Foundation for the Future
Mr. Chair, honorable elected officials, distinguished guests, department heads, division directors, employees, volunteers: Good Morning. I'm honored to be with you today.
This year my staff has bets going about whether I'll pull a Larry Miller and cry during my speech. I told them the only crying will be their tears of joy at the end of my remarks.
In March 1958 the White House issued an "Introduction to Outer Space" in which then-President Eisenhower noted that, "Every person has the opportunity to share through understanding in the adventures which lie ahead." The report also noted the "compelling urge" that leads us to "try and go where no one has gone before."
A few years later those words helped inspire that famous "Space, the final frontier" introduction which welcomed television viewers to Star Trek, a show that would eventually result in other opportunities, movies and Trekkie conventions.
Today I hope those words have a similar effect minus the Trekkie conventions as I present the 2008 State of the County.
If anyone knows about our universe, it's Salt Lake County's Clark Planetarium.
When we look at the sky we see a limitless expanse above us. A telescope allows us to bring things that are far away into our view. We can focus on planets, stars, orbits even though we are hundreds of miles away. It's important to have a broad view, but also important to get a more focused perspective.
Likewise, in Salt Lake County, as we review our many opportunities, we also have to take an in-depth approach to understanding the county universe.
Our challenge is taking in the vast programs, services and people in our community and not being overwhelmed.
Another challenge is remembering that we should act as One County Government.
Salt Lake County is still the most populous county in the state, with an estimated population of more than one million. Our county is expected to grow to nearly 1.4 million by the year 2030. And Utah ranks No. 3 in the U.S. for lifespan with an average of 78.7 years, meaning most of us should still be alive and kicking for years to come. Today's news also reports we are No. 5 in lustfulness in Salt Lake City.
Why are these numbers important?
Because Salt Lake County's young population, coupled with our long life expectancy and population growth, means that when we make decisions we are not planning for the next year or two we're laying the foundation for lifetimes.
In the past year, I think we have helped lay that foundation for our future. Like most of our successes, last year's accomplishments have come from collaborations with our citizens, businesses and other government agencies.
In the last year we saw our share of ups and downs.
• In February the Trolley Square shooting painfully reminded us why we prepare so thoroughly for emergencies, and why collaboration is so vitally important. It was a tragic incident, but it highlighted the excellence of our mental health services in responding to tragedy.
• This summer found us in the middle of a statewide cryptosporidium outbreak, to which our Parks & Recreation division, along with the health department, worked wonders over long hours, to make sure we could swim safely.
• The Salt Palace successfully hosted the Rotary International convention during June. We had over 24,000 people use the Salt Palace facilities. More than 148 countries were represented, speaking more than 95 different languages within our county.
• And in August we hosted the largest Outdoor Retailer Summer Market that has ever been held.
These types of events cannot take place without significant cooperation between government, citizens, the business community, and other organizations.
2008 will undoubtedly bring its share of ups and downs. I'd like to present my vision for Salt Lake County, while also highlighting a few of our many accomplishments for 2007.
Of course, as the band Chicago might say, these accomplishments are "only the beginning, only just the start."
When I came to this office, there was a great need to restore Salt Lake County's morale and reputation.
Today I'm proud to say that we did what we said we'd do. And when I say "we" I mean all of us as employees of Salt Lake County.
• We have restored and expanded confidence in Salt Lake County.
• We have taken innovative, sensible approaches to everythingfrom reducing crime to constructing new buildings.
• We have made county government better than we found it.
• We have come a long way.
Much of the integrity and trust we have fought hard for has been achieved, but with the recognition that it has to be earned, by working hard the old fashioned way, every day.
We have an incredible workforce. People often ask me what the secret is to all our accomplishments. I tell them the truth: hire good people and give them the tools to do their jobs. The other key is good leadership and by that I mean the many elected, appointed and career service officials, program directors, supervisors, and employees.
I like to say that I stand on strong shoulders. Our employees are good, decent people trying to make a difference in peoples' lives.
One example of this occurred on Tuesday, Dec. 11 when a customer called Sanitation to report that he lost his wallet containing $400 cash in his recycle bin. Our Sanitation Division identified the route, found the truck and the driver and they sorted through the entire load until they found the wallet and returned it to our very grateful customer.
In Salt Lake County, I'm proud to say those actions are more the norm than the exception. We keep our promises. We honor our commitments. And we value our citizens.
When I came into office I brought with me a vision of a government that was professional, ethical and responsible.
We have come a long way. But we will strive to do better, as there is always room for improvement.
We will continue to work on our priorities with a single focus: provide the best services possible and lay the surest foundation for our future.
I have six main priorities I feel equally strong about for 2008. You've heard most of them before. They are:
• quality government
• economic development
• natural environment
• quality of life
• public safety, and
First, quality government
I envision a government that operates openly, efficiently and ethically.
The public should be able to quickly access information and services.
Planning, not politics; transparent, not opaque.
We have increased collaboration inside and outside county government.
