Royal Oak Mayor Jim Ellison’s State of the City Address (video)

Royal Oak Mayor Jim Ellison’s State of the City Address (video)

(Jim Ellison, given July 29, 2014, printed July 30)


Good afternoon, Royal Oak.

To my colleagues from the Royal Oak City Commission, city employees and most importantly my fellow Street-Eatzz-AdRoyal Oak residents, thank you for being here today. It’s always a pleasure to enjoy the unparalleled beauty and ambiance of the Red Run Golf Club, which has maintained a tradition of excellence since its beginnings here in 1914.

Congratulations on your centennial anniversary! Here’s to another 100 years in Royal Oak.

I’d also like to take a moment to recognize the Royal Oak Rotary Club for once again hosting the State of the City address. The Rotary Club – with its extraordinary passion for service – has always been a very important role-model in our community.

State of the City

Let me begin my State of the City address by simply saying: I am so proud of Royal Oak, sidebar016growwhich is – in case you haven’t heard – one of the:

‘Top 10 Best Cities for Kids 2014’ in America

’10 Best Small Cities for Education in America’

’10 Most Exciting Small Cities in America’

10 ‘Best Cities for Single Mothers’ in America

’10 Best Cities in Michigan’ to live.

It seems as if every month there is a new blog somewhere in America that recognizes our great city is doing a lot of things right and that Royal Oak – which has wonderful neighborhood parks, highly-rated schools, a progressive library system, safe streets, a vibrant downtown and an endless list of events and activities – is a Jim Shaffer KELLER ad blackwonderful place to live and raise a family.

Our city’s ever-growing popularity is evident by the number of new houses and commercial buildings being built in Royal Oak. The building department reports it issued 7,100 permits last year and performed more than 21,000 inspections on everything from simple additions to elaborate commercial building renovations.

In 2013, 137 new house permits were issued. To date, 60 new house permits have been issued in 2014, and we are aware of approximately 60 more that will likely be issued before the year is out.

The 2014 March Board of Review – where the purpose is to hear and decide assessment appeals, dda_ad_03poverty exemptions and property classification appeals – had the smallest attendance in over a decade. Our assessing department attributes this to the rapidly improving housing market. Residential values continue to improve and the commercial sector is recovering, too – with property values slowly increasing. Even industrial properties are beginning to show signs of improvement.

The planning department further confirms that Royal Oak continues to grow as it experiences a significant increase in new investment as well as reinvestment in existing buildings.

Notable projects in the past year include the Neuroscience Building at Beaumont Hospital, a five-story residential/retail building going up at 855 South Main and the renovation of the Harper Furniture Building.

By the way, congratulations to Beaumont Hospital, which was recently ranked No. 1 in U.S. News & World Report’s list of ‘Best Hospitals.’

And, of course, we’re all very excited to watch as the Detroit Zoo’s new $10M Polk Penguin Conservation Center unfolds in our own backyard. It’s the largest project the zoo has ever undertaken.

To maintain our momentum moving forward and to keep Royal Oak on the radarReid_Sally_115 of companies seeking to grow, expand and relocate in southeast Michigan, I am also pleased to announce the city hired a new manager of economic development in April.

Todd Fenton is now leading the charge to provide resources and technical assistance to businesses contemplating investing in the city. He brings a great deal of energy to the table and we are happy to have him onboard.

Another new position we’ve created is the one of community engagement specialist. In March, we brought Judy Davids on board to assist the city with communicating key messages to residents, businesses and visitors.

Todd and Judy recently worked together with Royal Oak resident Ruben Rodriguez to produce a video on Royal Oak’s growing list of technology companies.

Let’s watch the video now….

Public Safety

As we all know, when rating a community’s ‘livability,’ public safety is always one of the most common measurements. With that I seed04_gallowaywould like to mention that there is one more list Royal Oak recently made and that’s the list of the ‘Safest Cities in Michigan.’

The Royal Oak Police Department and residents who approved a public safety millage in 2012 should all be commended for the steady decline in crime in our city. Year-to-year statistics show that crime dropped by 11 percent last year.

Thanks to the passage of the public safety millage in 2012, the police department is rebuilding – in fact, 22 new officers have been hired in the last two years, bringing the total number of sworn officers to 73. This pace of hiring is unprecedented.

Chief O’Dohonue assures me that new officers are chosen carefully and trained to meet the department’s high standards. We can expect these officers to be protecting our community for decades to come as we build the best police department possible.

Residents should be equally proud of the Royal Oak Fire Department. Firefighters responded to 6,100 runs last year and are working harder than ever to provide the best service possible.

