how we treat each other. and how we create the community we want, for each other, and for the future generations. I’m talking about everyone in this room and far beyond,  through your volunteer work, public service, corporate partnerships, advocacy, activism that great Bloomington RISING, we see every day - even when it challenges us and pushes us in government and makes us better. That's our great system. That’s messy and beautiful democracy. And goodness knows we need more of that in 2018, and beyond.


It is such a blessing to be among you all, people who love this city and each other, to carry forward that mission together.


THANK YOU….. And remember this is a birthday year for our city, and what is a birthday without cake?!  Please join us for a slice of cake and conversation. THANK YOU!!