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Noon on Monday, Oct. 31, 2011 at Georgia State University's Dahlberg Hall (as prepared for delivery)

Good morning.

I appreciate this opportunity every year to speak at this important forum. For 66 years, you have encouraged public discourse across our city.

Mayors and other leaders of Atlanta and Georgia have come to this forum for decades. This is the touchstone of the soul of the city. It is here, that we check the vital signs of our service, seeing if it had the right temperature, the right pulse, the right heart for the Atlanta community.

So let us begin today.

During my first visit here as Mayor – I was just 70 days into my administration – I came before all of you and outlined many of my goals. My top objectives then were to improve public safety, open all of our recreation centers and pools, and restore fiscal stability to the City, and within my first year in office, we did that.

I also talked about my long-term goals for the city, and I issued a warning that if we did not address the challenges of the day and if our leaders failed to move in a unified way, then we risked our status as the Capital of the Southeast.

Cities such as Charlotte, Orlando and Dallas have their eyes on our title and seek to strip it away from us. But I told the Hungry Club in March 2010 and again in November 2010, that it would not happen under my watch.

But my hope and dream is that Atlanta does not just keep its title as the Capitol of the Southeast but build upon it. Make it into a true best-in-class international city that competes with the likes of Paris, London and Hong Kong for global business and serves as a model for the 21st century.

Yes, I have bold dreams for this city, but I have told you before that for every dream you have to work at least twice as hard to achieve it. No one is going to just give things to Atlanta and Georgia. There’s too much competition out there for that.

It’s going to require all of us – across party lines and city lines and county lines – pushing together. It requires more cooperation and more civility from all of us.

Nearly two years on the job, I am pleased to tell you that we doing just that … and we are making progress and seeing results.

This summer, we saw a budget surplus for the second year in a row and expanded the city’s reserve funds to more than $70 million. In January 2010 when I took office, the city faced a $48 million budget shortfall and had only $7 million in reserves.

While other cities across the nation are in the news for cutting vital services, I made good on my campaign promise and re-opened community centers and pools. All 33 Centers of Hope were opened by January 2011, including seven outdoor pools and 16 closed recreation centers. That came from $3.7 million added to the city’s budgets.

Working with the Atlanta City Council and employee union groups, we did the unprecedented, which was successfully craft a major overhaul of the city's pension plan that solves a $1.5 billion problem and puts the city on its soundest fiscal footing in a generation.

On the issue of public safety, I am especially proud to say that we have recruited more than 400 new officers – the most in more than a decade – and we are on track to reach a goal of 2,000 officers strong before the end of my first term, keeping our communities safe.

Our officers have been responsible for reducing crime in major categories by 10 percent or more over the past two years. We’ve dismantled the Red Dog team and introduced more community-based policing.

We have also given our police officers the tools, the training and the technology to do their best work. We recently unveiled the department’s Video Integration Center, which is the core of an extensive camera-surveillance network that enables the APD to monitor public spaces with through an integration of publicly and privately owned cameras across the city.

I also have worked with state and local leaders to ensure the growth of the entire metropolitan region. This year, Porsche announced that it will relocate its North America headquarters to Atlanta. We continue to push hard for the deepening of the Port of Savannah, and we have secured federal loans, including a highly competitive TIFIA loan, for key interstate projects.

In one of the best examples of regional cooperation in years, we joined with other municipalities in our region to develop and approve a project list for a proposed Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. If approved by voters next year, this regional, one-cent tax will make about $6.1 billion available over the next ten years.

Transportation improvements from the referendum will further push our efforts with the Atlanta Beltline and Atlanta Streetcar projects which will improve transit, bicycle and pedestrian systems in the city center. It might be the most important vote our region can make for years to come.

Just this morning, I stood with Congressman John Lewis and state and local leaders to announce the master development agreement for design and construction of a Multi-Modal Passenger Terminal in the heart of downtown.

You know, I always say that I believe in the soft and the hard. Let me take a few moments to tell you about some work my administration has done that directly touches the people of the City of Atlanta.

When I took office, I established the city’s Office of Constituent Services, which provides Atlanta residents a direct line to connecting to vital city services, registering complaints and communicating with their elected leaders and city officials.

Earlier this month --- for the second year in a row --- the Office of Constituent Services hosted the Senior Citizens Ball at the Marriott Marquis. We saluted nearly 5,000 of the city’s elders, who spent the evening dancing and enjoying themselves. This was a tradition started by Mayor Maynard H. Jackson, Jr. to honor those individuals who helped Atlanta become the city it is today. It represents the best of how we treat and care about our own.

We have also made community service a core priority of my administration. A year ago, the City of Atlanta hired a Chief Service Officer, funded by the Bloomberg and Rockefeller Foundations, to develop our volunteer and service program.

