This evening at city hall, Mayor Tyler Moore delivered his first State of the City address after a first six months in office that included major road bumps for Kokomo due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
His speech largely reflected on how the city dealt with the nationwide crisis, which left Kokomo with an unemployment rate of 34.1 percent in April. In giving his address, Moore focused largely on those who stepped up to help the city continue on amid the health crisis, and milestones that occurred both before and during the pandemic. Below is a copy of Moore's prepared speech in its entirety. Please keep in mind, small deviations from this text were made during the address, which can be viewed online at KGOV 2. Check out next week's edition of the Kokomo Perspective for a rundown of key takeaways from the State of the City.
State of the City
President Rudolph, members of the Kokomo Common Council, fellow elected officials, distinguished guests and citizens of Kokomo—both those gathered here and those joining us virtually—good evening. I would especially like to welcome to the chambers my wife, Ann, and our children, as well as the handful of family and friends who took the time to be here with us this evening. But before I begin, I would like to ask Councilwoman Cindy Sanders to offer a word of prayer and Councilman Tom Miklik to lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Thank you, both. Your long-standing commitment to the City of Kokomo is appreciated, and I look forward to continue to support the work you both have provided to this community and its citizens through the years. As for the rest of our Common Council members, what a start to our first term, huh?!?! Six full months ago to the day you were sworn in to your new positions as caretakers of the City’s finances and legal business, and I was given the distinct honor and privilege to serve as the 35th Mayor of the great City of Kokomo. Since that time we have been faced with some of the most unusual circumstances in the history of our city. Our entire community has! To say that it’s been “interesting” is probably an understatement. A global pandemic wasn’t on the radar last year when we were running for office, nor did I expect to give my first State of the City under these conditions. But even though these first six months have been full of challenges, I have had every reason to remain encouraged and inspired.
Before I continue though, I need to offer a quick disclaimer. I will apologize now to those in the media and others who may have received, reviewed or will request a transcript of my first Address. I may expound on a few items, convey a thought that comes to mind or suddenly remember something that I should have included. That is me. I’m often candid and “off the cuff” and is the Mayor that many in our city departments have come to live with. I’m as tarnished as I am polished, and I’m as simple as I am complexed. Just ask my family and friends. Thank you, all, in advance for rolling with me tonight.
Time and again Kokomo has risen to the occasion during times of trouble and difficulty. Our ability to come together, help our neighbors and grow as a community during this situation or experience is unmatched. I have seen that first hand—both then and now. So if there is one thing we as a community have been reminded of these past six months is that Kokomo is tough when facing adversity, resilient in troubled times and united against any challenges. I came across a quote from author Steve Maraboli that basically sums up Kokomo’s determination. He stated, “Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.” Plain and simple, we are “Kokomo Strong.” That phrase was coined a few years back and is one that we have embodied once again. We will not let the crises we recently faced define us any more than those that tried in previous disasters, be it a tornado, flood or recession. I am confident that Kokomo’s future is one that is bright and full of promise. Our future is “Kokomo Stronger”!
So as a City, where have we been, where do we stand and just where might we be headed? Again, the State of the City had a different look and tone about four months ago. At that time we were still basking in the excitement of FCA‘s announcement of the $400 million investment in their North plant, now known as KEP. For well over a decade, community leaders often talked about the need to diversify our economy, and here FCA was now committing to diversify within their own footprint in Kokomo. Luckily that commitment to their investment is still in progress.
But before I share with you some of the City’s accomplishments and some of our future goals, I want to speak to how the recent sacrifices and efforts of our citizens, our workforce and our city employees have reinforced my belief that Kokomo is a great community.
We can’t ignore how Covid-19 has impacted Kokomo. First, I wish to pause a moment to remember those who fell victim to the virus and have died. We pray for their families and friends that are still mourning their loss, and we lift those who are still afflicted. May God grant them all peace and strength. But I want to focus on more than just the tragedy and the disruptions to everyday life. I want to focus on the positives that have resulted from this crisis. Because our toughness has led us to come together, support each other and work for the common good. We were introduced to quarantining at home, social distancing in public, hand washing more frequently (which we actually should have remembered from our childhood) and donning face covering – things we hadn’t considered a mere five or six months ago. Heck, many of us were even introduced to The Tiger King! You couldn’t have asked for better programming while quarantined than Joe Exotic! (Well, we probably could have, but those that watched it have to admit that he was entertaining!)
