Good morning. Sandy, thank you so much for that warm introduction. I always love this occasion, because it really does give us an opportunity to pause and to reflect on the things we have accomplished together. Not just for the past year, but for us, this is a special time because we can reflect upon what we have accomplished during the last four years.
So much of what we have accomplished together would not have been possible without our partners in what is one of the most special business communities in America. Companies like the Coca-Cola Company have been a steadfast partner with the City of Atlanta not just for years, but for decades. And Sandy, I thank you and Muhtar Kent in his absence. Please give it up for the leadership.
Sandy referenced the gift that Coca-Cola made, but I really want to reflect on that a bit because I’ve been talking about the Centers of Hope and giving young people a fair shot and a fair shake for some time. And today is such an important moment because when we hear about the $1 million that Coca-Cola gave, or the near $1 million that TBS gave, or the $1 million Wells gave, you can really be lost on what that actually means.
Four years ago, two thirds of our recreation centers were shuttered and closed, but because businesses like the Coca-Cola Company, TBS, Wells and so many others stepped up, every single recreation center in the City of Atlanta is open today. More than that statistic alone, we’ve gone from helping about 150 children every single week to about 1,350 children every single week.
And so, I don’t want the Centers of Hope to be a typical factoid. The fact of the matter is that the ladder of opportunity that people like me, Michael Bond, Ceasar Mitchell, Keisha Lance-Bottoms and so many others had when we were growing up; that ladder of opportunity was being pulled up and the kids coming behind us didn’t have what we had. When we raised that issue, Atlanta really did open up its heart. And I want to point out what happens when a city opens up it heart. What happens when a city opens up its heart, is that $5 million in directed philanthropy comes from that. Organizations like the Boys and Girls Club partners with the City of Atlanta and lives are changed.
And I will tell you something else that’s pretty important. Crimes among teens during a four year period goes down by 25 percent. So what does that mean? Think about Ambassador Young and Mayor Massell. That means that there is a young man, or a boy or a girl, who because they had a safe haven to go to, because they had a structured environment they are less likely to make mistakes that put them on the path to incarceration. So the 25 percent reduction in teen crime is actually removing the roof on the lives of young people because they have a better chance if they graduate from middle school and high school without a criminal record, and a clearer path to a life of success. So thank you to the Coca-Cola Company and everyone who has contributed to the Centers of Hope.
I would be completely remiss if I didn’t take a moment to express my gratitude to the partners on the Atlanta City Council and the Council President Ceasar Mitchell. Will everyone on the Council and the Council President please stand so that everyone in the business community can see you?
I talk, but the Council appropriates.
When we had this vision for funding the Centers of Hope, it really was in partnership with the Atlanta City Council that we were able to leverage the resources that are necessary to achieve the kind of results that I mentioned. I would also like to take a moment to acknowledge our judiciary. Would the Chief of the Judiciary and all of the members of the Atlanta Municipal Court please stand. I also saw Courtney English here today, who is the leader of the Atlanta School Board. Would any member of the Atlanta School Board please stand.
I also have the privilege of having my dad, June Reed, and my mother, Sylvia Reed, here today. Mom and dad, would you all please stand. My stepmother, Dr. Rogsbert Phillips, is here today. My sister-in-law, Crystal Reed, is here today, and my nephew, Christan Reed is here today. Stand up Christian, let everyone see you. That’s my man. Of course my brother Chuck and my brother Tracy are here today.
I also want to acknowledge the members of my senior team and my cabinet to whom I am so grateful for always standing with me. Would the members of my cabinet and my senior team please stand and let everyone see you.
I’m going to switch it up a bit today because I have a couple of points I have about the direction that we’re going and I want to have a conversation about how we got where we are today. Four years ago, I stood at my first State of the City breakfast and it was a wonderful occasion. I’ve been thinking over the last few days and months about what we got right during the first four years. What were the essential decisions that put us on the path to achieve what we were able to achieve collectively over the past four years? And I really started thinking about two critical areas that I think we’ve got right and what I think are instructive for the next four years we have in front of us.
