July 29, 2021
Below are Mayor James Mueller’s remarks as prepared for the State of the City address:
State of the City
Good evening South Bend. It’s so wonderful to be back here in the Great Hall of the Century Center, able to gather once again and share the latest chapter in our story. When I took office here last January, I highlighted the need for our community to unite around a common purpose. One not yet realized in our long history. One of shared prosperity, establishing South Bend as a home where everyone can thrive.
After many decades of decline since Studebaker closed its doors, we had finally turned the corner during the last decade. We entered this new decade as a city on the rise, with renewed hope and ambition. We stood ready to build on our progress, take our growth to the next level, and make the long overdue systemic changes to empower everyone to prosper.
Little did we know then that a microscopic virus was already spreading halfway around the world. And that virus would completely upend our lives for over a year.
Our city is no stranger to adversity. And our resilience has prevailed once again.
We have emerged stronger than ever. And today we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform our community together and build the South Bend we all know we can be – a home where everyone can thrive.
I’m proud of the way our city responded to the crisis during the past year. No one could have foreseen what would be in store for us. But during a year of extreme challenges, we adapted and learned our strength. We saw small businesses that make up the rich fabric of our community innovate to survive. Our neighbors stepped up to support each other. And we wore masks and sacrificed our social lives to protect one another.
For a nation who values individual responsibility and liberty, we relearned that our destinies are in fact linked. We were reminded that we truly are all in this together. Even Congress set aside partisan bickering, albeit briefly, to provide critical resources to fight the virus and save our livelihoods. For many, there was also reflection about our purpose in life. With fresh perspective and renewed imagination, our future is being shaped in new ways, full of new possibilities.
Thank you to our first responders and medical community who were on the front lines of our fight. We are forever grateful for your sacrifices. Thank you to our essential workers, from grocery store employees to postal workers to tradesmen and women, who kept our economy running while also dealing with the risk of being exposed to the coronavirus. Thank you to those who adapted to working from home and helped slow the spread while keeping the economy moving.
I’m proud of the City team, who stepped up in many ways to respond to the public health and economic emergencies.
- Our firefighters continued to provide the services we all rely on to stay safe. EMS cared for and transported 423 COVID patients and thousands more under COVID precautions.
- Our public works employees in streets, wastewater, water, and other divisions continued their important work to ensure we have the basic necessities that are so easy to take for granted. Our solid waste team picked up 70 million pounds of trash, more than 9 million pounds over that in 2019. Our utility team instituted a moratorium on shutoffs to ensure that our residents maintained access to water despite the challenging economy.
- Our team in Venues Parks and Arts answered the call to assist with emergency food distribution and helped package 100,000 meals at Cultivate Food Rescue. VPA did that while also finding new and creative ways for our residents to enjoy our public spaces safely and holding over 60 free events. The VPA team also stepped up to host e-learning sites at our Community Centers, to support working families and to ensure our kids were still able to attend class virtually.
- Our Community Investment team found creative ways to support our residents and small businesses, filling in the gaps left by higher levels of government. That included
- awarding 135 Innovation Grants to support locally owned restaurants.
- setting up an emergency isolation and quarantine center, almost overnight. That was no small feat.
- receiving a $7.7 million competitive grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to support a new revolving loan program for local businesses impacted by COVID.
- providing rental and utility assistance to 292 households in partnership with St. Vincent DePaul, REAL Services and Aids Ministries.
- Our team in Innovation & Technology successfully transitioned hundreds of city workers to work remotely and meet virtually. In partnership with South Bend Schools, I&T helped win a multi-partner grant to provide free broadband access to thousands of students via the Citywide Classroom South Bend program. I&T was also integral in assisting with data needs surrounding the pandemic, including the development of a dashboard in partnership with the County health department to keep our community informed about the uptake of vaccine and ongoing cases in St. Joseph County.
- Our Diversity & Inclusion team spearheaded a number of new efforts this year, including the recent Small Business LaunchPad event that was held at the Charles Black Center. They hosted weekly neighborhood business labs during the height of the pandemic and awarded 60 Small Business Resiliency Grants. They also fully implemented the Inclusive Procurement and Contracting Program for the first time in our city’s history.
- The City’s Legal Department drafted the emergency declaration and other executive orders issued, as well as providing support throughout the pandemic with so many of our departments facing unprecedented challenges.
- Our Human Resources stepped up to contact trace when City employees became infected and made sure we were adopting the best practices to limit the spread in the workplace.
- Our Administration and Finance team prepared us for a variety of economic recovery scenarios and maintained our AA bond even during the worst of the crisis.
