Oak Park Mayor Gives 2015 State of the City Address

essentialTOPtempOak Park Mayor Gives 2015 State of the City AddressSahara ad with wine

(Marian McClellan, Mayor of Oak Park, March 21, 2015)

The following speech was given on March 19, 2015:

I am joined tonight by my colleagues, Mayor Pro Tem Paul Levine, and Council Members Carolyn Burns, Michael Seligson, and Kiesha Speech. Without their partnership, I would not be able to stand here tonight and summarize the amazing progress that has occurred in the City of Oak Park over the past year.

I’d also like to extend a warm welcome to our visiting elected officials. Please stand and be recognized as I call your name: (see List)

When I began serving as Mayor in 2011, our finance director told me – and I quote – “No mayor in the history of Oak Park has ever faced a worse financial situation.” At that time, Oak Park was on the governor’s watch list for a financial manager appointment. Not a lot to brag about at that State of the City address accept a new direction. Many hard decisions later, and with the generosity of our residents in passing Public Act 345 in 2012, we are now witnessing a rebirth of energy and renewed hope in the future of our city.


We’ve moved on from being a complacent community/ to one that embraces change/ and looks to the future with high expectations. I couldn’t be chazzano game admore proud of our city’s progress.

Our economic development efforts are starting to bear fruit. In fact, I am delighted to announce tonight that the city has recently received a site application for a new industrial development at the former Light Guard Armory site, which has been vacant for years. This could be the linchpin of our city’s comeback by generating new tax revenue and creating new jobs. That’s a big deal.

Our City Manager, Erik Tungate, was recently named one of Crain Detroit Magazine’s 40 Under 40, for competence and innovation. He believes public service is a great calling, as demonstrated by his positive energy and vision which helped us embark on a course of unprecedented growth and prosperity. Under his leadership, our professional staff, which includes our amazing directors, managers and workers, has accomplished extraordinary strides in a very short time. He is near the end of a complete overhaul of city government operations so we are now lean, mean and efficient – a monumental achievement.


I am very pleased to say that our community is now financially stable. Cost-saving measures, such as the combination of five, separate employee health plans into one comprehensive plan, enabled the city to ferncareADcreate a $2.1 million fund balance. We also changed pension managers to better manage our employees’ funds.

Our residents have also experienced the personal benefits of the city’s new stability. Home values in Oak Park increased by 1.16% last year; and we expect this trend to continue. Through the city’s efforts to refinance street bonds, residents will now save $1.8million over the life of the loan.

We budget very conservatively in order to reserve funds for unexpected events, which truly made a difference this past year as Mother Nature put us to the test. Despite record-breaking snowfalls last winter, the Great Flood in August, and disabled power lines caused by 60-MPH wind storms; our great city was up to the challenge. Our city government had access to the resources necessary for efficient clean-up and recovery; and our residents demonstrated an extraordinary resilience and neighborly responsiveness. Frankly, we set the standard for best practices in the region in the effectiveness of our cleanup, and our timely communication with residents.

City Manager Erik Tungate, please stand for a well-deserved round of applause.



Within the past two years, our City Manager has put together an exceptional team of department leaders nicholas-schrock-allstatewho not only get the job done, but who each bring extraordinary innovation to their positions.

We have endured two harsh winters in a row. Hopefully, this one is nearly over. If you’re like me, you can’t say enough about the efficient, caring work of our Department of Public Works in maintaining our city streets. It is widely acknowledged that our city services are better than surrounding cities. Between the cleanup following the August floods and our winter weather challenges, we’ve received a great number of accolades about DPW from residents. We are very fortunate to have a competent and multi-skilled Assistant City Manager, who also serves as Director of Public Works and City Engineer. He had the project lead on the enormously complicated city hall building project, and managed to bring this building you’re sitting in on time and under budget. Thank you for your leadership, Assistant City Manager Kevin Yee.


