This morning West Palm Beach Mayor, Keith James delivered his inaugural State of the City address.

In the Mayor’s 37-minute-long address he walked through some of the highlights of his first 10 months in office. The message was that people are excited about the opportunities in West Palm Beach and that “125 years after its inception, our city is at its most prosperous time. The absolute pinnacle of his existence.

While discussing integrity, the Mayor addressed the no-bid contract awarded to PSC, announced the new City Administrator & his re-organization of the City administration.

The Mayor ended on a high note, encouraging residents to take a path of kindness, and unity in solving the City problems and building a brighter future together.

Let’s continue to think more about where we want to go and less about where we are. Let’s not get so stuck in our silo that we stop thinking about building our collective future. We must also remain a haven for class and civility, a special place where differences are embraced not excoriated we’re opinions are shared not hurled, and where diversity is valued not vilified.”

Highlights

Crime:

  • 29% decline in homicides
  • 18% decline in violent crimes
  • 4.7% decline in overall crime.

Economy:

  • Last year we had $12.2 million dollars in building permits and %3.6 billion in projects in the pipeline.

Infrastructure:

  • The City is working on a $24 million addition to our water purification system which includes UV disinfection, and a five-year $100 million capital improvements project program which includes nearly 50 new projects.
  • The City is executing a 25 million or twenty five million dollar storm water bond which includes projects to prevent tidal flooding.
  • We’re working on the Sunset Lounge and will break ground on the Heart & Soul Park. In Northwook we’re working on Currie Park and the Anchor Site.
  • The Grand, a mixed use mixed income project will become the most significant private investment in the historic Northwest in more than 50 years.
  • We need to vote for the 2020 parks bond referendum on the March ballot.
  • A new City Website will be launched on Thursday (January 23rd)
New City Website Launching January 23rd

Environment:

  • The city was successful in removing the extension of State Road 7 jog Road and Roebuck Road from the TPA long-range plan.
  • We will have the first electric school bus in the state of Florida and partnership with Florida Power & Light.

City:

  • Faye Johnson is our new City Administrator.
  • The Mayor realigned the city administration to improve communication and accountability and an annual cost savings of $323,000.
  • The Mayor plans to roll back TAX millage rate to under 8 Mills by 2023

Transportation:

  • Working with Palm Beach County and FDOT to adopt technologies needed to improve traffic flow and reduce congestion.
  • The City is working with the town of Palm Beach and asking the US Coast Guard not to open the middle bridge during peak times.
  • The City is actively working to create a mobility network that works for everyone
  • Crashes are down 5%
  • Fatalities are down 28%

Homelessness:

  • Dropped 24%
  • Working with law enforcement to eliminate aggressive on street panhandling.
  • Provide on-street mental health resources to meet the homeless who are mentally ill where they are.
  • Hired a dedicated homeless services coordinator to manage this initiative and other initiatives we have to deal with the homeless situation.
  • Goal is to complete or have under construction a minimum of 300 units of affordable and/or workforce housing in the next three years.

Watch the address

Read the transcript

Note: This is an unofficial transcript – all errors are the fault of the computer program that transcribed the video.

This is my inaugural State of the City address and ladies and gentlemen, let me declare that West Palm Beach is strong and it’s future promising.

Our challenges are outweighed by our opportunity. We are City where those who are determined enough to find opportunities and committed enough to embrace them are compassionate enough to ensure that success for some at the expense of others is neither sustainable nor honorable.

In America’s cities today the saying “We are in this together” isn’t just a throwaway line, but rather it’s an urban report card. One that grades community’s on the health of its local economy vitality of his neighborhoods the security of its citizens, the movement of people in private and public transit and its attractiveness to new generations of residents looking to move here, learn here, and earn here.

Thanks to so many in this room today to report that the city of West Palm Beach is making important advances on all these fronts as we continue our rapid transformation from a small town to a thoroughly modern world-class City.
 
Before I go any further, need to thank my wife Lorna. Lorna has stood with me shoulder to
shoulder on this wonderful, sometimes crazy but truly amazing journey. I love you.

A few things. Thanks to the leadership of the Chamber of Commerce to the Palm Beaches and
especially board chair Rick Reikenis and CEO Dennis Grady who are graciously hosting this morning’s events. The chamber is essential to the growth of our business community and all who depend upon it

Thanks also to the service and dedication of my partners on the dais, the West Palm Beach City Commission, Commission president Christina Lambert, Commissioners Kelly Shoaf, Cory Neering,  Joe Peduzzi and Richard Ryles.
 
