(This article features the video and text of Mayor Brian Marl's State of the City address, given Jan. 4, 2016.
City Council, City Manager Campbell, City Clerk Royal,
Distinguished guests, and my fellow citizens.
I’m honored this evening to provide an update on the state of our city. As I have noted many times in the past, Saline is a very special place with many strengths, the most significant of which is our people. I’m sure my Council colleagues agree with me that it’s truly an honor to represent each and every one of you.
Ensuring that the community is a safe place is perhaps the most fundamental responsibility of city government, and City Council specifically. As many in our community are aware, City Council and I have invested a significant amount of time preparing for and commissioning an independent review of the Saline Police Department. The report confirms that we have a strong and talented police department which is valued and respected in the community. The parameters for the review provided to the independent consultant, recently retired Undersheriff of Kent County Jon Hess, were carefully and deliberately developed. Mr. Hess was free to make any observations or recommendations he deemed appropriate. If he discovered any evidence of wrongdoing or improprieties, Mr. Hess was given the authority to report that to an outside entity without any influence by Council or staff.
In his report, Mr. Hess highlights several areas of best practice and suggests changes. Thus, the report will serve as a valuable tool for the Department’s leadership in reviewing practices and organization. For example, it is clear that the Department would benefit from work in the area of communications. Additionally, it is clear that the work to update the Department’s policy manual should continue – it’s a vital resource, as it provides continuity and direction for Department leadership and staff. The City will work to address these in the very near future.
Moving forward, the city will conduct another more abbreviated review to ensure that the issues that were addressed in the report are being resolved. As the report makes clear, the department can move forward in a positive direction. Such positive movement will depend on the constructive engagement and hard work of all police department members.
Finally, in the coming months, I will also organize a Workgroup to review and investigate the feasibility of establishing an independent police advisory board within city government. It is not clear at this point whether this would be beneficial in Saline, but we know that many communities throughout the region and throughout Michigan have used this model successfully, in particular focusing on community engagement and departmental policies.
In the coming year, I look forward to working with a re-energized Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force. As we plan for the future, there may be opportunities to partner with countywide and regional organizations also working on these important issues.
At the same time, based on my own research and insights from community members active on this issue, I believe that Saline deserves, and needs, a part-time Substance Abuse Coordinator. I hope that the community’s leadership will work with me to understand the benefit of such a role, and the potential impact on the Saline area.
As I mentioned in my mid-year address in July, the city will organize a meeting including members of the healthcare community, along with other community stakeholders, to discuss how we can better collaborate to meet Saline’s healthcare needs moving forward. Key organizations have committed to participate in that meeting, which will be held in February and open to the public. Central to that discussion will be the question of how we can think and act more strategically to meet our needs.
Being good stewards of public resources will continue to be a priority in 2016. The work we have done to scrutinize and evaluate every expenditure, the adoption of a fund balance policy, and the city’s improved bond rating all represent city government’s emphasis on stabilizing and improving our city’s financial position. Our budget is a reflection of our values and priorities, and I’m proud of the budget we are currently under, which provided additional funds to the Police Department, as well as support for Rec-On-the-Go, and a part-time, stand-alone Code Enforcement Officer. That position has been filled, and our new part-time Code Enforcement Officer started just today.
Late last year, Council discussed how best to utilize some of the dollars in our fund balance. When we have additional funds, I believe they need to be prioritized to infrastructure – specifically, to our major and local streets. There are few areas within our budget that have a more profound impact on people’s day-to-day lives than roads and infrastructure. In 2015, we completed a project on Harris Street, as well as Park Place and Echo Court, and repaired much of the parking lot at the Recreation Complex. In 2016, the city will work on streets within the Maplewood Farms subdivision, as well as other projects. I believe it’s imperative that additional dollars not earmarked for another purpose be directed toward our roads whenever possible.
As everyone knows, in 2016 Michigan Avenue will be reconstructed from the dam adjacent to Curtiss Park to the intersection at Maple Road. At the same time, the city will also be working to modernize our streetscape. I am very proud of the work that Saline Main Street, City Council and staff, and a variety of community stakeholders have put into this project already. That work has included discussions of detour plans, deciding on design features, and ways in which pedestrian safety and walkability can be enhanced in our downtown. While a construction project of this magnitude will inevitably cause delays and inconveniences, I am convinced that upon its completion we will have a road and a streetscape that will serve Saline well for decades to come.