Keeping our residents safe is the most important charge of city government. And, we are blessed to have our first-rate Oak Park Public Safety Department, which is well-known for competent, sidebar012stairsprofessional and caring service. If you have a medical emergency you can count on our officers to be there for you. Due to financial constraints, we experienced deep cuts to the force in 2012. I’m happy to report, however, that through Director Steve Cooper’s diligent, active recruitment efforts, more than half of those positions have been restored and we look forward to filling the rest soon. One of our core values is to honor the rich cultural diversity of our community, and Director Cooper’s recruitment has done just that. We now have a diverse force including women and African Americans …We have added a new Chaplain Howard Tkatch to provide council to officers and residents alike. Thank you for your wonderful leadership, Director Cooper. (Applause)

Oak Park used to be a communications desert. In short order, we have become nimble enough to react instantly to events such as last year’s flood and this year’s snow emergencies by getting crucial information out to our residents in real time. More than 2,000 residents responded to my personal requests for email addresses this past year, which enabled the city to send daily email announcements to residents during the August flood. And, because some of our residents don’t use the internet, during the last snow emergency, we utilized a Robocall system to remind residents to keep the streets clear for emergency vehicles. Our communications updates have been so popular that other cities are copying our systems.


Our innovative Communications Director, Joscelyn Davis, started with a blank page and, developed a complete communications plan for our city, which includes: a bi-monthly Branch newsletter, which is mailed to every mailbox in the 48237 zip code; Judy_Palmer30yearsbi-weekly eBlasts to keep residents informed; active Facebook, Twitter and social media presence; an annual community calendar, which includes photos from our wonderful community events; updated cable programming, including a partnership with Oak Park high school students who film our Fourth of July parade; and – coming soon with the help of our IT Department – a fresh, new, user-friendly website. And, have you seen the impressive new Resident Handbook? Thank you for your guidance, Director Davis. (Applause)

Last year, we began collaborating with our neighboring communities in an effort to maximize quality of life for our residents. Thanks to the dedication of our new Recreation Director, Julie Hall, we were able to fully develop our intergovernmental agreement with Ferndale for shared recreation services that will expand programming for both cities. Without a doubt, Director Hall has brought new ideas, needed organization and great energy to the recreation program. (Applause)


This past year, our City Clerk oversaw the successful reorganization of our voting precincts, which greatly improved the voting experience in Oak Park. The Clerk’s office also organized our Council-appointed boards and commissions and met with each group to provide training in parliamentary procedure and the Open Meetings Act. We intend to continue to use the talents and energy of our residents who wish to be engaged in local government. So far, City Council has added 55 new residents to our boards and CFSEM-123-OaklandCounty115-digital-ad_v2commission. I may be biased, since City Council works so closely with this office, but our City Clerk’s office is arguably one of the best in the state… City Clerk Ed Norris. (Applause)

In 2011, the business scene in Oak Park was stagnant. We were still using a 70-year-old Master Plan, and home values weren’t benefitting from our tired retail areas. We are now focused on implementing our new Ten Year Strategic Plan. We will soon establish a Corridor Improvement Authority along Coolidge, Nine Mile Road and Eleven Mile with specific achievable goals and an end point. We installed eleven elegant signs at the Oak Park borders to brand our city as a community on the move; the next one will be installed on a new island at Eight Mile and Coolidge. We plan to add bike lanes and more parking on our streets to encourage shopping. City Council passed ordinances last year in support of tavern licenses and outdoor dining, which will expand opportunities for our local restaurants to increase customer traffic. Oak Park joined Oakland County’s Main Street Program to declare loud and clear that Oak Park is Open for Business! In one year, we have changed our business culture from “NO” to a resounding “YES” and have welcomed as many as 34 new businesses in Oak Park since June 1, 2014. For that, we have to thank one of City Manager Tungate’s newest superstars, Kimberly Marrone, Manager of Community and Economic Development.20150321op018

Manager Marrone serves as the staff liaison for our Oak Park Arts and Cultural Commission – also known as OPAACC – which hosted several, exciting events this past year, including Summerfest, the city’s newest annual event. I’m happy to announce that OPAACC has raised funds and secured matching dollars for a series of four, music concerts in our own Shepard Park this coming summer. Last summer, Oak Park won the Detroit Institute of Arts Inside Out Program – and residents were able to discover art all over the city. Another arts triumph HowesLocation– Earlier this month, the city partnered with the Oak Park School District to host our first annual My Oak Park Experience – Art in Motion contest. Do yourself a huge favor and peruse the galleries here in City Hall and in the Community Center over the next month. The student work is astounding. We have budding artists right here in our own backyard.

