At the end of this month, President Obama will give his annual State of the Union speech. Networks will provide considerable coverage, and pundits everywhere will devote a great deal of time and energy to explaining what it all means.
A great deal of the public at-large will watch at least part of it, yet it is unlikely that much of what is said on that occasion will alter the day-to-day lives of ordinary Americans.
By way of contrast, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams’s recent State of the County address didn’t generate anywhere near the same amount of media coverage, and many of Mayor McAdams’s constituents likely ignored the event all together. That’s unfortunate, because what was said on that occasion is far more likely to have a real-world impact on the people of Salt Lake County than anything the president might have to say.
The speech outlined several initiatives the county is undertaking in all areas of civic life. McAdams introduced plans to expand pre-school opportunities for underprivileged children. He announced plans to renovate the Clark Planetarium, build the Jessie E. Quinney Ballet Center, and finish most of the Jordan River Parkway trail. He outlined efforts to reduce criminal recidivism and help those released from the county jail to find housing, jobs, and a better life. He outlined new initiatives in business and transportation that will create public-private partnerships and generate economic opportunities in the years to come.
These were not empty political promises. Many of these projects already are underway, and McAdams outlined specific, workable steps that would allow much of these to come to fruition. It’s almost impossible to recall when anyone in Washington has offered similar clarity of vision.
But each new initiative and project adds to the county’s obligations to maintain what it owns. Significantly, the mayor also mentioned the need to reduce the county’s substantial deferred maintenance needs, saying the budget dedicates “a significant amount of the budget to refresh and restore existing county properties, rather than just ‘kick the can down the road’ when it comes to addressing” this need.
That was good to hear, but we hope it is enough. McAdams says the county has a five-year plan for significantly reducing deferred maintenance. We plan to monitor this closely.
One of the most refreshing elements of the mayor’s speech was that it was focused on practicality rather than ideology. The mayor is one of the most prominent Democratic elected officials in Utah, but nothing in his remarks seemed design to inflame partisan passions. He has demonstrated a willingness to work with anyone of any party in order to do the county’s business. Again, this is an attitude that is largely absent in national politics, where oratory is often an occasion to score cheap political points.
Certainly it remains to be seen how effective McAdams will be in implementing his agenda, but if the past is prelude, there is reason for optimism.