During the past year, the city was able to replace some of the department’s outdated equipment and invest in better lifesaving technology, including the purchase of five thermal imagining cameras – which help dinos02sidelogo3firefighters find victims inside a structure – and air bags and extrication tools that can lift cars and trucks for the rescue of trapped individuals.

Reimagining Royal Oak

While I am very honored and excited to share with my fellow Royal Oakers statistics and accolades that say ‘We’re the best,’ there is, of course, always room for change and improvement.

On that note, I would once again like to thank the voters of Royal Oak – this time for passing a human rights ordinance last year. More than a decade ago, Royal Oak tried to enact a similar measure that would prohibit discriminating against someone for any list of reasons and it was strongly defeated with 70 percent of voters opposed to it. This time around, voters showed their willingness to embrace fairness and change by passing a human rights ordinance that assures Royal Oak will a ‘best place to live’ for anyone well into the future.

And speaking of the future, let’s talk about kids and parks for a moment. When rating Royal Oak the ninth best city in the in America for kids, real estate blog – – cited our more than 50 parks and keith dalton adgreen spaces as great places for kids to burn energy.

It’s true; the number of city parks we have make other communities ‘green’ with envy. While we have an enormous amount of pride in our park system, there is still room for improvement and change. Citizens told us in a public opinion survey in 2012 that they want more bike paths, jogging trails, nature trails and picnic shelters to name a just a few things on their wish list.

With those desires in mind, city staff and the city commission took a serious look at the Normandy Oaks Golf Club. After years of decline in the number of rounds played at the 50-acre property, the golf course is no longer financially viable. Earlier this year, the city commission voted to appoint a Normandy Oaks Task Force AND to reimagine the site into something new – a destination park, if you will.

I would like to note that in the recent report from the Association of City Planners that destination parks are projected to be a huge draw for this next generation of home buyers.

With all our 57,000 citizens in mind, including those kids we mentioned that need to burn energy, the seed021_helaine-zackNormandy Oaks Task Force put together a widely-publicized conceptual plan that would transform the single-use golf course into a sea of year-round fun and adventure, including a water playground – commonly referred to as a sprayground or splash pad –a sledding hill, desperately needed full-size soccer fields AND those picnic shelters and jogging and biking paths residents told us they wanted. The concept is to offer all these new amenities while still preserving as many trees as possible AND creating a large nature area with quiet nature trails and possibly two ponds.

By transitioning Normandy Oaks from a golf course to a destination park with natural areas, we will be able to drastically cut both the carbon footprint and maintenance costs of this park.

The Normandy Oaks Task Force took its concept to the public at a Town Hall meeting on July 9 that was attended by nearly 200 people. At that meeting, we surveyed people as to what they thought of the conceptual plan and they boy did they respond. While folks seemed to broadly approve of the concept we put forth, twe received nearly 300 ‘new ideas’ – from bocce ball courts to urban gardens to an outdoor ice skating rink and everything in between. We were truly blown away by the responses and are taking each comment and suggestion seriously as we move forward.

Unfortunately, all these great ideas come with a price tag. So the task force recommended that a modest portion of the site – approximately 10-acres – be sold and developed into residential housing units to pay not only for the improvements at Normandy Oaks but also fund much needed enhancements at the Royal Oak Golf Course.

Last week, the Royal Oak City Commission voted unanimously to place the issue on the ballot and let voters decide whether or not to approve the sale of land.

The ballot language would be very specific and do three things. It would:

~Amend Section 515; Article III of the Royal Oak City Code (which restricts the ability to sell any portion of Normandy Oaks)jennifer sandler bowen reflexology

~Authorize the sale of up to 10 acres of the 50-acre site

~Restrict the use of any money received from such sale to pay for improvements to this park, the Royal Oak Golf Course and other city parks.

It’s important to note that there are currently no firm design plans, developer or architect on board. The conceptual plan was drawn up by a Royal Oak architect – on a volunteer basis – only to reflect the task force’s vision.

We plan to carry on looking at the hundreds of suggestions and ideas put forth by citizens as we continue to work toward a final plan.

Improving Roads

I cannot talk about being ‘the best’ and continuing to ‘move’ forward; if I don’t take a few minutes to take an nicholas-schrock-allstatehonest look at our local roads. At the rate our roads are deteriorating, it’s extremely unlikely that Royal Oak will be named to a ’Top 10 Cities with the Best Roads’ list anytime soon.

Roads are a huge challenge, not just in Royal Oak, but throughout Michigan.

We have been relying solely on dwindling revenue from the state distributions of fuel and vehicle registration taxes to make necessary repairs and simply put: it is not enough. The state legislature has thus far not been willing to levy the taxes necessary to maintain the quality roads our residents need and deserve.