Everyday citizens—from healthcare professionals to grocery workers, from restaurant staff to small business owners, and from our dedicated educators to our city transit drivers—they all answered the call to service during the pandemic, often putting themselves at risk to help the community make it through this ordeal. To those groups of individuals mentioned and to so many others I did not, you have our sincere gratitude and our undying admiration.
Of those groups of front line workers I just mentioned, I would like to take a moment now to acknowledge some representatives of each I invited to be here as my guests:
The healthcare professionals in our hospitals, our clinics, our nursing homes and assisted living facilities have been second to none. One of those individuals I wish to recognize is Amy Lennon. Amy is a nurse at St. Vincent here in Kokomo. During the intense initial stages of the crisis, Amy realized the need for competent healthcare professionals reached beyond our city limits. After assuring that Kokomo was adequately staffed to address our needs, Amy reached out to a staffing agency and a short-time later was on her way to New York City, where she spent three weeks working in a Brooklyn hospital. Amy said the experience opened her eyes to how good we have it here in Kokomo. Amy knows that her experience in New York has made her a better nurse today. Healthcare professionals like Amy continue to serve on the front lines every single day, placing themselves and their families at risk because of the commitment they have made to care for those most in need. Amy, we appreciate you and your fellow providers at every level and are grateful for all that you do to keep us healthy and alive. We literally would not be managing the pandemic as well as we have locally without you all.
Many of us may not have had a true appreciation for the work retail and grocery workers provide until after this pandemic hit. Putting food on the table goes beyond simply earning money to cover the grocery bill. It starts with farmers, laborers, truck drivers and others in the supply chain, but the end result is a group of individuals working to keep shelves stocked and consumers served while providing a safe, clean place for those consumers to shop under these very difficult conditions. I have asked Jake Bandelier to be with us here tonight. Jake is a manager at one of the Kroger supermarkets here in Kokomo. Like the staff of so many other grocery and retail stores, Jake and his crew had to learn to adapt on the fly, all the while having to deal with things like late trucks, re-stocking and schedule changes and hiring and training challenges. Jake told us, “We got real good at adapting to change.” Jake, we thank you for your hard work and that of so many other managers, cashiers and stockers from our local retailers, and please believe me when I say, many of us won’t look at a simple trip to the store the same ever again.
In the same vein, our local restaurants had to modify how they operate. All of a sudden carryout and curbside became the norm. This service and the increase in deliveries changed how almost every restaurant operated. There surely wasn’t a chapter on serving during a pandemic in most operating manuals! This change also severely affected the waitstaffs in many of these restaurants. So until the State is back to full capacity in bars and restaurants and folks are more comfortable getting out to dine in, our thoughts are with those still affected. But there are those that have been at the forefront of these changes lately, and I have asked one individual from that workforce to join us tonight. Thank you, Tina O’Vadka, for being here with us. Tina, a manager at Hacienda, found herself in a difficult situation when the pandemic began. The restaurant was closed to inside business but carry-out service was on the rise. With just the managers working along with a few employees, that translated into 10 to 12-hour days, six days a week. Tina says the experience has made her appreciate how the food service industry works and how the workforce in general has changed. Thanks again, Tina, for sacrificing time and energy like so many in our local restaurants have done lately to not only support the sustainability of your employer but also for offering to meet the new special dining needs of your patrons.
Our small business owners were also asked to make a huge sacrifice--one that tremendously impacted their livelihoods. We understand the difficulty in running a small business during the best of times, so to try and comprehend how great the struggle was for businesses to endure a time of pandemic and isolation is difficult for most to imagine. To help alleviate that stress and ease the burden, the City of Kokomo developed the Kokomo StrongER Forgivable Loan Program to assist our local business community. I am happy to report as of today, the program assisted 200 businesses to which we had committed and have been diligently working with them to provide the necessary funding promised. I wish we could have found more financial comfort to fund the additional businesses who also applied, which is why I am grateful for the assistance program created by my counterparts in County Government and the program established by our friends at the Greater Kokomo Economic Development Alliance to support so many more in our community. Commissioner Wyman, Commissioner Bray, Commissioner Dodd, I thank you. And Charlie Sparks and staff watching at home, I appreciate your work as well. One of those Kokomo StrongER small business owners is with us tonight. Tonya Warren is the owner of Store on the Corner, located on the city’s south side. Like so many other small businesses, Tonya was faced with the challenge of having to close her store to inside customers while increasing the efficiency of becoming then a drive-thru only convenience store. Tonya, again like so many others, realized the need to adapt and overcome. She was quick to implement new cleaning procedures to keep both her employees and customers safe. The store eventually did re-open to inside customers with an emphasis on social distancing. Tonya, thank you for your investment in Kokomo and for your commitment to succeed. Small business is the backbone of our local economy, so I encourage all citizens to support our small businesses like they committed to serve us through all of this. The willingness and eventual ability to adapt, overcome and persevere has strengthened our community and inspired us all.
