Thank you Doug, and thanks to the Kiwanis
Club of Downtown Akron, the Rotary Club, and the Akron Press Club for hosting this annual
I appreciate your mentioning the recognitions that have come my way recently. But
after having open heart surgery and being laid-low by a spider bite, I can't help but be
thankful that 2003 is over!
Well, I've been feeling fine for months now, and I do appreciate the recognition from
the National League of Cities, American City & County magazine, and the others.
But even I'm tired of seeing my picture on the cover of magazines!
This annual speech has been important to me because it gives me a chance to re-affirm
that no one person brings success to Akron all alone. When I accept awards, I always
remember that I'm accepting them on behalf of a large number of people.
During this past election year, my family had to endure even more than the usual stuff
that comes with being in public office. So I want to recognize my son David, daughter
Michelle, son-in law Mike, my mom and stepfather Mel- - who had his own heart surgery this
year - - and my wife Mary.
At city hall - our success is really the result of a lot of good people working
together. And that includes members of city council, members of my cabinet and office
And around city hall, in addition to the recognitions Doug spoke about, our employees
were responsible for quite a few more awards:
This fall, we received an award from the Smart Growth Education Foundation in
recognition of the City's efforts to re-build housing in Akron's core area. This was an
effort coordinated by Planning Director Warren Woolford, and his staff, with special
recognition to Jerry Egan, Warren Walfish, and the rest of the Planning Department staff.
And next week, the National Association of Homebuilders will present to Akron another
national mayoral leadership award for our housing programs.
In October, Akron won First Place in the America in Bloom national competition.
This is a tribute to Keep Akron Beautiful director Paula Davis, city arborist Bill
Hahn, and a volunteer citizens committee. Together, they led a team of judges through the
city to see our flowerscapes, the Towpath, the new Mud Run Golf Course, and they saw the
results of our expressway beautification program - - all of which helped us claim the top
prize for cities nationwide with populations 100,000 to 500,000.
And it isn't what you'd call glamorous, but winning a Silver Award from the national
Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies represents a lot of hard work at our Public
Utilities Bureau. Service Director Jerry Holland, and Manager Mike McGlinchy give credit
for the achievement to Randy Monteith, who oversees Akron's pilot programs at the
Wastewater Treatment Plant, and Brian Gresser, the plant administrator.
These awards serve several purposes. They let us know how Akron is doing when compared
to cities our size and with similar budgets, and they give recognition and encouragement
to the outstanding people who work for the City of Akron every day.
Many of our employees have also won individual recognition for professional work and
community service - - and they are listed in our January CITY magazine - - which by the
way was sent out with 12-month calendar this year.
I can't say enough good things about the people who go to work for you every day in the
City of Akron. Our municipal workforce is dedicated and is one of the most generous
employee-groups in Akron. We see it in our United Way campaign, our school tutoring
programs, and our tradition of taking care of families at the holidays each year. This
year, city employees made Christmas happier for more than 300 families.
But there's more. In April, shortly after we realized that Akron men and women would be
deployed to Iraq and be away from their families for an extended period of time, I
announced the opening of the Mayor's Office of Military Assistance to coordinate volunteer
services between our city employees and the American Red Cross.
- - and once again, as soon as we asked for volunteers, more than fifty city workers
signed up to help.
For wives, whose husbands have been deployed overseas, they have mowed lawns, and
repaired lawnmowers. In one case, two of our workers repaired a leaky roof - - twice. They
helped remove a tree limb that was threatening the home of another military wife who had
three young kids.
Our employees have intervened with businesses and government agencies on behalf of
military families-in one case to get a short-term contract on a home security system, and
city volunteers installed deadbolt locks in another home where a solider would not be back
for a year.
It's this same team that makes Akron one of the premiere cities in the United States.
I can say that with confidence for several reasons.
Many American cities are laying-off employees-and we need look no further than
Cleveland to the north, Columbus to the south, or Pittsburgh to the east. In Akron, we do
not expect to lay-off employees this year. Indeed, our employees will share in pay
increases this year, largely because of the team effort that has resulted in many of our
departments right-sizing during the good times.
The National League of Cities published a study in November on where American cities
stand after the 24-month recession that has buffeted businesses and governments alike.
Cities are suffering from the loss of revenue that accompanies any loss of jobs. As with
your budget at home, cities have seen a sharp drop in investment earnings that goes along
with low interest rates and a declining stock market. And cities have been where the buck
has stopped with regard to funding a variety of programs. Because the federal governments
and state governments have simply cut dollars to cities - - even though Washington and
Columbus both have mandated that we provide additional services, and left us on our own to
find the money to support them.