- And finally our Common Council. Our Councilmembers have been strong leaders for our community during this trying year and continued to move important priorities forward. Councilmembers, I and our city are grateful for your continued service to our community.
Our partners in County government rose to the occasion as well, particularly our Health Department led by Dr. Bob Einterz. St. Joseph County was at the forefront of deploying masks as an effective approach to slow the spread while reopening our economy last May.
Special thanks to Dr. Mark Fox, Jeff Rea, and Andy Kostielney, who worked diligently to coordinate our response efforts, forge a unified message, and keep residents informed throughout the public health crisis.
Of course, the vaccination clinic at St. Hedwig was a resounding feat. Thank you to all of the volunteers and workers who made that possible. Let’s give a round of applause to show our appreciation for our public health officials.
I also want to acknowledge the efforts of my wife and your First Lady, Kellye. She and the Mitros family spent countless hours this spring administering shots and assisting with check in.
The past year may be one that many might like to forget. In our county alone, 568 of our neighbors lost their lives to COVID-19. They leave behind friends and families who will forever miss them. Many more still struggle to overcome chronic complications from this deadly virus. Many of our seniors were forced to live in isolation from loved ones. Teachers, parents and kids had to persevere through e-learning. Families and small businesses fought for their very survival.
But there can be no going back. We will not return to those dark days. We have the power to put this pandemic behind us once and for all. We must do everything we can to get more vaccines in arms.
We cannot rest or become complacent until the threat is gone. Mask recommendations are back because not enough of us took personal responsibility to protect ourselves, our families, and our neighbors.
Stronger measures on vaccines must be pursued before we even consider any measures that restrict our livelihoods.
Safe Community for Everyone
The full fallout from social distancing measures to stop the spread was unlike anything we’d seen. Violent crime rose across the nation, and our city was not immune. 133 shooting victims last year alone. This senseless gun violence is tearing our community apart. Too many of our kids are losing their lives by ending up in prison or ending up dead. We need to work together as a community to get our youth on a better path.
I’m proud of the work our new Office of Community Initiatives has done to set up the South Bend Alive grant program. In its inaugural year, 50 local organizations are working within our community to engage our youth. Going forward we will apply the lessons learned and focus these Alive grants on areas and partners that are having the biggest impact. We will also look to expand our street outreach efforts.
The Group Violence Intervention (GVI) Strategy is a national model of collaboration among law enforcement agencies, social service providers, and the community. Last year, GVI served over 500 people, conducted 182 custom notifications with at-risk individuals, offering them a chance to change their path. 18 accepted job opportunities.
Our Strategic Focus Unit is part of that strategy, and works to identify and apprehend the groups that account for a majority of violent acts in our City. The unit made 158 arrests during 2020.
There’s always room to improve our GVI implementation, especially as we see shooting numbers spike here at home. That’s why we’re conducting an audit with the National Network for Safe Communities, to find out how we can translate our efforts to the level of success seen in some other communities.
Our police department is committed to continuous improvement and leading in 21st century policing practices. Our shared goal is to ensure a safe community for everyone.
In 2020, we took important steps to implement a discipline matrix that provides a transparent structure for progressive discipline and accountability.
SBPD also worked diligently with the Board of Public Safety, faith leaders and community members on an updated use of force policy that carefully balances all interests and incorporates important elements from the community, including a prohibition on chokeholds and emphasizing deadly force as a last resort only.
We answered the community’s call for a Community Review Board to build trust with our residents and officers. Although it’s been a bumpy start, the Common Council and I are committed to getting it back on track.
Moving forward, the department will implement new de-escalation training and continue to move forward on the recommendations outlined by the 21st Century Policing report.
Over the past year SBPD took 440 illegal firearms off the street, worked approximately 600 drug-related cases, and responded to over 96,000 calls for service. Out of all these calls for service, only 36 complaints were filed by the community.
Last year our 220+ officers, who work around the clock every day of the year, averaged less than one use of force per week and had only 2 complaints from community members.
In South Bend we stand with our officers and their dedicated public service. We support their efforts to maintain peace in our streets and deliver justice for victims. One way we showed our appreciation and support was through a substantial pay increase for our officers in the latest contract.
We need more officers. And we will increase our efforts to recruit more members of our community to serve. If you know someone interested in public service, I hope you’ll encourage them to apply to be a part of our team at SBPD.
Technology enhances our response and helps us solve crimes. As we will look to expand the deployment of technologies like ShotSpotter, cameras and license plate readers, more private-public partnerships will be critical to our success.