I can’t speak about adapting, overcoming and persevering without mentioning another group of people tasked almost daily with great responsibility who were also asked to shift gears on very short notice. I am talking about our teachers and public educators. These teachers maintained their composure and professionalism while being asked to change how they were to teach their students in a moment’s notice. Seeing how innovative and resourceful they became during a very difficult situation has only increased my admiration and appreciation for them. One prime example of a teacher going above and beyond to continue the education of his students is Matt York. Matt, like so many other educators, had to embrace how technology could be used in a virtual classroom. Matt said he initially made 54 phone calls to his students and their parents as they moved to a new teaching platform. Using technology like Google Classroom will become new norm, according to Matt. He told us, “Using paper and pencil doesn’t work anymore.” I loved seeing the social media posts and news reports of teachers of every level of schooling teaching and leading, and I continue to be inspired by how Kokomo and Howard County educators and their staffs genuinely love their students. Matt, I can’t thank you and your colleagues enough for taking such incredible care of our greatest resource – our children.
The last group of front line workers that I want to recognize are some of City government’s own. When the conversations began as to what businesses or services were considered “essential” versus “non-essential”, the scope of the discussion was as vast and varied as our economy is. However, there was one service that although may not have been mentioned in that “essentialness” discussion was just considered “expected”. That was the City’s Transit department that houses our Cityline Trolleys and Spirit of Kokomo buses. I’ve asked Tom Huffman to be with us tonight to represent his team for the City of Kokomo. Tom and his fellow bus drivers played a key role during the crisis. Many of us take for granted the ability and opportunity we have to hop in a vehicle and travel for any reason. Unfortunately there are a number of people in Kokomo who must depend on public transportation for trips to the doctor, the grocery and more. Yes, our trolley and bus drivers were essential then and continue to be essential now. Our drivers, like Tom, quickly adapted to the situation to ensure the health and safety of their passengers – some of which are the most vulnerable and at-risk. Driving hours upon hours with masks and sanitizing not only their trolley or bus but the bus shelters as well has become part of the normal routine—all while continuing to ensure the safety of the riders themselves. Tom, I can’t thank you and your fellow team of drivers for remaining committed to your job during these tough times and for being such great ambassadors for the City of Kokomo. Thank you.
And finally on my list of essential groups that, although may not have had a large number of individuals specifically on the front lines, were present in spirit and in love are our faith community. The way so many church leaders found ways to virtually lead their flocks and care for their congregation’s spiritual needs
Again, there are other groups of individuals and service providers that have gone above and beyond during this pandemic to keep our citizens safe as we slowly re-open our economy, so please don’t think that not being mentioned here tonight in no way means that your efforts are not appreciated. Thank you. Every day I continue to be inspired by how Kokomo is responding to this crisis. And while all this has impacted our lives and community in different ways as we move forward, we can’t allow this pandemic to define who we are and how we need live our lives. Even though the Governor just pushed back Stage 5 of his “Back on Track Indiana” plan (I guess he announced that we’ve moved to Stage 4.5), everything we have been doing with donning our masks, exercising social distancing, sanitizing our hands and facilities have allowed Kokomo and Howard County to manage our part of the curve. Keep up the good work, Kokomo!
However, the first six months of the year haven’t been solely about COVID 19 and its impact. Great things have still been happening throughout the City of Firsts. Some of them were high-profile in nature and some occurred under the public’s radar.
As I mentioned earlier, FCA Chrysler has demonstrated its commitment to Kokomo by announcing the conversion of the ITP2 plant into the Kokomo Engine Plant. The $400 million transformation will preserve 1,000 jobs and add 200 additional jobs. That brings FCA’s reinvestment in our community to more than $2 billion since 2009. Future generations of Kokomo workers will be ensured of an opportunity to work hard to produce a quality product for a fair wage. But FCA’s commitment to the Kokomo area during this pandemic didn’t stop at their plans for KEP. FCA has donated thousands of relief dollars to local organizations like our United Way and has provided thousands of PPE masks for our first responders and local schools. We thank Brad Clark, Naill Olling and the entire FCA team for their continued interest and investment in the citizens of Kokomo.