In 2003, 81% of America's cities reported that they were less able to meet their
financial needs than the year before. So on a national scale, Akron is among the 19% of
American cities meeting its needs.
One reason we are doing as well as we are, is because of a continuous program of
investment in the City that we began many years ago...and the aggressive stance we have
taken in assembling land for business expansion, and providing water and sewer utilities
for business growth - - in the city, and through our JEDDs.
But we are hardly out of the woods financially. While there are signs of economic
recovery, so far it has been a jobless recovery, and we remain heavily dependent on the
income tax to finance local initiatives.
And as with the pressures on your business, our costs are going up as well - - for
health care, for utilities, and in most other categories.
And as it is with you and your businesses - we have been trying to consolidate services
where possible, and stretch resources as far as possible through collaborative efforts.
Actually, Akron may be the most collaborative community in the United States. If
there's another town who wants to claim that title, I want them to prove to me that I'm
wrong. Much of our success in Akron is directly related to the fact that we have a
tradition of working together.
Our safety forces -police and fire; our Public Health officials - - tell us that when
they go to state and regional meetings, their colleagues are jealous of the degree of
collaboration they get here in Akron and Summit County.
By sharing resources in government, we are able to do more with less.
A dramatic example, and thankfully, one we don't have too often - - was this summer's
emergencies. First, in July, floods swept through the area. In August, we experienced a
major power outage that required city and county employees to solve problems together and
deploy resources to assist all of our neighbors. We saw that later in August, when for the
first time ever, we had to issue a boil-water alert as a precaution.
These emergencies in part also gave real urgency to an idea that was proposed in the
report of Imagine.Akron:2025 - - a Reverse 9-1-1 system that will enable our dispatch
center to make telephone calls-out to our residents when there is an emergency either in
the city or in a particular neighborhood.
This would be a much more expensive undertaking if we did not collaborate with the
Emergency Management Agency of Summit County. We have announced a joint emergency
telephone notification system, one that benefits the residents of Akron and other
communities in the county.
Summit County Executive Jim McCarthy has been a good partner for us, in this and other
For example, we are acquiring land at the former Brown Graves site that is not needed
by the County jail. This will be land for industrial expansion in Akron, and in turn we
have transferred back to the county some jail beds that we will not require because of our
collaborative arrangements with non-profit groups that can handle misdemeanor corrections
for us. Incidentally, that's another idea from the Imagine.Akron report that we have
When government entities work together, we all save money.
In the area of economic development, we have also forged an important partnership with
the Greater Akron Chamber to attract European investment and another partnership that will
assist in creating new technology in Akron, and as importantly - - new jobs - - at
With the state of Ohio Department of Development, Jim McCarthy's office, and the Summit
County Port Authority, this year we were able to put together a package of incentives that
will make Lockheed a competitive private partner in winning the contract to design and
build a new high-altitude airship. The design phase is underway now, and assuming that the
Missile Defense Agency approves the project this summer, we will see the first of a new
generation of airships built at the airdock in South Akron sometime in 2006. The prototype
airship will be about 25 times larger than the Goodyear Blimp.
This year we also saw new returns on an investment we made collaboratively with the
University of Akron and the federal government more than 20 years ago. Last July, Senator
George Voinovich came to Akron to present a check for almost $1.7 million to help expand
the Akron Industrial Incubator. The incubator nurtures small technology and manufacturing
businesses during the start-up stage. Over the last 10 years, the incubator has generated
more than 680 new jobs.
2003 saw another important development in our economic well being as a community, and
again it's the result of collaboration.
Do you realize, that in about a six-month period beginning last fall and continuing
through this spring, Downtown Akron will see eight new restaurants and night clubs open?
Among the achievements that occurred in Akron in 2003, is the "arrival" of
Clearly, it's been the subject of our attention ever since I became mayor. But this
past year, we have to say that downtown reached some new milestones.
With our free parking program serving visitors and restaurant patrons, we can say that
between the Civic Theatre, EJ Thomas Hall, the convention center, the Akron Aeros, and our
nightlife-downtown Akron is hosting two million visitors each year.
In 2003, we entered into a partnership with the Civic Theatre to manage the city's
newest park at Lock 3. This past summer, more than 50,000 people attended our outdoor
entertainment venue to hear music, to shop at our new Saturday farmers market, and to
visit the new Akron History Museum at Lock 3.
And these numbers are in addition to the hundreds of downtown workers who on a daily
basis are now enjoying the canal walk between Lock 3 and Spaghetti Warehouse. Last
October, a thousand of us enjoyed the canal walk with our kids or grand kids, as we
celebrated the first Children's Fun Run in downtown Akron, part of the great Roadrunner
Akron Marathon that has brought us new national attention.