As a result of the Great Recession, it’s no secret that some of our Oak Parkers lost jobs and, subsequently, lost their homes to new owners who became landlords. Our Code Enforcement Department stepped up to the challenge of ensuring that those homes were kept up to standards. We have beautifully built and maintained homes in our city that are priced right. If you’re like me, you can’t wait until those 20-somethings who have been attracted to working in downtown Detroit DISCOVER OAK PARK. Director Robert Barrett, thank you for your leadership in the Technical & Planning Department. (Applause)

We have been very fortunate to have Gail Credit from Plante Moran to serve as our Finance Director and re-organize our Finance department, which includes Accounting, Assessing, Treasury and Water. She inherited an antiquated accounting system linked to out of date DOSS-based computer software that couldn’t coordinate with other city departments or the county system. This past year’s biggest challenge has been integrating a new computer system with our ancient records. We see the light at the end of the tunnel, as well as the benefit to our residents. For one, you can now see your water bill and make payments online. Director Credit, please stand to accept our appreciation for a job well done. (Applause)


City Manager Tungate also welcomed two, additional directors to the executive team: Human Resources Director Vicky Brooks and Library Director Brandon Bowman. Director Brooks is leading a total system audit, designed to result in efficiencies in employee recruitment, training and development efficiencies. Director Bowman brings great energy to his new role, as well waterworkas the experience and creativity required to position the Oak Park Library as the best in the region in terms of programs and access to resources. Thank you, both, and welcome Director Brooks (applause)… and Director Bowman. (Applause)

Under the direction of City Manager Tungate, Jeff Schefke, our Information Technology Director, has overseen the replacement of the city’s ancient technology in order to save time and money for staff and residents alike. Residents now have access to online services, such as recreation class registration, water bill payments, tax payments and building permit status updates. Thank you for your hard work, Director Schefke. (Applause)

Oak Park Identity

Led by Communications Director Davis, my colleagues on City Council and I embarked upon a new frontier this past year with the development of a strategic plan for the City of Oak Park. We engaged in a three-month planning process during which we analyzed the city’s strengths and areas of opportunity.

We recognized that our main priorities for the city’s success are summed up by Three C’s: Community, Culture and Commerce.


We collectively identified the mission of City Council and city administration as “striving to provide the highest quality of life for our residents in everything we do; priding ourselves on the richness of our cultural diversity and our safe and secure neighborhoods; actively encouraging residential and business growth; and remaining business-minded and family-centered.”

And, our vision for our city’s future is strong:Candlewickshop_May2014

The City of Oak Park will lead the region as the most dynamic city in Metropolitan Detroit,  serving as a destination  for vibrant, cutting-edge community life.


I’d like to close tonight by sharing my personal dream and, hopefully, invoking your imagination.

Imagine sitting on the flowered patio of a restaurant at the Four Corners on 9 and Coolidge surrounded by twinkling lights and upbeat music. Imagine that you’re celebrating a birthday with a delicious dinner (and perhaps a glass of wine) under the stars. Imagine watching busy shoppers from all over the county enjoy the rare shops, unique coffee houses, jazz clubs, art galleries and bistros on the Four Corners. Imagine that Oak Park is a “regional destination.” Imagine the prosperity.

Now, open your eyes and see clearly that our city departments are organized and comprehensive plans are being implemented. We have emerged from despair to a clear vision of our city’s brilliant future. With wise planning and foresight, Oak Park is ready to face life’s uneven ground.

The best is definitely yet to come.

Thank you.

For more info on the City of Oak Park visit their website at http://www.oakpark-mi.com/.

Thank you to Ron Warren of Ron Warren photography for capturing the beauty of this event. Check out his facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/warrenphoto for more of his work and contact information.

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