I know that each of you loves our city as I do. Thank you for working so hard to make West Palm Beach a world-class City. I truly appreciate that each of you has made significant personal and professional sacrifices as you work to serve the citizens of West Palm Beach. Thank you for working so hard.

I want to especially acknowledge my dear friend and mentor congresswoman Lois Frankel.  Thank You Louis for sharing with me your wisdom and advice. I got to tell a little story though. 

So I ran into Lois yesterday morning at the Martin Luther King breakfast. Lois has been through eight of these State of the City addresses, so o I thought I would glean some wisdom, maybe even a little comfort and assurance from Lois. Kind of like a mug of hot chocolate on a cold morning. I thought it would get comfort from Lois in that respect, so I said “Lois you know I got a big day tomorrow”  “I’ll be there” and I said any words and she said “That was the most traumatizing experience in my life, every time I did it I wanted to walk off stage in the middle of a speech”. 
Not quite the warm hot chocolate I was looking for from Lois, but thank you Lois. If anyone knows Lois she’s a straight shooter. Thank you so much Lois for your friendship and counsel over the years.

Thanks to many very generous sponsors who are supporting this morning’s event.

Ladies and gentlemen thanks also to the Washington Nationals at Fit Team Ball Park of
the Palm Beaches. West Palm Beach is so proud to be your spring training home, and so honored that you’re sharing with us this morning a tribute to the ultimate teamwork and achievement the World Series trophy

I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize the Palm Beach County Commissioners which helped make the ballpark a reality in West Palm Beach and Verdenia in to all the Commissioners I look forward to working with you to make our communities even stronger as we go forward.  
I’m so delighted that of all the mayors in the United States of America when the World Series started I was the only mayor that knew I would be welcoming a world champion to our city.

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

A very special thanks, one that would take all morning to completely acknowledge, to the 1700 employees of the City of West Palm Beach, including the men and women in our police and fire
departments whose first response to danger moves so many others out of harm’s way. Will you join me please and thanking all of our employees

And to the 110 thousand residents, thank you for the privilege and honor of serving. I love being your mayor.

So thanks to the efforts of so many of you in this room, the state of our city is sound and the
future of our city is as bright as the Sun that shines upon it.

Today’s State of the City address is an opportunity for us to come together, to recall how far our city has come to celebrate where we are headed, to remember the challenges we still face. And to appreciate what together we have achieved these past 10 months. 

You know most of us have a dream. No matter where we are in life or where we have come from. As most of you know, I was raised by a single mom whose love and example infused with me the power to dream. To know that the greatest currency in life is measured not in dollars and cents, but in the lives you positively impact around you. That the way you overcome a place where doors are closed to you based upon the color of your skin is to pursue a place with those doors are wide open. 

These lessons weren’t lost on me when I ran for mayor announcing my intention to work each and every day to create in West Palm Beach a community of opportunity for all if I was elected
this mandate motivates me daily. 
As I listen to the stories of residents in the city, whether I’m in City Hall, in our downtown, or in one of our neighborhoods. I’ve observed that, with only rare exception, people are looking to do something meaningful with their life. They’re only asking for a chance to show it.
 
This is true no matter who they are, what they look like or what they believe. So to realize this vision I campaign on a five-point platform I’m sure many of you for me with the Keith plan.


K – Keep Crime Low
E – Environment and Economy
I  – Integrity
T – Transit traffic and taxes 
H – Homelessness

Let’s start with Public Safety

To me this has always been job number one for municipal leaders, because if you don’t feel safe, you won’t feel free to pursue your dream. 

So to make this an every day reality, I named a new police chief shortly after getting elected
Frank Adderly. Chief Adderly has renewed law enforcement alliances and implemented new technology. 

Chief Adderly  wasted no time getting to work and partnered with federal state and local agencies to launch Operation: First 48.

This new violent crimes task force was designed to confiscate illegal arms, stop gang activity,  and address other acts of violence. In addition to the new police chief our sincere thanks and gratitude must go out to Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, State attorney David Aronberg for working with us on this task force helping us to keep our citizens safe.

Recognising that the oath to serve and protect should a gender mutual respect not mutual suspicion Chief Adderly prioritized community engagement to increase public trust in law enforcement while also empowering our men and women in blue to do their job.

This morning to report that over the past year there’s been a significant reduction in crime in our city. A dramatic year-to-year decline of 29% in homicides, and 18 percent decline in violent crimes, and a 4.7 percent decline in crimes overall.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again if we are to attract businesses to our city offer a good quality of life to families and create a community of opportunity for all West Palm Beach must first be safe. Whether you live in Ibis, the South End the historic Northwest or our downtown you deserve to reside in a safe secure environment.