It was also the realization of a dream for me, when we launched an arts program at Lock
3 last summer for 60 Akron high school students who received hands-on experience in
painting, sculpting, creating landscaping, making movies, producing theatrical shows, and
more. Each of them received a stipend for their four weeks of work, and in one case - - a
mother wrote to me to say that the jolt of energy that her son received from becoming
recognized for his art skills, literally changed his life at school last fall.
Each Friday and Saturday night, there are thousands of young people going in and out of
a dozen nightclubs --- and are reasonably well-behaved. And for the rest of you, I hope
you'll join me for a downtown lunch or dinner at Piatto, Bricco Jacob Good, Menches, Bru's
Brew, Jillian's, Harry Buffalo, the City Beat, the House of Hunan, the Lime Spider,
Luigi's, Northside, Spaghetti Warehouse, ---- and yes, there's more.
When we talk about collaboration, Akron has a unique relationship with several of our
neighbors: Fairlawn, Copley, Bath, Springfield, and Coventry. I've talked before about the
economic impact of our Joint Economic Development Districts on the region, but this past
year, we saw other benefits from this collaboration emerge.
The new softball complex in Coventry opened for use last spring, and this year we will
complete a sports complex for joint use in Springfield Township.
In the coming year, we will build a new soccer complex - - eight soccer fields, a
pavilion, and a concession stand on Copley Road at White Pond Drive. This will become the
largest soccer complex in the city of Akron.
Our partners in this venture are the Greater Akron Area Soccer Association (GAASA) and
Ohio Youth Soccer Association. This facility will serve more than 600 young people, and we
are hopeful we can expand it to serve even more in the future.
In each case, these shared resources add to the well being of the community and save
In the field of recreation, there is one other notable collaboration. In September,
LeBron James brought the surgeon general of the United States to Akron to kick-off a
physical education program for Akron's elementary school students that is being funded by
the NIKE Corporation, his sponsor. In addition to that, LeBron designated five Akron play
areas as sites for new rubberized surfaces that will be paid for by NIKE. These basketball
courts, made of recycled rubber will be installed in two of our community centers and on
three of our outdoor basketball courts.
I want to personally thank LeBron for learning at an early age to give back to HIS
community. He's told me that there will be more.
When I review the Imagine.Akron report that a thousand citizens helped put together
three years ago, I note that the report cites a particular need that we have to create
housing in Akron that works for all of our people. And this year, we enjoyed great success
in the construction of new housing.
We've always been a city with great neighborhoods, and great old housing - - some of it
built in the 1930's and 1940's, with building materials that are no longer available - -
hard wood floors, crown molding and marble fireplaces. And in years past, we've had an
aggressive program to rehabilitate our older housing stock and to make public improvements
in older neighborhoods that would keep homes functional for the next generation.
But if we've learned anything this year - - it's that not everyone likes what a former
young person who used to work for me described as a used house. And the fact is, that if
Akron is going to succeed, we must provide brand new housing for buyers in addition to
great older housing.
When this national calendar (HOLD-UP) came out last week- sent to cities around the
country by a national publication, we were proud to see a picture of Akron, Ohio on the
front of the calendar. It's a shot taken from our City View project which we dedicated in
The City of Akron and the Home Builders Association serving Portage and Summit Counties
(HBA) collaborated to redevelop nearly four acres of land. Nine HBA member builders
constructed 21 new homes, priced in the $110,000 - $130,000 range. The City View property
is located between Bisson Avenue and City View Avenue, west of East Ave, off of Vernon
The houses sold almost as soon as they were built. We also have a very successful
project in Ellet built on city-owned land by Testa Builders.
And we're planning for more.
In October, we invited 25 different organizations to sit down with us at Firestone Park
Community Center to create plans to develop even more housing in the City.
We look forward to working with Tony O'Leary and Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority
on the 40-million dollar Hope 6 project in Elizabeth Park, and the nearby Hickory Street
Another example of a three-way partnership that will rejuvenate the entire area of
Middlebury in East Akron is the construction of Middlebury Market Place, a 67,500 square
foot shopping center anchored by Dave's Supermarkets, Inc. a Cuyahoga County Chain. This
represents one of our significant developments in the City's 10 year Enterprise Community
And when we talk about the benefits of collaboration, and a good example of why Akron
works better than so many other cities, we have to talk about what might be described as
the "Mother of All Collaborations" - - - the re-building of Akron's Public
Schools as Community Learning Centers for the 21st century.