When we are honest within the halls of county government, we in turn offer greater transparency, ease and excellence to those we serve.
This year we saw a wonderful collaboration among county agencies. The much-acclaimed Meals on Wheels program partnered with the Clerk's Election office and enrolled nearly 500 county seniors in the permanent Vote by Mail program.
That's what I call making government accessible! We might have to create a new brand ... a new motto: "Meals on Wheels delivering nutrition and democracy straight to your door."
Collaboration inside and outside the halls of county government truly brings about the best results.
In the coming year we will continue focusing on the county's best ambassadors our employees and volunteers. Our goal is to have 95 percent of employees report job satisfaction by December 31, 2008.
Employees feel passionate about their jobs, the people they assist and the services they perform. We should do all we can to support them.
Volunteers throughout the county are also a vital part of our workforce. In Aging Services, for instance, volunteers donate the annual equivalent of $8 million dollars in time and services.
At a time when property taxes across the state are seeing difficulties, Salt Lake County officials have come together to hold the line on property taxes. And thanks to our Assessor Lee Gardner's office, our system of administering the property tax system works.
My fellow elected officials are committed to spending taxpayer money wisely and protecting taxpayers. This government has not raised property taxes for six years. It has taken a team effort.
Benjamin Franklin once observed, "A small leak can sink a great ship."
That's why we've focused on performance measures, process and preparation. As a result we have an improved, more thorough process and outcomes. Information is available earlier. Divisions are meeting their goals and seeing increased success. We are able to make better decisions.
It takes more than money. It takes the right vision, infrastructure, input and follow-through.
For example, when we talk about the use of ZAP funds, we aren't just talking money. We're talking about what requires our utmost attention, and we're talking about our phenomenal volunteer panel members who work on the Tier I and Tier II Advisory boards.
Second priority, economic development
For Salt Lake County, economic development is 'back to the basics'. For many, many years we've lived "Life Elevated" and knew we were better than a "Pretty, Great State."
Our goal is to help existing local businesses flourish and expand right here at home. (Hang on to what we've got to quote a 60's rock tune.)
Our business-government coalition continues to combine the needs of small and medium sized businesses with the resources of government and non-profit entities.
Our Up Grade program is one-stop shopping for prospective and existing businesses to navigate federal, state and local resources.
We strongly support the "Buy Local First" campaign in Utah.
• Salt Lake was ranked the No. 1 place for job growth by Forbes magazine. The ranking includes factors such as job growth and rate of income growth. 3 years earlier we were 12th and one year ago we were 6th and now, first.
• Utah as a whole has also been ranked No. 1 in dynamism and ranks in the top tier as the best place to start a business.
We know government doesn't create jobs, but we can create a favorable environment for our businesses.
Third, natural environment.
Utah's pioneer ancestors made use of everything. Nothing was wasted. I think that the best way to honor their sacrifices is to be appreciative of the resources we have ... to make the most of everything ... to do what is most effective and most efficient.
Protecting the environment is ... practicalÉgood stewardshipÉlife-sustaining ... and life-enhancing.
It is the most important investment we can make.
It's a form of emergency preparedness and a matter of public health and welfare.
Air quality is a priority for all Utahns. Nationwide we see the alarming statistics of increased asthma rates as a direct effect of poor air quality. Living in Salt Lake County is equivalent to smoking five cigarettes a day. Our citizens deserve better.
Ralph Waldo Emerson noted, "The first wealth is health."
Just as we all live under one sky, we are all affected by this shared environment. Neither the climbs of Millcreek Canyon, nor the banks of the Jordan River, are immune.
We all drink the water, breathe the air and live on the land ... so it's in all of our best interest to be conservationists and environmentalists. Our future depends on the foundation of today.
In the past year we started One Million Trees for One Million People. This collaboration among local governments is a simple concept with the potential for dramatic results. The goal: Creating our own green canopy using a process of planting the right trees in the right places.
Solar panels. More and more businesses and homes are turning to solar panels for energy. I'm proud to say that Salt Lake County has been ahead of the curve. Our focus on efficiency and health and long-term planning means that we will continue being at the forefront of solid improvements.
Our Sanitation District started mandatory curbside recycling. There was some resistance, of course, but recycling and re-using is becoming the norm in what has long been our disposable society. Thanks to recycling, we are now diverting 160,000 pounds of recycle materials per day. That's about the same weight as four fire engines.
A few weeks ago a former skeptic of the program thanked me for proving him wrong. Now he wants weekly pick-up because his recycle bin is full each week.
The Parks and Recreation Division has created its own Environmental Committee to do its part in protecting parks and recreation for all residents. It only makes sense that the division whose focus is "improving lives through people, parks and play" wants to preserve our rich recreational opportunities.
As Salt Lake County Government, we should set the example. And with that in mind, our goal is to implement programs and policies this year to decrease our total energy and water usage by 20 percent for 2009.