Our County partners in public safety also need our support. We must provide competitive wages for our dispatchers, who answer emergency calls, and our prosecutors, who work to keep shooters and violent offenders off the street.
We cannot kick the can down the road any further. Our 911 center needs adequate resources to succeed. When a resident faces life or death and calls for help, we must answer and respond each and every time.
Even with the economic uncertainty of the past year, projects and investments still moved ahead. Hope that we would emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever has prevailed. Nearly $117 million of new investment was announced from 2020 through the first half of this year, supporting over 500 jobs.
And in case you somehow missed the news during quarantine, Trader Joe’s will open its doors in South Bend within a matter of weeks. After years of petitions, we finally reeled them in — during a pandemic nonetheless. Also, Barnes and Thornburg recommitted to South Bend with the first new downtown office building in decades.
The Hibberd building welcomed South Bend Brew Werks and Ragamuffin, which posted an impressive streak of selling out everyday as our economy reopened last summer. The Main library project is on track to open this Fall. And our West Side main street corridors are seeing new life with the opening of Swella’sville on Lincolnway West and a new grocery underway on Western Avenue.
Now thanks to the American Rescue Plan we have a once-in-a-generation chance to transform our city, accelerate our growth, and increase opportunities for everyone. We know that growth in a rust belt city does not happen easily and that our turnaround has been hard fought. We must bring that same fight to this moment. We must continue to support growth aggressively and leverage more public-private partnerships.
Our road to shared growth will require us to take bold action, work together, and lift each other up. And that’s not just within city limits but also the broader South Bend-Elkhart region. New jobs in Elkhart or new attractions elsewhere in the region make us all stronger. We must compete globally, together as a region.
Our region is positioned to take a giant step forward with nearly $1.6 billion of projects and programs proposed across our South Bend-Elkhart region for the state’s READI program.
Throughout our history, our city has been lifted by immigrants. The same is true today. Our recent population growth has been driven by immigrants. To continue our growth, South Bend must be a welcoming city full of opportunity.
Our road to shared growth progresses through fostering innovation and entrepreneurship, creating vibrant public spaces and neighborhoods, and expanding access to opportunity.
Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Fostering an ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship is critical for success in today’s economy. Growth sectors are led by emerging, new companies and knowledge-based industries.
Let’s be clear. There’s no cavalry coming to save us. But that’s okay. We have all of the pieces here within our community. Our local colleges, universities and professional programs will provide the foundation for us to thrive into the future — no matter what economic winds prevail.
South Bend continues to be a place where people come to try new ideas. Just recently, our partners in the lifelong learning initiative Bendable announced that they’ll be expanding to serve the State of Maine’s Library system.
Notre Dame’s iNDustry Labs is supporting General Stamping, Lock Joint Tube, and Schaefer Gear by bringing two of our community’s strengths together — our innovation assets and our existing manufacturing know-how.
And as an urban mayor, I never dreamed our city would be an agriculture producer. That was until I toured Pure Green Farms and saw the place for myself. The technological operation used to grow leafy greens in their greenhouse on the Southwest side seems straight out of a sci-fi movie.
Vibrant Public Spaces and Neighborhoods
As opportunities grow out of innovation and entrepreneurship, creating vibrant public spaces and neighborhoods will increase our quality of life and help us attract and retain more people. This vibrancy depends on great physical places, as well as people, community, arts, and culture to activate them.
Our predecessors invested in South Bend icons like the Potawatomi Zoo, East Race, Century Center, the Morris, and Coveleski Stadium. We must continue to invest into our existing assets and maximize their potential, as well as invest into new places.
We’re approaching the end of the historic, $52 million private and public investment into the My SB Park and Trails program. This program has included complete overhauls of the Charles Black Center, Pinhook Park, Pulaski Park, and Howard Park. My SB Parks and Trails has also included smaller but equally important work throughout our neighborhood parks on athletic courts, playgrounds, and restroom facilities. That work continues as we look at upcoming improvements to Seitz Park, the Coal Line Trail, the western riverfront, and the O’Brien Fitness Center.
We are a national leader with our comprehensive plan to make system-wide improvements. This year, Venues Parks and Arts is one of four finalists for the National Recreation & Parks Association Gold Medal Award, which is only awarded to one agency each year.
Next week, our VPA team hosts the first Best. Week. Ever. since the start of the pandemic, giving us all an opportunity to celebrate our community and gather together again.