Also during the COVID crisis, Kokomo and its workers stepped to the plate again as General Motors partnered with Ventec Life Systems to begin production of much-needed medical ventilators. It was truly amazing to see GM and Ventec move from concept to production with the goal of 30,000 ventilators produced by the end of August. In order to accomplish this, more than 1,000 full- and part-time employees filled the temporary positions. What a testament this has been to the quality of the facilities GM had available and the incredible workforce the Kokomo area possessed! Even Washington was impressed with what was being accomplished here with telling the world that Kokomo was “a great place”. We already knew that, so it was reassuring as a community to have the President acknowledge that. And with Ventec’s commitment to remain in Kokomo indefinitely, we now have another exciting opportunity to diversify our local economy within the medical manufacturing industry.
Something many of us were not aware of is how Kokomo-based Allied Tube & Conduit played its own vital role in responding to the crisis. Allied was contracted to manufacture tubing needed for portable medical tents that served as additional COVID wards for many hospitals and communities. Just another example of how the world turned its eyes to Kokomo and its skilled, dependable workforce for much needed assistance and resources!
And I’m sure there are other manufacturers and businesses based here in Kokomo that provided much needed products and services to those on the state and national front that, like Allied Tube, flew under the radar but were truly essential to keeping Indiana and America moving during the pandemic. Thank you to all those who kept Kokomo “essential”!
Well, we began the year with a defined set of goals for the short-term and a plan to begin work on long-term goals. A number of the short-term goals involved the continued work or completion of projects in place by the previous administration and obviously stand to benefit our city and compliment future plans. So even with the distraction and interruption of the pandemic, we have met some of these goals already, while setting others in motion.
The completion of the Downtown River Walk is the latest piece in creating the best trail system in central Indiana. It is part of the centerpiece of downtown development and has quickly become a quality amenity that will be the envy of other cities our size. In fact this project received national and regional attention by receiving recognition from the American Council of Engineering Companies of Indiana. The River Walk is also now a key component for our mission to improve our trails, and it compliments the previous work done on the Nickle Plate Trail and bridge over SR931, which also received a merit award this year from the ACEC of Indiana. Trail connectivity remains vital to our community’s health – both economically and physically—and will continue to be a priority of my administration. In fact we are working on plans to “head west, young man!” with the hopes of connecting to Russiaville and possibly taking it to our friends in Clinton County.
And who’s ready for some baseball and softball?!?! Needless to say I was excited to join others in finally breaking ground on the development of Championship Park on the east side of the city. Many projects announced and/or initiated by the previous administration have continued to receive support by my administration, but none have had the interest and potential for economic impact for Kokomo than Championship Park. The projected $11.4 million design of the youth baseball and softball diamonds coupled with the estimated $77 million development by Henke Development Group stands to help boost our local hotel and retail economy along 931 and finally give our local youth baseball and softball leagues a united, state-of-the-art facility on which to play and create some incredible memories. I’m encouraged by this project because of its scope and because of the players in the game. To paraphrase, in a way, Kevin Costner from Field of Dreams: As we build it, they will come.
Another major project that is transforming our downtown landscape is the second parking garage right across the street from City Hall—and I almost forgot to mention it! As I was finalizing my speech this afternoon, I had to stop and laugh at myself because for weeks now I’ve watched as cement mixers, steel beams and port-o-pots have been swung outside my window, so I can’t believe I had initially failed to include it. The folks at Envoy and F.A. Whilhem Construction continued work diligently through the pandemic to take full advantage of the weather and resources made available in order to stay on schedule. This additional amenity downtown will help alleviate many of the parking challenges citizens face when coming downtown for events, First Friday’s, Jackrabbit games, high school graduations and general entertainment. The garage will also have a 2000 square foot commercial space that would be perfect for a small grocer or pharmacy for those residents that live in our downtown area. Another fun feature we have planned for the structure is an Artscape project in which the City will ask local artists—professional or self-proclaimed—to submit ideas for 5-6 large, three-story murals to be hung on the east side of the garage. With the attention to art so many have given in our community in recent years, these murals will be again a fun and welcomed addition to downtown.