West Palm Beach is much safer today, and as mayor I will continue to work around the clock to keep it that way.

The second part of the plan the West Palm Beach’s future begins with the letter E and represents another real success story for all of us that’s the economy.

As much as it’s hard to see our local economic news getting any better, it’s positioned to do just that. Our economy is a rising tide that will enhance the fiscal prospects of every resident, business owner, and investor. 

And when the economy is rocking it means we could fund the quality of life that we all seek.

For starters, our city’s doors open to business now than more than ever before. We’re seeing unprecedented levels of investment in our city, our community’s unemployment rate of 3.6% who’s more people in our city of jobs with more on the way. And we are experiencing a vibrancy in our city, especially in the downtown, that will power us into the future and make West Palm Beach not only a destination location for tourists, but a living location for residents looking for the next cool City.

Last year’s record 12.2 million dollars in building permits and three point six billion dollars in projects in the pipeline speak to the major economic transformation sweeping across our city. 

The north end of the city, the rosemary corrido,r the warehouse district, and a South Dixie Highway corridor are all seeing a resurgence due to not only favorable market conditions but also the city’s continued willingness to work with the private sector to encourage good, sound,well planned development projects. 

Coming soon to West Palm Beach: hotels, luxury apartments, commercial space, retai,l medical offices, and restaurants. 

Projects such as Flagler Banyan Square, One West Palm, Canopy Hotel, and the Hospital for Special Surgery among others. Two Class A office buildings:  Related Company’s 360 Rosemary, and One Flagler recently received approval. 

The county is considering an expansion of the Convention Center where we are gathered this morning. Rosemary Square, The Norton Museum of Art, and the Kravis Center are celebrating major capital improvements and positioning West Palm Beach as one of the nation’s great cities for arts and culture.

The new ultra luxurious Bristol condominium with residences starting at five million dollar is making Flagler Drive one of the nation’s newest high-end residential addresses. 

You know right now they’re approximately 10,000 people living in our downtown which is significant. An active downtown is the hallmark of a vibrant city and the strongest indicator of a city success.

Raphael Clemente, the executive director of the DDA, thank you for working with the city to promote our downtown businesses. 

All of these successes are silencing the naysayers from the past who saw West Palm Beach as nothing more than a way station between Orlando in Miami. It proves once again what’s possible when government and the private sector work together. And I’m pleased to report that as new and greater investment is coming to our city we are continuing to reinvest in critical turbine infrastructure. For example phase two of the clematis streetscape project, a 24 million dollar addition to our water purification system which includes UV disinfection, and a five-year 100 million dollar capital improvements project program which includes nearly 50 new project.

These new projects include street and safety lighting, traffic calming, and road resurfacing throughout our city. We’re executing a 25 million or twenty five million dollar stormwater bond which includes projects to prevent tidal flooding in seven hard-hit areas of our city including North and South Flagler Drive, 26th Street and pineapple park.

Thank You assistant city administrator Scott Kelly for having spearheaded many of our city’s infrastructure improvement. 

As some of you know Scott will be retiring in March, Scott it’s well-deserved retirement and we’re going to miss you. But don’t go too far.

To our CRA we are also lighting the spark to restore economic vitality, cultural vibrancy, and a sense of pride in our neighborhoods that have been overlooked for opportunities for far too long. We’re investing in the historic northwest. 

Under construction now is the Sunset Lounge, we’ll break ground on the adjacent heart-and-soul park next month. In Northwood the CRA is moving forward with the redevelopment of Curry Park and the Anchor Site. 

Thank you Commissioner Shoaf for keeping us focused on those essential projects.

With incentives from the CRA in the city, The Grand, a mixed use mixed income project will become the most significant private investment in the historic Northwest in more than 50 years.

Thank you too Commissioner Ryles and the other members of the Commission for standing strong in support of that project.

We are also asking for favorable consideration of the 2020 parks bond referendum for the March ballot. If approved, the issuance of general obligation bonds would facilitate widespread improvements of facilities and equipment in our cities parks.

On the homefront we are making city neighborhoods a priority again by improving customer service and responsiveness. To that end I created the position of Director of Neighborhoods First to give leaders and residents more of a direct voice in their city government.

Today I’m also pleased and proud to unveil a redesign of the city’s website to make it easier for citizens to find the information they need and to contact the proper city employees when they need further help. 

In line with my vision of improving the customer service experience for all residents, the user-friendly service-centered website will go live on Thursday.

The other E in the Keith plan is the environment.