Akron voters approved the funding of this 800-million dollar project, the largest in
the city's history, last May, and passed Issue 10 by a 64% approval rating - - unheard of
in these days, for a tax increase.
We have completed the first stages of this project:
We've sold the bonds, at a great rate - - under 5% interest, and in just a few days,
our bond house in New York City will deposit in our account, the initial $165 million from
the bond sale. With these funds on hand, we will receive the first of the matching funds
from the Ohio School Facilities Commission.
Just last month, we completed work on a complicated, but necessary joint use agreement
for the next 50 years.
Together, we have employed a consultant who is knowledgeable in building dozens of
Community Learning Centers around the United States. They are sharing their experience
with us, so that we can avoid any pitfalls experienced in other communities. But while
other areas of the country have built such joint-use facilities, they tell us that Akron,
Ohio is the ONLY large city where every single school is being re-built as a Community
So with the Akron Public Schools, we truly have an historic opportunity to develop
creative uses of these buildings, and expand our offerings of after-school programs.
Our consultant has told us about a school in Dearborn that actually sits inside the
Henry Ford Museum, and schools within the boundaries of a zoo.
Think about the possibility of placing classrooms at the Akron Zoo, or in the Inventors
Hall of Fame, emphasizing math, science, and computers while encouraging creative
We're already committed to doing a joint venture with the Akron Urban League, where
community facilities like a gymnasium and cafeteria could be jointly used. And talks are
underway to do a new school in Firestone Park with the YMCA as a partner.
There are many possibilities, maybe some other creative collaboration that we haven't
thought of. So, if you have an idea - please get involved, learn more, and give my office
I must admit that a lot of the planning we do takes place in the abstract, where for
instance, the group of volunteers decided to call our effort five years ago
Imagine.Akron:2025. I was skeptical of the long-range sound of 2025.
But for those of you who are parents or grandparents, there's nothing that can focus
your attention on the future like holding a newborn baby.
I thought of this a few weeks ago while watching a TV news report about the first
babies born in 2004.
I realized that babies who were born in the last year will be the kids who will enter
kindergarten in 2008 - when some of our first new Community Learning Centers open for the
The children born in 2003 will be entering high school in 2017, when our 15-year
re-building plan has been completed.
And these are the same kids who will graduate from college in the year 2025. They
represent specific reasons first to do this project right; to continue to use the
Imagine.Akron:2025 report guidelines and to improve Akron in every way we can.
I would suggest that every time you see a toddler or infant, you should visualize that
child as the real reason why we have to continue to ask ourselves: What will Akron be in
Will there be jobs? What do we need to do to keep them here? Will Akron be the type of
community where graduates will want to live and grow a family? What else can we do now?
The answer to many of those questions will depend on our taking action between now and
then to make certain the success of our community.
That's why I will be asking to re-activate the Imagine.Akron:2025 group, to get the
participants to help continue the implementation of their recommendations. And I will
propose reconfiguring the non-charter boards and commissions of the City to align more
closely with the areas of concern in the report to help guide us in the process of
implementation. I hope many of you will agree to participate.
I must tell you though, that many of these questions will be answered by decisions and
actions (or inactions) beyond the boundaries of Akron.
That's one reason I made a choice several years ago to take on a leadership role with
the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
In the past year, we've seen the President and congress on a federal level, and the
governors and legislatures on a state level - - pass the buck to cities.
Decreased funding. More mandated programs.
New and difficult situations in Cleveland, Columbus, Pittsburgh, and other major
Mayors have no one to push down to.
We have to provide essential services - - from picking up the garbage to the first line
of defense in homeland security and we've had to do more with less help.
We have placed on your table a summary description of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and
the programs of the conference.
Being president of the conference will provide benefits to Akron, as well as providing
an opportunity to have a voice on important decisions affecting Akron.
When Secretary Tom Ridge starts making plans for homeland security issues that concern
cities, Akron has a seat at the table.
When Health and Human Services secretary Tommy Thompson makes national policy on health
issues that affect all Americans, Akron has a voice.
When new HUD Secretary Alfonso Jackson starts planning for how he will use the federal
budget to put the brakes on poverty - - Akron is in the room.
To give you an example, Planning Director Warren Woolford and I have met twice with
Secretary Jackson and have received a great response.
I truly believe that in a very specific way, my involvement will do what I've always
tried to do in my 30 years of public service - - make a difference. To Cities around this
country, to the people of Akron, and to that child who is being born today.
I hope, that working together, OUR legacy will be that we made a difference. We made
Akron a better place - - now, and for future generations.