Amid all this though, the employees of the City of Kokomo have performed extremely well under very difficult conditions. Adapting, overcoming and evolving have become part of the daily process of our department heads and employees. Every department met the challenge to keep our city running smoothly and without interruption. Part of my decision to run for mayor—and eventually my commitment to the citizens of Kokomo and our city departments—is summed up, I believe, in a quote from author Simon Sinek: “The role of the leader is not to come up with all the great ideas. The role of a leader is to create an environment in which great ideas can happen.” The departments of the City of Kokomo are filled with hard-working and dedicated employees that have made my transition into my role as Mayor rather easy and quite rewarding. They are and always have been an integral part of the successes that Kokomo experiences year after year, so I’d like to highlight some of the accomplishments within our departments thus far in 2020 and some of the plans we have in place.
Our Street and Engineering departments have continued to provide services, repaving streets, picking up limbs and collecting refuse without interruption, all while planning for future projects. According to city engineer Carey Stranahan, more streets have been re-paved this Spring than any Spring in the past 15 years. And there’s plenty more slated to be completed throughout the year. Our Street and Traffic workers remained committed to providing the best service in the most effective manner while working with reduced staffing due to COVID.
Things you can see in the future from the engineering department include up to 50 new curb ramps, which will improve accessibility in our neighborhoods and around our schools. As I mentioned we will continue to expand on our trail extensions—especially to the southwest from the Markland Ave. trailhead—and will soon work to complete the new sidewalk project around IU Kokomo, which will include a protected crosswalk on Washington connecting The Annex student housing complex to the main campus. We are also putting plans together to complete much needed (and desired) walking paths or sidewalks in the next 2-3 years. Our desire is to install paths or walks along Alto Road between Indian Heights and South Library, along Berkely Street between Markland and Sycamore, along Center Road between Dixon and 931 (that’s probably the one that will garner the most excitement) and along Goyer Road between Boulevard and Markland. Having our city continue to be viewed as a “walkable community” needs a plan in place to allow our citizens in many of our other heavy residential areas to have safe and easy access to so much more in our community on foot or by bike. I am committed to this plan and look forward to what Carey Stranahan and the Engineering Department are able to accomplish for us.
Each department is doing more, more efficiently. Like our Central Garage, which now maintains more than 600 pieces of equipment doing the majority of the work in house, is saving taxpayer money. Soon Central Garage will also have a much-needed Transit bus barn on its footprint. Many of you may remember a few years back the facility that originally housed our transit buses burned to the ground. Since that time the City has been housing its CityLine Trolleys and Spirit of Kokomo buses in some available space in the Wastewater Utility plant. Unfortunately there have been ongoing concerns with the conditions of those areas and how they can affect the cleanliness of our transit vehicles. Fortunately now City Transit is receiving $2.67 million in CARES Act funding to use toward all things Transit. From that we are able to designate $800,000 toward the construction of this new facility that has been on the drawing board for some time. I am proud to be a part of this new home for the City’s fleet and extra work space for our Central Garage staff.
One of our city’s hidden gems that has recently been in the limelight is our Kokomo Municipal Airport. It has become a key central location for aviation in Indiana, recently averaging between 40 and 50 landing per day, along with 2-3 cargo deliveries per week. Much of the recent activity was due to the shipments of ventilator supplies and subsequent delivery of these much-sought-after ventilators throughout the country. Shaun Baker was hired on as the new director at the Airport and brings with him years of experience from the Terre Haute Airport. And now that the Airport has received more attention, it is the City’s desire to continue to highlight it as a valuable resource with which we can entice companies we may court to occupy our projected industrial park. I’m excited to see the improvements Shaun has planned for our airfield.
Our Human Resources Department has been working hard to make things better for our employees by reviewing and evaluating our procedures and policies. They have also been instrumental as we look to change providers for our joint health clinic with County Government. On top of that, we honored the previous administration’s promise to our transit drivers to organize and charged them with coordinating the first transit union contact negotiations, which then led into the talks with the police and fire unions. These too will soon to be finalized. New HR Director Sarah Spencer and former interim director Jack Dodd have led our negotiating team with all three organized bodies and were joined by City Controller Wes Reed, City Attorney TJ Rethlake and a combination of Council members Kara Kitts-McKibben, Matt Grecu and Tony Stewart. Although I was not at the table with our team and the three union bodies’ leadership, I was encouraged and proud of the reports all sides gave me on the professionalism and mutual respect all demonstrated to each other while reaching each respective agreement. Tonight I want to recognize the presidents of each of our union bodies: Andy Eshelman from the Firefighters, Jeramie Dodd from the FOP and Jeff Haworth from our AFSCME folks. Thank you, all, again for your professionalism and mutual respect given to a team of mostly newbies to this process. I look forward to continuing a great working relationship for years to come. And to HR’s credit this was all done while facing the need to create a “pandemic policy” for city employees to tele-work or furlough temporarily. The entire department did an outstanding job of ensuring our workers and their families were safe throughout the pandemic. Thanks, HR!