So: do not think that what we’ve been hearing about in Lansing is another case of indecision; call it what it is: a craven and cynical abdication of lawmakers’ responsibilities for the sake of political points-scoring in an election year.

With limited resources from the state to repair our crumbling streets, we have decided to take our future into our own hands. Last week, the city commission approved ballot language that will let voters decide whether or not good roads are important.Judy_Palmer30years

If approved by voters, the city will be allowed to levy a millage of up to 2.5 mills for a period of 10 years. The money will be used to defray costs for maintaining, repairing and reconstructing roads and CANNOT be used for anything else.

Royal Oak has a comprehensive analysis of all our streets in place. The “Pavement Surface Evaluation and Rating System” report, or PASER, rates each section of each street in our city on a scale of 1-10. At the moment our average ranking is a disappointing 3.2, which is considered “poor.” With a road millage in place, the plan is to get our average rating up to a 5.7 or “good” condition.

We know roads are important to our residents. In a 2013 public opinion survey, we asked citizens what services they believed should be prioritized for funding. Sixty-seven percent of the respondents cited road maintenance as a top priority. Only police services ranked higher.

At the end of the day the wind won’t stop blowing just because lawmakers are holding their breath and the seed010_todd_blakenshipasphalt won’t stop eroding just because they’re stomping their feet.

Infrastructure maintenance is the nitty gritty, unglamorous part of keeping a city livable. If our lawmakers insist on throwing their tantrum, then once again I must ask you, the residents, to step up and do the tough work that grown-ups must do.

You’ve already seen that I’m willing to grab a shovel and fill potholes.

In November, we’ll let voters take the ultimate public opinion survey and allow them to decide if ‘good’ roads are important at the polls.

Best of the Best

I’ve covered a lot of territory this afternoon, but when all is said and done, it’s the dedication of our city staff and the residents we are so proud to call ‘neighbors’ that truly make Royal Oak a ‘best place to live.’

Every day I marvel at the accomplishments of our city staff – from the part-time interns who transform Center Street into a pop-up park on Thursdays in July and August for the Art Explored Live summer concert series, to our seasoned police officers and firefighters who assist residents in times of great tragedy, including my own family.waterwork

[Mayor added his own remarks about the recent fire in his home]

I would be remiss to not to mention one of the biggest challenges for Royal Oak in the past year – the Polar Vortex of 2014. Record snowfall and frigid temps took quite on toll on all of us it but it was particularly challenging for the Department of Public Service.

DPS used nearly 9,200 TONS of salt and weathered 90 water main breaks. As a result of the harsh winter, the city consumed 918 tons of cold patch to repair our worn out streets.

At this time, I’d like Lee Collick to stand.

While this winter’s bitter cold air was the enemy to most of us, for Lee the weather was perfect. With access to DPS snow-blowers, backhoes and front end loaders, Lee – despite working around the clock to remove snow on our streets – donated his OWN time to build not one, but TWO, earth rinks; one located at Grant Park, the other at Meininger Park.

The ice rinks were extremely popular with local skaters and hockey teams, which made the life-long Royal HowesLocationOaker and father of three very happy. Thank you, Lee.

Now if I can have Mike McGee and Lew Jacques please stand.

Lew and Mike can best be described as the city’s handymen. On any given day you can find them at City Hall, the court house, police station, farmers market, ice arena – you name it – fixing something.

In addition, they are certified playground equipment installers. The two men are responsible for advocating for and building what will be Royal Oak’s biggest and most challenging play structure at Starr-Jaycee Park. The playscape is currently under construction and generating a lot of excitement. I am told it should be open sometime in August.

I should note, funding for the $100,000 playscape was provided by Arts, Beats & Eats parking revenues.ctechad

While I have Lew and Mike standing, I’d like to show a picture of their namesakes, which were unveiled last week. The two spring-rider bumble bees, which we’ve named Lew and Mike, were installed by whom else? – Lew and Mike! The bumble bees are located near the butterfly garden at the Royal Oak Public Library are the gift of Joan Larson. Joan, can you please stand?

Joan, a long-time resident and former City of Royal Oak employee, donated money to purchase the bees. At 76-years-young, the grandmother of 10, told us, “I want to see my money being enjoyed while I am alive.”

We thank Joan for her generous contribution and judging from the ‘buzz’ attributed to the duo at the Summer Readers’ Fair last week, we are certain that Joan will be enjoying her donation for what we hope sidebar012stairswill be decades.

[Mayor gave some impromptu closing remarks]

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