As part of the Morris 100-year anniversary celebration, we’ve put forth an ambitious vision to renovate and expand the Morris, totaling $30 million of public and private investment. The bulk of the city’s portion will come from the hotel-motel tax proposal currently pending with our County Council. This bipartisan proposal from our State Senators David Niezgodski and Ryan Mishler and State Representatives Maureen Bauer and Dale DeVon brings in more revenue from out-of-town guests to invest in places like the Morris, the zoo, and other attractions across the county.
Our state legislators were busy this year. Those same State Senators and Representatives also passed the state compact with the Pokagon Band, as well as the restoration of our professional sports and convention development area that keeps dollars here in South Bend that otherwise would go down state. They can be reinvested in places like Four Winds Field.
It’s an exciting time for our South Bend Cubs. They’ve made the cut to advance to the new Minor League Baseball system and expand their impact downtown.
This year we also welcomed our latest professional sports team to South Bend, the South Bend Lions soccer team. With the conclusion of their first season, we congratulate the players for representing South Bend so well and thank everyone for supporting the team.
To make more vibrant neighborhoods, we must connect them to our engines of activity, downtown and neighborhood main streets. That’s why we’re continuing to invest in our West Side Main Streets plan, the latest on Lincolnway West around Olive. On the horizon are further investments in our neighborhood main streets in every part of town.
We must also leverage our community assets in neighborhoods to activate them. One example of that is the work our Engagement and Economic Empowerment team is doing to host a pop-up Farmers Market outdoors at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Center. This will be held on the first Sunday in the months of August, September, and October.
The King Center with its surrounding park is a great example of a community asset that we can leverage more to generate a greater impact on the surrounding neighborhood and broader community.
I believe the time is right to transform the King Center to a Dream Center at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park. We can build a world-class, intergenerational community center, inspiring hope for us all. This is a concept that will be developed by the community. Resources may include small business incubation, educational opportunities, health resources, recreational activities, technological access, and creative programming. In tandem with the Dream Center’s development, we are taking intentional steps to revitalize the Linden Avenue corridor. Deeper partnerships with community organizations will be critical to the programmatic success of this new center. Although still in the very early stages, I am confident we can marshal the necessary City resources and community partners to make this a reality.
Expanded Access to Opportunity
The path to shared prosperity requires that we address the wrongs of the past and ensure all our residents have access to opportunity. As more has fallen to cities to address systemic issues, we depend on great community partners to move the needle on some of our most challenging issues.
Utilizing dollars provided from the American Rescue Plan and other funding sources, we plan to ramp up the development of safe, affordable housing in South Bend.
That will include working with partners in our neighborhoods who’ve already been doing important work to revive our City’s housing stock and to remediate lead in houses. We will also look to local agencies and other partners who may be interested in expanding their efforts in South Bend.
We’re also encouraged by the South Bend Housing Authority’s new leadership team and will look to see how the city can help rebuild trust and turn the ship around after years of mismanagement, fraud, and corruption.
We’ll continue to develop additional permanent supportive housing units to assist our unsheltered neighbors, and we’ll keep working with our County partners on the development of a gateway center that can help stabilize those who are chronically homeless. We’re also working with our County partners to expand mental health facilities and services to meet the real need in our community.
With new funding from the American Rescue Plan and last year’s referendum, our South Bend schools have the resources to attract and retain talent, improve academics, right-size the district, and enhance a cradle-to-career system, including the expansion of pre-K and establishment of a career center.
The path to opportunity starts with supporting our kids at the very start of their educational experience. Over the next three years, the city will partner with the United Way of St. Joseph County and others to add more than 300 new seats for high-quality, affordable early childhood education in South Bend. As part of that effort, we’re excited to break ground soon on the new community center in the Southeast neighborhood.
With great places to live, work, and play and opportunities to pursue, we also need convenient ways to move among places and opportunities. We’re currently working with regional partners and MACOG to assess our transportation systems and identify what our next steps need to be.
We’re also partnering with United Way to expand our Commuters Trust transportation program, which has provided over 10,000 free or discounted rides to workers struggling with transportation. With United Way, we’ll expand our program to a dozen local nonprofits later this year, who will offer rides to residents struggling to access food, healthcare, jobs, and other critical services.
Robust, Sustainable Infrastructure
As our City continues to move forward, it’s vital that we build a strong base for our future with necessary improvements to our City’s infrastructure. That includes our water and sewer infrastructure, as well as our streets and neighborhood infrastructure.
Like many cities in the Rust Belt, suburban sprawl and population loss left us with an unsustainable infrastructure system to maintain. The costs of maintenance went up and the number of people in the city decreased. For our street system, it’s led to difficult choices in the past. The focus has been on paving the busiest thoroughfares, leaving neighborhood streets to crumble and decay.