Fourth, quality of life
Improving our quality of life is not a single, specific action. It is a series of both big and little steps to improve people's overall physical and mental well-being.
In October we dedicated the New South Main Health Center. It came about as a result of services outgrowing the space now. And the space is really a collaborative space. Partnerships with the University of Utah and other sister agencies have made it a real asset to the community. Salt Lake County Library Services took ownership of the South Main Clinic Library in September. Each month we are giving away nearly 1,000 gently used books, double the average of our old location. Our University partners relocated the Teen Mother and Child Program to this new facility. This unique program serves over 250 pregnant teens and their children every year.
Our first-ever Diversity Dinner brought people from all walks of life together. All participants came away with a greater understanding and respect of one another.
Several agencies and community organizations made our first Neighborhood by Neighborhood clean-up a success. This is a concept we'll be implementing in other communities this year. People don't always recognize or remember what Salt Lake County government does. And that's OK. The real priority is helping citizens recognize that people come together to help their community.
The Taiwan Cultural Festival was a community event that brought people together. Some who served on the planning committee felt that this was a way for them to thank the community. I feel that way everyday. Everyday I want to thank the community for the countless ways they contribute to our successÉand our quality of life.
We are planning sidewalks and senior centers, protecting open space, and building new libraries and rec centers. Animal Services is increasing the number of pet adoptions with the continuing goal of reducing euthanasia of healthy domestic pets.
We are moving ahead. We are moving in the right direction.
Fifth priority, public safety
This year our elected officials and county officers will manage the biggest public safety budget ever approved by Salt Lake County.
At the same time, we are developing an expanded view of public safety.
Public safety involves law enforcement, prosecution, and human services. Without taking away from our traditional view of public safety we have begun taking a more comprehensive approach that helps us address the root questions of first, how to keep people from committing crime, and second, how we keep individuals from returning to jail once they have been released.
Prevention and reduced recidivism are worthy goals.
In fact, Salt Lake County is receiving national attention for our work in the alternatives to incarceration programs that help put people into housing with appropriate supportive services.
We received two national awards for the Homeless Assistance Rental program (HARP). One was from the National Association of Counties (NACO). The other was from the National Association of Housing & Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO).
In addition, we now have a new Emergency Preparedness coordinator to help us advance our level of readiness. My vision is that in time Salt Lake County will be at the forefront of emergency preparedness. The past few years have served as nationwide reminders of how fortunate we have been when it comes to natural or manmade disasters.
Sixth priority, education
Although we don't manage a school district or university, we do play a vital role in education.
The opportunities we carve out for our children buttress our entire county.
Our award-winning after-school program in Kearns and the replication of that program in West Valley are good examples of Salt Lake County recognizing needs in the communities and working with the local schools to provide opportunities for our youth. The Kearns Junior High program actually had the honor of producing and performing in our beautiful Capitol Theatre. It was a remarkable experience.
Recently at one of Salt Lake County's Community Access to Technology Labs a young girl was thrilled to recite her ABC's in English to her mother. The girl had been practicing her skills regularly at the county's free computer lab. Literacy programs are also provided. The girl's mother is now a regular visitor to the lab. She wants to learn her ABC's in English, too.
Salt Lake County's mission is this: Provide honest, open, efficient and ethical government that is fiscally responsible, accessible and responsive to Salt Lake County's needs.
We achieve this by responding to citizens' concerns, caring for our environment, promoting economic development, and enhancing human services while ensuring safe communities.
Ambivalence is unacceptable.
Salt Lake County is not simply a caretaker government. Our strength lies in our dedication and swift response.
Salt Lake County remains a steadying force and innovator.
As the demands of our time and efforts are ever increasing, the windows of opportunity are shrinking by virtue of the shear enormity of how much money it takes to provide government services. Our needs continue to grow, while our revenues are fairly fixed.
Swiftness and steadiness are always required, but these days our judgments and decisions have to be right on, right now. The opportunities we have today might not come again, but the consequences will be with us for decades.
Planning with the future in mind is not an option, it is a reality. It is what good government is all about.
I see Salt Lake County positioned for the future, as we create a visionary agenda for the 21st century and prepare our County for the next 50 years. The foundation for the future rests on 4 solid building blocks that I see the county being known for:
Number 1: A culture of trust, integrity and confidence. Earning citizens' trust every day.
Number 2: Planning for the future. Taking a comprehensive approach. I might not be "blueprint man" but I am a man with a plan.
Number 3: Fiscal responsibility, accountability and transparency. Communicating to citizens how their taxes are being used and allowing them to have confidence in us.
Number 4: Collaboration. Working with other agencies, citizens, businesses and governments. Planning, not politics. Bringing the community together. That should be true 50 years from now.
Actor and author Christopher Reeve once observed, "So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable."
Let us not detain the possible.
Let us welcome the inevitable.
In the last 3 years we have made significant strides in advancing Salt Lake County.
Now as we take in the vast county universe, our course is clear, even to Mr. Sulu: "second star to the right and straight on 'til morning."