There’s nothing more precious or more important to protect than a resource we cannot duplicate. Our land and our water a two such resources, and there’s nothing I won’t consider, nothing I won’t do to ensure they are not violated by out-of-control speculators developers or pollution. That’s why I’m all-in and have been for year to vigorously fight to protect the source of our drinking water supply, Grassy Waters Preserve.

I want to protect Grassy Waters from proposed new roads that represent a real environmental threat. Most recently the city was successful in removing the extension of State Road 7 jog Road and Roebuck Road from the palm beach transportation planning agencies long-range plan. It was a big win for all of us in the city and I want to especially thank Commissioners Neering and Peduzzi for carrying the banner on this issue at the TPA.

However, we must continue to be vigilant on this front. Water is truly a lifeline we must never mess with. 

This year we will also introduce the first electric school bus in the state of Florida and partnership with Florida Power & Light. We will follow through on our commitment to go Net Zero and carbon emissions by 2050, and we will formally report out the results of a climate resilience assessment of our city.

That brings me to the I issue: Integrity

Integrity is essential to people believing that those they elect to serve are motivated to do the right thing, and when something isn’t right or doesn’t go right, that leaders will engage the public openly, candidly, and with the resolve to make it right. Marketers call such candor “truth in advertising” I describe this more personally as I trust the public with the truth.

With that said I learned a big lesson only a few weeks into the job when a private firm was awarded a no-bid contract to manage security at city property. This company, which is already being used by Rosemary Square and the Downtown Development Authority, that generated solid work reviews an offer law enforcement the built-in efficiency of communicating with one versus several entities on downtown security issues.

I was given assurances by our then City Administrator that the awarding of the contract without competitive bidding was advisable and entirely appropriate. He failed to tell me something, that our city attorney and procurement director had strongly advised against it both of them. 

After learning this, I immediately reverse course and put the contract out for bid because I will not tolerate anything or anyone whose actions violate the public trust. I just won’t.  All of these incidents reminded me of one of life’s greatest teaching namely that when something doesn’t feel right, it usually isn’t”. Yet, this decision happened on my watch.

Ladies and gentlemen I promise to you that I will be more vigilant moving forward.  Armed with the principle often attributed to the late President Ronald Reagan “Trust but Verify”.

On a brighter note, after a nationwide search, I was proud to announce the appointment of Faye Johnson as our new city administrator. Ms Johnson, with more than 33 years of diversified governmental experience, is well known for her strong principled fiscal prudent and integrity. 

She will also occupy a very special place in west palm beach history as the city’s first administrator who was african-american and who was a woman.

I’ve asked Ms Johnson to join me in identifying areas where we can make our city more efficient and fiscally sound.

I’m proud to announce that I recently conducted a realignment of city administration while improving our administration’s communication and accountability and an annual cost savings of three hundred twenty three thousand dollars. Finally, I pledge to identify other areas in which we can become more fiscally responsible.

I am also proud to announce my goal of rolling back to millage rate to under 8 Mills by 2023.

The fourth plank in the Keith plan involves Transportation and Traffic a challenge for every growing community in America.

As you know growth isn’t without its challenges, including the associated concern that growth equates to more traffic and congestion. On this critical front however we are not going to hold on to the past. Here are some of the things we are already doing.

First while the city is too big to avoid being beholden to a car, we are dense enough to make efficient use of public transit, trolleys, rideshare, bike share, and micro mobility. In fact that is our current trajectory based on a multimodal mobility plan that was developed under my predecessor Mayor Jeri Muoio. 

When fully implemented, the mobility plan will help both people and cars get around town faster, better and more safely.

Second, we are committed to making our main arteries, including the Okeechobee corridor, function better. 

Now we all know that West Palm Beach doesn’t control the signal time in on Okeechobee nor are we responsible for the inadequate technology that resets the traffic lights after the train passes through, or the bridges lowered. So we are encouraging and working with Palm Beach County and FDOT to adopt technologies needed to improve traffic flow and reduce congestion. This isn’t Charlie fix it, let’s get it done.

Third, we want to work with the county in the town of Palm Beach and asking the US Coast Guard not to open the middle bridge during peak times. It’s ridiculous to think that one person in a sailboat or yacht can disrupt traffic for the entire city. They can wait an extra hour. They can wait an extra hour because it’s not fair to ask us to do the same.

Fourth, we’re actively working to create a mobility network that works for everyone. Because very simply not everyone can afford to own operate and insure a car. It’s about equity.

This network will help create access to jobs for lower wage earners who deserve a safe, cheaper way to get to work. And finally,  some folks have asked about development and the impact that it has on traffic. I think there’s a misunderstanding by some that any development automatically congest our roads.

