State of the City Address: Presented 5/8/2017

Mayor Karin Wilson State of the City Address 2017

To understand who we are we have to understand where we came from – how we got to the state we are.  That state is a place where most of you have either chosen to stay or moved because of its unique character and the fact that it is very different from most communities across the country.

There is a reason for this and this reason is where we are today and how we can plan for tomorrow so VISION is once again incorporated into a plan for our future – a vision which began with our forefathers.

In the 1870s, throughout our country, people were responding to the negative changes in their communities.  The People’s Party was formed when the agricultural prices declined while the corporate sector and banks were rising.  Folks believed that special interests were taking advantage of the little guy!

Economist Henry George published his first book, Progress and Poverty, which sold several million copies. Even today that’s a lot of books.

Its sales exceeded all other books except the Bible during the 1890s. Many read his book.  Men and women from all walks of life joined the Georgist movement and proclaimed it changed their whole way of thinking.

It became an International best seller that shaped MANY countries.  His writings were more popular than Walter Scott, John Stuart Mill and William Shakespeare!  John Dewey himself estimated that Progress & Poverty “had a wider distribution than almost all other books on political economy put together.”

Now, lucky for us, 28 followers of Henry George’s writings were so inspired that it  motivated them to envision what a city would look like if a model community was created based on this concept.  They saw a community, free from monopoly, that gave everyone equal opportunity, the full reward of individual efforts, yet the benefits of cooperation in matters of general concern.

This group of freethinking visionaries explored six states before they found the perfect location for their utopian vision.  They became our Founding Fathers and declared it had a “fair hope of success!”

It really is an incredible story.  Fairhope was inspired and founded on a book! People uprooted their lives and families to create a model city to change their lives and world.

Because the vision was good and the implementation of a plan was successful, Fairhope attracted incredibly talented people from all backgrounds.  Educators like Marietta Johnson founded the School for Organic Education in Fairhope in 1907. The school was praised in John Dewey‘s influential 1915 book Schools of Tomorrow. Dewey and Johnson were founding members of the Progressive Education Association.  The Organic School may be the oldest continuously operating progressive school in the nation. nurturing children to develop a love of learning.  And  educator and author Lydia Comings was a writer who penned “Muscular Exercises for Health and Grace”.  She taught physical education across the US, moved to Fairhope in 1904, and was co-founder of the School of Organic Education.

Lizzie Maggie invented the landlord’s game to demonstrate how rents enrich property owners and impoverish tenants.  Parker Brothers published the 1925 version which is the popular Monopoly Game we play today.

Jimbo Meador -Inventor of the Paddle Board

He was a creator of the paddle board which he used for fishing.  Jimbo is known to many as the real life character of Forrest Gump… except he’s really smart!

And speaking of Forrest Gump, Winston Groom authored this best-seller inspired by one of his best friends.  Fairhope has attracted so many creative writers.

FROM UPTON SINCLAIR who wrote over 100 books including The Jungle, a novel about deeply rooted corruption of people in power to Bill Butterworth (who wrote under the name W.E.B. Griffin) who produced multiple best sellers, Fairhope attracted authors, artists, creative freethinkers…and this culture is alive and well still today.  It was Butterworth who suggested when a new town sign was being planned “Welcome to Fairhope: Where more people write than read!”

During this time everyone was an entrepreneur. The fact that we are still a town full of entrepreneurs is one of the main reasons we have our unique character.

Seecoast here in Fairhope has installed telescopes all over the globe.  Many may remember the ones on the municipal pier, but there’s one on the Eiffel tower too.

Fairhope has always been rich in the arts, literature and music.  Since the turn of the 20th century, the bluffs along the Bayfront were used for plays and concerts from our early days.  The site has been the location for countless plays and concerts for almost 100 years.   The internationally known actress, Floy Mann Schermerhorn, helped produce The Merchant of Venice right here. It was her father, Shuah Mann and Professor James Bellangee who discovered the site that became Fairhope. This picturesque spot was the backdrop for a production of Robin Hood decades ago where the hero actually jumped from the branch of a tree onto a horse in motion!

Millions of dollars of the city’s operating expenses have historically been misappropriated in the utility department expenses.   As you can see, when these expenses are recorded correctly, the city ran at a deficit of over $4.2 million last year and above reflects the true profit of our utilities.

While we still will use utility profits to subsidize the city’s deficit, it will be done as a transparent transfer from utilities to the city.

Although debt reduction is very important, proper investment in our infrastructure is paramount.  Failing to do so is more costly.

As many of you know, Fairhope is THE fastest growing city in the whole state.  We’ve experienced 24% growth in population since 2010.  In 2016 the total population inside the city limits was 16,857.  But did you know the population as a whole in Fairhope is 32,079?

This table demonstrates that full time City employees has increased only 2% from 2010 to 2016. We spent over $560,000 in overtime in fiscal 2016.   If we’ve experienced 24% growth in population since 2010, you can see that our growth in personnel has not followed suit.

The pink outline in this maps represents 76.67 square miles.  The hunter green area is the area inside the city limits.  The 2016 Population in our school district is 33,093 and the enrollment for 2016-17 school year was 5,030 students in our five public schools.

Although Fairhope schools are a part of a county school system, our city pays approximately one million dollars a year to support our schools. Since about half of the population live inside the city limits, only half are paying for the subsidy.

I will talk about this and our police jurisdiction in more detail in my next presentation.

It is clear that Fairhope was founded on a VISION and a PLAN.  Over the last twenty years while enjoying the good life in Fairhope,  the vision has been blurred.

There is still a great deal of planning to do to keep our forefathers’ vision alive.  We have challenges ahead, but I’m confident we have the right people in place to carry out a great plan and build upon what makes Fairhope so special to us all.

This presentation focused on Where We Came From and Where We are Today.

In order to discuss Where We Want to Be, the Vision needs to be refocused.  Growth is here and it will continue.  The balance must be to protect the unique character of Fairhope while implementing planned economic and community development.

Since August 23, 2016, I’ve been listening to constituents and your input has helped me craft a list of strategic priorities needed to implement and enforce this vision.

I will be presenting this to you around the end of July date TBA.  This will be the exciting part and I hope you can make it!

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3 Replies to “State of the City Address: Presented 5/8/2017”

  1. Mayor Wilson,
    I want to thank you again for your thoughtful consideration of Fairhope’s future. As a new resident, I very much appreciate the overview of the budget along with the backdrop of the original vision of progress.

    In my early years I served as a budget analyst and then communications manager for the City of Berkeley. It was an exciting and complicated place to serve. If I learned one thing, it is that engagement between the residents, business community, and government is the only way to keep a city vibrant , healthy, and resilient. Don’t forget to engage young people too:)

    Keep up the excellent work and stay strong when people are frustrated. It happens. Thank you!!!!

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