The Kokomo/Howard County Planning Commission, a joint office between the city and county governments, is also typically a good measuring stick as to how our economy may be fairing. Mr. Sheline and his staff reported that a combined total of 58 permits were requested in April and May alone. That exceeds the previous average amounts for those months and already represents more than half of the average yearly totals. Although many of those were simply home improvement permits, it still shows that our local economy is active. The Planning Commission has also increased its efforts on code enforcement, which further helps protect individual’s property rights, so I appreciate their commitment to those endeavors. In addition, Howard County Government recently moved the Planning Commission office to the first floor of the County Administration Building to make it more accessible for residents. Again, thank you Commissioners, and thanks to you and your staff, Mr. Sheline.
Two other City departments that one might think were slow during the pandemic are the Development Department and Parks and Recreation. With businesses closed or drastically scaled back and citizens being encouraged to stay home and quarantined, you might think that Development and Parks were of little importance. Quite the contrary! As was highlighted earlier when the pandemic was in full swing and the threat of businesses suffering, I sat down with Development Director Jenny Jordan and Controller Wes Reed to formulate a plan to assist our small businesses. Thus the Kokomo StrongER program was created and kickstarted in almost a moments notice. That also meant that we had to pull our Development staff off of tele-working mode and bring them back to the trenches to get applications received, reviewed, vetted and approved. I can’t thank Jenny and our Development staff enough for the time, energy and effort they gave to help support our small business community. Thanks, guys and gal! As for future plans in Development, the main initiative we are working toward, and doing so in close partnership with Charlie Sparks and Mike McCool with the Greater Kokomo Economic Development Alliance, is an industrial park. I mentioned the need for this time and time again last year, and now realize that it is time to get more aggressive in our plans. With FCA, GM and Ventec buzzing with activity and continued investment, Kokomo has the opportunity to land potential suppliers in both industries as soon as we can market an available site. I ask that you keep your fingers crossed with me that an opportunity comes our way sooner than later. The other project in the works that directly involves the Development Department is the proposed downtown hotel/conference center. This project is NOT dead and has been very much a part of conversations with developers, the Alliance leadership and Automotive Museum guys. Yes, the project is on hold due to the current climate and the potential change in the overall footprint of the facilities, but this project is definitely still on the table. Stay tuned for more as things develop.
As for our Parks and Recreation Department, I have discovered that Torrey Roe is one of the hardest working employees for the City of Kokomo and does so with hardly a bit of complaining. (Well, at least to me anyway!) Even though citizens were asked to stay home and stay out of the parks for a while, our Parks Department was busy laying the foundation for re-opening. Equipment sanitized, parks cleaned up, Kokomo Beach properly prepped, KokoGo bikeshare ready to roll and a modified Summer Concert Series to plan. And I don’t think I covered it all! Torrey and his staff were constantly thinking of things that I can not and then steps to the plate to get them done. We were slated to bring the Gus Macker back to the square this summer, but COVID is pushing that to next year. But our plans for the parks aren’t sitting idle. We look forward to the possibility of adding lights, restrooms and an additional splash pad down at Jackson Morrow Park and providing upgrades to much of the equipment in others in the next few years. Our trails are taking citizens to our parks, so we want to make sure they’re in the best shape possible. Thank you, Parks, for keeping our parks and trails safe and accessible!