Our ambitious “Forward Together” initiative includes volunteer opportunities at the Centers of Hope. The “Love Your Block” initiative promotes community beautification by asking citizens to lead neighborhood revitalization efforts and connecting volunteers with organizations already engaged in such projects. Both programs have made a tremendous on improving the quality of life in our city.

I’m also pleased to tell you we’ve made significant progress in improving customer service regarding the city’s water and sewer bills. I heard a lot about that when I first came into office!

I’m also very aware that water and sewer bills can sometimes be a burden for our low-income residents. The Care & Conserve Program provides funds to help with one-time payment assistance for qualifying customers. The program also helps with leak repairs which benefits not just customers but all Atlantans by protecting our precious water resources.

On the matter of creating jobs, the city’s initiative — Hire One Atlanta — is aimed at challenging employers throughout our region to hire at least one new employee this year.

Since January of this year, we have had more than 1,500 companies sign up to be a part of the Hire One movement and hire more than 15,000 Atlantans who were previously unemployed. And in mid-November, the city will host a Hire One career fair. So far, we have more than 70 companies with 1,500 open positions participating --- I’ll have more details to share with you on that soon.

So, you can see that there is much to be proud of in the City of Atlanta right now. We are moving in the right direction. We have dedicated residents, a strong business community and civic activists who care about their neighborhoods.

But I am also aware --- very aware --- that there are too many people hurting out there right now. Too many people are still out of work. Too many people are still losing their homes. Too many people can’t see a better future for themselves or their children. For the past several weeks, we’ve seen and heard that frustration in cities across the nation and, as you all know, right here at home.

I believe that we must come together as a city and take responsibility for what is happening here. Because we need to be more than the city that is too busy to hate; we need to make sure that we are also a city that isn’t too busy to love one another.

So today, I want to take a few moments to share with you some of the initiatives my administration will be focused on over the next few months to address some of the challenges in our communities.

As I mentioned, over the first two years of my administration, we have avoided major budget shortfalls and shored our reserves to more than $70 million. In my first year in office, we passed a budget with a 3.5 percent pay raise for public safety officers and a one-time bonus for general employees. This year, we passed a budget that required zero layoffs for the first time in 3 years.

I believe it is time to give more back to the city employees who serve our residents every day.

I plan to direct the city’s COO and CFO to allocate $800,000 more toward employee salaries. I will propose to the Atlanta City Council that we streamline our pay and class system by cutting in half the number of categories and put people in the right job classification for what they actually do. When we move them to the minimum of their new correct class, this process will result in a pay increase for 450 employees.

I believe that as a city, we also need to take better care of the men and women in the armed forces who have served our nation so bravely. Therefore, I plan to direct the Atlanta Workforce Development Authority to go the extra step in recruiting returning veterans for vital jobs across the city, especially for the city’s Department of Corrections, the police department, the fire department and the department of code enforcement.

I have also heard from our residents their frustration with code enforcement violations in their neighborhoods. For too long, they have lived with abandoned houses that become magnets for loitering, crime and further reduce property values. When I took office almost two years ago, the city reported a backlog of more than 5,000 code violations. We took on this enormous challenge, and today the backlog stands around 1,500.

That’s still not good enough. That is why I have personally directed my administration to clear that backlog within the next 180 days.

This effort alone will go far in stabilizing our neighborhoods and removing blight in critical residential areas during these economic times.

But there’s more that we can do. My administration is also embarking on partnerships with major banks in Atlanta to tap into their housing stock and put them into the hands of our first responders. This not only provides affordable housing for our public safety employees and their families, but it creates even more stability, safety and community pride in our neighborhoods.

Chronic homelessness is another issue I plan to tackle head-on in the weeks and months ahead. I will soon announce the appointment of the city’s new Innovation Delivery Team Director, who will serve as the City of Atlanta’s Homelessness Czar. This position has been funded through a $3.1 million grant from the Bloomberg Philanthropies.

This person will wake up every single day trying to figure ways to help the homeless in our communities.

In closing, I am often asked what drives me… what gets me up every morning … ready and prepared to work on Atlanta’s behalf each and every day.

You know, at the end of the day, people elect you to office to win for them.

This city has given me a wonderful opportunity to lead it and help it win.

And that is what I am going to do. I’m going to do what is best for Atlanta of the present and for the future.

What I’m doing now is not necessarily for today. I may not see the full benefits of what we’re doing during my administration, even if I’m elected for a second term. But I cannot be shortsighted.

The work I’m doing now is designed to make our city ready for the next generation. I thank you for your support and ask that you continue to do all that you do for the City of Atlanta.

Two years ago, I asked you to come with me. Today, I ask that you stay with me as we continue on this journey.

Thank you, and God bless.
Last updated: 3/29/2012 11:12:50 AM