The city has continued work to make improvements to our sidewalks, and those efforts will continue during the construction season of 2016. Our approach, and the work we are doing to improve the condition and walkability of our sidewalks, represent the most comprehensive effort our city has taken on this issue in more than 25 years.
Additionally, we hope to complete the rehabilitation of our Wastewater Treatment Plant in 2016. Not unlike the issue of sidewalks, the multi-million dollar investment we’re making into the plant is the most significant in decades. The result will be a more modern, safer, and efficient plant. Of course, when you have a construction project of this magnitude, there are going to be issues and delays; unfortunately, that includes some increased odor issues. Staff is working diligently to resolve those, and because we take these issues so seriously, we may be doing some additional work to the plant’s odor scrubbers to help mitigate some of the smells. These are extraordinarily complex issues, and that means the solutions are often complex and tough to find.
One of the things I want to be more strategic about is the connectivity of our parks. The Parks Commission has discussed the connection between Curtiss Park and Mill Pond Park specifically, and I have invited former Council Member and current Parks Commissioner Jim Peters to address this issue at one of City Council’s upcoming meetings.
My hope is that when people look back on 2016, they will say that the city’s primary efforts – and the Mayor’s biggest focus – was on economic development, and creating an atmosphere and an environment where business development and entrepreneurship flourish. When we talk about economic development, it’s not just about supporting existing businesses and encouraging new businesses. It’s also about cultivating new investment, especially as it relates to housing.
I’m proud that in recent months the city has finalized the sale of 207 Monroe Street, and development is progressing nicely at the former Houghton School property. We also know of some not-yet-announced projects that will be very exciting for the entire Saline community. I’m also pleased to see the ongoing expansions of Liebherr, as well as the announced multi-million dollar addition at MMI Engineered Solutions.
The Code and Ordinance Review Task Force continues to work diligently. The Task Force has begun to review my suggestion of changing some of the zoning and land use requirements in the industrial parks to create more flexibility and develop a more contemporary approach.
Regardless of whether it is industrial businesses or small boutique retail establishments, know that our talented and committed city staff will meet with anyone, work with anyone, provide support and help cultivate new relationships to bring additional services, investment, and jobs to the Saline community. We strive for a diverse, robust local economy that meets the needs of those we represent.
The City’s recently established Sesquicentennial Task Force, along with its six subcommittees, has already begun work preparing for the 2016 celebration of Saline’s 150th year. I’m very impressed by the leadership of this group, and the people who have volunteered to participate. These groups are so important, because they help to maintain and enhance a sense of community identity.
Also, the city is continuing efforts to update our City Master Plan, Non-Motorized, and Parks and Recreation Master Plans. These are vital documents that provide direction and clarity moving forward. We strongly encourage public feedback, and there is a way for citizens to share their thoughts online.
Saline will continue to engage with the people we represent. I will continue to do my part in that as much as possible – in fact, I am holding one of my regular coffee hours next week, on January 11 at 10:30 a.m. at Carrigan Café downtown. Mayor Pro Tem Rhoads will attend the event to provide an update on the Saline Nature Preserve, a very exciting new development.
As many already know, City Council will have a goal and strategy session in the coming weeks. Subsequent to that session, I will bring to Council a proposed Ethics Pledge, something that many other communities have throughout the state, and the country. I do think it is important to clarify: I’m not bringing this forward out of concern. To the contrary, I believe that it’s imperative for leaders to hold themselves to the highest possible standard, and set an example for others.
It will continue to be a personal goal of mine to encourage volunteerism within the community, specifically on our city boards and commissions. Clerk Royal is currently planning another volunteer fair later this spring. Additionally, I had a recent conversation with County Commissioner Alicia Ping on the issue of increasing Saline’s representation on county and regional boards and organizations, because I think Salinians have a lot of insights and thoughts to offer.
Needless to say, our efforts and recent successes would not have been possible without our dedicated and talented staff members and my colleagues on City Council. Again, I want to acknowledge the tremendous efforts made by
Mayor Pro Tem David Rhoads
I also want to welcome our new Council Members, Jack Ceo and Heidi McClelland, who have already contributed to our community in innumerable ways.
And again, I want to take the opportunity to thank former Council Members Jim Roth and Terri Sibo-Koenig. They are missed, but I’m glad that they will continue to be involved.
Clearly, the city has a vision for the future, and we will continue to focus on the important issues – the issues that have the most impact on residents’ quality of life. And of course, I continue to believe that our best days are ahead of us.
Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless Saline.
Mayor Brian D. Marl