Our commitment to improving and strengthening our commitment to public safety has begun in earnest. The Kokomo Police Department has added 9 new officers, a couple through lateral transfers. Focusing on transfers helps in that hiring an officer that is already trained and equipped for the job keeps KPD positioned to operate smoothly and efficiently with little or no disruption. Chief Doug Stout has implemented changes that have made the department more efficient in light of staffing challenges. And although we were fortunate to hire 9 additional officers, we will unfortunately net zero out by the end of the year with those with scheduled retirements. Therefore department is working to improve its recruiting process, especially with regards to making KPD more diverse. Chief Stout, his administration and I have heard the concerns of those in our community regarding the past practice of policing, and we are committed to continue the conversation and address those concerns as best we can and as swiftly as we can. I’m especially proud of the great working relationship KPD now has with the Kokomo 10-Point Coalition group. The communication and involvement between the groups has experienced success already in utilizing the men of 10-Point to assist in diffusing the potential for hostile situations and aid in the relationship between our community and its officers. Thank you, KPD, and thank you, 10-Point, for now leading by example.
The Kokomo Fire Department recently added new recruits to strengthen its roster as well and has reorganized to fully utilize the existing personal. Chief Frazier has done an outstanding job addressing the needs of the department and identifying the greater efficiencies that could be experienced. Also, last month the City dedicated the first Safe Haven Baby Box at Station No. 1, which provides a safe alternative for mothers and babies involved in a crisis pregnancy. I appreciate the entire department for embracing this project as another way that they can help save lives. Like the police department, KFD is working to improve its recruitment process and is hopeful that the opportunity presents itself to add a few more to their ranks.
Both departments are working tirelessly to make public safety a priority while maintaining the highest quality of standards in training and in practice. They were obviously on the front lines during this pandemic day in and day out, responding to service calls not knowing if someone may be contagious with COVID. Couple that with the usual uncertainty of any call, and one can begin to understand why it is vital to properly staff and outfit these two vital and essential departments for our City. My commitment to get KPD and KFD back to the prestige they once held is a priority of this administration, and we all realize it won’t be an overnight accomplishment. It may not be immediate, but it will be accomplished. I am proud to work with and for the Kokomo Police Department and Kokomo Fire Department.
In conclusion, I can’t tell you how proud I am of the City of Kokomo and how honored I am to be its Mayor! Yes, the start of 2020 brought us challenges that, at times, seemed beyond comprehension. The state of our city or, as I would rather put it, the condition of our community is now defined not only by what occurs inside the walls of City Hall but rather what happens in our streets, in our neighborhoods and in our homes. Through these unprecedented trials, I have been constantly inspired by the resilience of our small businesses, the determination of our local workforce, the courage of those standing for racial justice and the sacrifices made by countless others for betterment of our community. When I reflect on these past few months, I am reminded of a verse in 2 Corinthians 4 that I believe describes this community well: “8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”
As we collectively continue to march through these unprecedented times, I want to take this opportunity to challenge each and every one of us to continue the call for solidarity. Through the years many have found ourselves in situations that have greatly affected us personally, yet were sometimes beyond our individual control—and 2020 has been no exception. In moments like these it would be easy to lose hope or to lose confidence that tomorrow could and would be a better day. It would appear easier to give up and give in. It would be tempting to look at these overwhelming situations and say, “This is beyond me. Let’s let someone else deal with it.” These thoughts and feelings are warranted by the fact that individually you are correct, creating a better tomorrow for our community is beyond the efforts of a single individual. This is why unity holds such great value. A daily effort toward solidarity is the only way we address these challenges, and I am fully convinced that a unified Kokomo can and will overcome them and together we can create the framework for the generations after us to follow. But we must understand and realize that this unity must say that although we may disagree, although we may have a different background, although we don’t understand each other yet, I respect you and I will stand with you, because you are valuable—regardless of race, creed, gender, religion or political views. The words of Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta resonate in my mind: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong together.” I may be your mayor, but this City belongs to you. I am but your servant who has been charged with the responsibility to lead, to govern, to listen and to serve. I have one final thought I’d like to share. I wore this tie tonight for a reason. Many of you here can’t probably make out what’s on it—or I should say ‘who’ is on it—and those of you tuning in definitely can’t see it. It’s covered with pictures of my five children. They’re much older now, so the picture might embarrass them. Anyway, I wore it today to remind myself of my priorities in life. First, I am a Christian and am made in the image of God. Second, I am a husband, a father and a son charged with the care of my family. Third, I am your Mayor. But as Mayor of Kokomo, I have been given charge of another family—you, the citizens of this great city. I know that with the support of my God, my domestic family and my civic family, I will serve to the best of my ability. It won’t be perfect and I may not make everyone happy, but I feel we’re off to a great start. Thank you for the opportunity to be your Mayor, and together as a family let’s continue to build a Kokomo we can all be proud of. May God bless you and may God bless the City of Kokomo.