That may be true in some cities, but I do not believe that’s the case in West Palm Beach. Where we are implementing transportation demand management strategy.

By helping people use the infrastructure in place, or by creating new infrastructure for transit, ride-sharing, walking and biking we will encourage alternatives to driving that offset future vehicular trips.

We’re also working to make our roads safer for motorists and very vulnerable pedestrians and bicyclists. To that end I’m pleased to announce we’re making great progress with our vision zero initiative which aims to reduce and ultimately eliminate preventable injuries and fatalities on city roads to improve education, engineering and when necessary enforcement.

While deadly crashes on the rise in Florida, I’m proud to say that in 2019 crashes in West Palm Beach declined almost 5% while our traffic fatalities declined a whopping 28%. That’s another West Palm Beach success story.

This brings us to the final plank of the Keith’s plan Homelessness.

2019 numbers show on Street homelessness define 24% in our city and we believe that trend will continue. But homelessness that is a challenge for every American city but especially here in West Palm Beach because we have such a warm climate. As we work to develop solutions in our city we must remember first and foremost however that we are talking about people. 

Some of these individuals have family for for mental illness. How do we help them we have to find real solutions. 

In  West Palm Beach we are taking a two-pronged approach to the homelessness situation. 

One part involves law enforcement which works every day to eliminate aggressive on street panhandling, if you visited downtown recently hopefully you’ve seen a difference. This is so important. The general public must be able to enjoy our public spaces too. It’s a quality of life issue.

The second part involves aggressively working to address the root causes of homelessness. Whether it be someone just down on their luck, drug or alcohol addiction, or mental illness. With our partners we are fighting this on every possible front. 

Last month we implemented on street mental health resources to meet the homeless who are mentally ill where they are, and to connect them with the help that they need. 

Thank you, Commissioner Lambert, for introducing us to Mental Health America Palm Beach County.

We also recently hired a dedicated homeless services coordinator to manage this initiative and other initiatives we have to deal with the homeless situation. I strongly believe however, that people who have access to safe and stable housing are empowered to transform their live. This is why we are working to create more housing that is attainable for households of all income levels.

Today I am proud to announce the 303 initiative. Our goal is to complete or have under construction a minimum of 300 units of affordable and/or workforce housing in the next three years. We are well on our way.

Now let me be clear when it comes to crime and homelessness we cannot arrest or incarcerate our way out of the problem. We have to grow our way out of these problems and provide opportunities for people to live under a roof instead of under a bridge.

Our poverty rate currently stands at 17.5%. Why? Why when our unemployment rate is so low? Why, when we are creating jobs faster than we are filling them? 

This is a big challenge for our city, perhaps even the greatest. We must all work together to move the needle on this issue. Humanity demands it, our conscious commands it.

Today I call on you, the business leaders of our community, to be a part of the solution. Please work with me to in both homelessness and poverty in our city.

As I conclude let me say that West Palm Beach is safer, more successful, more environmentally-conscious, more intent on integrity, more focused on transportation, and more sensitive to homelessness and poverty than ever before.

125 years after its inception, our city is at its most prosperous time. The absolute pinnacle of his existence.

Finally I do want to share with you something that’s been on my mind and in my heart recently. One of the things that has surprised me the most about being mayor there’s a genuine kindness of our residents. I see this each and every day as I move about the city. The neighbors helping neighbors prepare for hurricane Dorian. I see it in our Palm Beach Atlantic University volunteer and in so many other people.

Ours truly is a city of such very good kind and generous people. But I am concerned that sometimes we forget that we are a city of many different people, many different neighborhoods, with many different interests. We are better when we make decisions for the good of the entire city. Rich and poor, black and white, north and south end. Versus making decisions for any one group or neighborhood.

Let’s continue to think more about where we want to go that’s about where we are.

Let’s not get so stuck in our silo that we stop thinking about building our collective future. We must also remain a haven for class and civility, a special place where differences are embraced not excoriated we’re opinions are shared not hurled, and where diversity is valued not vilified.

You know the fact that I’m delivering this speech is our city’s first African-American strong mayor just one day after observing Martin Luther King jr. Day is not lost on me. Martin Luther King jr. advocated for equality and unity because he understood prejudice and persecution were prescriptions for intolerance, that they appealed to the worst in US while submerging what is the best in us.

Ladies and gentlemen please join me in restoring a sense of unity in our community to ensure that the state of our city tomorrow is as healthy as it is today.

We are safer stronger and better when we pull together and pull for each other.

Thank you all for being a part of the West Palm Beach story. May God bless each and every one of you and may God bless West Palm Beach. Thank you.