For our water and wastewater infrastructure, we were forced to use stopgap measures that did not always address underlying issues. Strategies like those aren’t sustainable. They’re shortsighted. That’s why I’ve made it a priority to tackle our critical infrastructure needs.
The Rebuilding Our Streets plan calls for $25 million of investment over the next three years to repair and rebuild South Bend’s streets. Prioritizing those in the worst shape, we will touch and improve more than one-quarter of our streets over the next three years. We’ve already been improving streets in neighborhoods that haven’t been touched in decades.
There are also necessary capital investments in our water and wastewater systems to ensure reliable services for our residents. These include the next round of capital investments mandated by the federal government to reduce sewer overflow events. As our long term control plan is renegotiated and finalized, we will continue to clean up the river while saving ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
We run a lean operation, with lower rates than many of our peer cities. This has led to deferred investments in critical capital. The City team has proposed a comprehensive five-year rate package that will provide the resources to make necessary improvements without a large jump in rates. Expanded relief for low-income residents will ensure our most vulnerable are protected.
This rate package is a critical piece to our long-term success. Good governance requires a long view of how our actions impact our city’s future. That’s why we now have a long-term plan to rebuild our streets, as well as this 5-year funding and capital improvement plan for our utilities. We will continue to develop long-term, sustainable plans that address our needs in an achievable, fiscally responsible way.
I believe the rate and capital improvement plan our team filed with Council is the best path forward for our city. It provides the funds necessary for our critical infrastructure while also preserving resources for higher impact investments in our neighborhoods.
Unfortunately, there do not seem to be enough votes for it to pass through Common Council. I’m willing to compromise to make this happen. This is too important for any of us to allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. Let’s find the right compromise and get this done.
This past year has reminded us the profound impact that global issues can have on the local level. Like the global pandemic, where many response efforts occurred at the local level, local government has a big role to play in our climate solutions.
Climate change is no longer a hypothetical or a projected future. It’s real. And it’s already here. Heatwaves across the country are resulting in record-high temperatures this summer. Extreme rainfall is leading to heavy flooding. We can see it with our own eyes and in our own city. We must meet this great challenge with urgency.
To meet our goal of becoming carbon neutral by mid century, we are focused on transitioning to cleaner energy and making our city more energy-efficient. South Bend is ready to take action. We must start taking bolder steps now.
Transitioning to cleaner energy means that solar power must become a growing part of South Bend’s future. Over the next two years we’ll aim to install more than one megawatt of solar power on rooftops in South Bend. That’s over 3,000 solar panels.
As we mobilize to meet that goal, the City team will work to implement new incentive programs for solar and energy efficiency upgrades, in coordination with our home repair program, to ensure our low-income residents can share in the benefits of solar and energy-efficient technologies. This work reduces energy costs for homes while reducing carbon emissions. It will also support installation jobs right here in our city and keep more wealth in our community. Instead of sending dollars to utilities and investors in other states to power our homes and buildings, these dollars saved can be reinvested in our local economy.
Earlier this year, we celebrated and flipped the switch on the St. Joseph Solar Farm northeast of South Bend — a partnership with AEP and the University of Notre Dame. Larger utility-scale solar installations like this one will also be part of our path to a clean energy system.
Call for Unity and Transformation
To achieve our ambitious goals, we must renew our focus on consensus-based governance, founded on compromise and empathy for our neighbors.
We were all shocked and horrified by the killing of George Floyd and the insurrection at our Capitol. The future of our inclusive, pluralist democracy was placed into question.
Every generation must recommit to the promise of our democracy and to the advancement of racial justice. Over the past year we have learned more about the racial and economic disparities that existed before the pandemic, as well as those disparities that have been exacerbated by the crisis. We are at a critical juncture in our city’s and nation’s history. This moment is not unlike the one Dr. King, nearly 60 years ago, referred to as “the fierce urgency of now.” Now is the time for bold action, not half measures or playing it safe.
It is an honor and privilege to serve as your Mayor during this pivotal moment in the history of our city.
Let’s unite around our common purpose and seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform our community.
Together we will put this pandemic behind us once and for all.
Together we will ensure a safe community for everyone.
Together we will create more vibrant public spaces and neighborhoods.
Together we will build an inclusive economy with access to opportunity and shared growth.
Together we will confront the climate emergency.
Together we will advance racial justice.
Together we will make South Bend a home where everyone can thrive.
May God bless our sworn officers and firefighters. May God bless the City of South Bend.
Thank you, goodnight.