During the first four years we made a critical decision and we decided we were going to reform the pension system in the City of Atlanta and we decided to turn into the fire in year one. And the business community came together, and the civic community came together, our NGOs came together, and labor came together to solve what now is widely-acknowledged as a national crisis in our pension system. So we took a pension system whose cost had increased over a decade from more than $50 million to a high of $144 million. A pension system that had an open amortization on the pension, meaning that none of the payments that we were making on the pension system were going towards principal, it was basically an interest-only, sub-prime loan. And we took on that challenge and we decided that we were going to collectively come together and begin to turn the tide on that problem.
We passed a bill that went through the Atlanta City Council that received unanimous support and we will save over the next 10 years $270 million and over the next 30 years $500 million, and we have closed the amortization so that we are actually bending the curve on that debt.
But what I want to do today is to always tie the fundamental business decisions that we make to the outcome that affects somebody’s life on the other end. So because we turned into the fire in year one, there is a retiree that we may never meet who is going to retire in five, 10, 15, 20 and 30 years; and they are going to have the peace of mind knowing that they are going to get 100 cents on that retirement dollar because of that decision that we made 20 and 30 years ago.
You see, the business decisions that we make, the hard decisions that we make, actually affect real people’s lives that we have stewardship for, and that’s why I am so proud to be the mayor of this city.
The second thing we did that was fundamental to what we’ve accomplished together is we decided at a moment of real hardship, the toughest economy in 80 years, that we were going to invest more in public safety, in police, in fire, and in corrections, than we had in the history of the City of Atlanta. At a time when some folks in other cities around the United States of America were cutting back on fire, cutting back on police, cutting down on corrections; we actually increased funding by more than 9 percent.
And so today, we spend more money protecting the citizens of Atlanta than we have spent in our history. We achieved the goal of actually hiring 800 police officers. So my brother Tracy does not get to hold that over my head, cause he told me I’d never do it. When I made that commercial, he almost fainted.
We actually achieved it. You know, we went out and hired a chief who was from Atlanta. He served the City of Atlanta Police Department, George Turner, for 30 years. And then, I got on a plane and I went and I begged Chief Cochran to leave a presidential appointment confirmed by the Senate to come back to the City of Atlanta.
And then, I remembered Pat Labat in high school and I thought he was the right guy to lead the corrections effort and he has done a phenomenal job with the Department of Corrections.
Now I know you might be standing there wondering why in the world in a group of the leading business leaders, why is this guy talking about public safety? I want to connect it for you. If during those four years, when unemployment was high, when foreclosures were high, when the city was on its knees having to make extraordinary decisions in order to keep its doors open and to keep the city functioning. If crime had spiked during that time, if violence had run amuck, I genuinely believe that the kind of investment that you are seeing right now simply would not have occurred. Because we did the things that were hard and because we decided that we were going to choose the future and bet on the future, talented people started coming into the government, said Sam Massell. Folks who typically would have never taken a job at the City of Atlanta decided, “I want to work in the City of Atlanta.” And those individuals, not me, have made all of the difference in the world.
And I’ll tell you something else that we decided to do from those two cornerstone decisions. I’ve worked hard over the last four years to be a boring mayor. I think boring is cool. When I hear about what’s going on with mayors across the country, I like boring. I’ll choose boring. By boring, I mean, we balanced four budgets, we paid our bills, we didn’t raise property taxes, we built cash reserves from $7.4 million to $135 million, we received an unqualified audit from our auditor KPMG, and we improved the City of Atlanta across all three funds. That’s my kind of boring. We fully staffed our fire department. We fully staffed our police department. Who knew that boring could be so cool?
Because that’s what people really want. They really don’t want government in their business except when they need government. They just want to be able to go to City Hall to get their business license, to pay their water bill. They want the water bill to be accurate, they want the water to work, they want clean streets, and they want their trash picked up. They want a city that has humanity. And that cares about the least of these. We’re getting better all of the time.
So as I stand here today, I can authentically and honestly say that the state of your city is strong and getting stronger. Unemployment in the region is down to 6.8 percent-- that’s the lowest that it’s been in more than four years. Real estate values in the City of Atlanta are up more than 10m percent and for most of us, our homes represent the biggest investment that they have. So when the city strengthens and property values rise, it really does benefit all of us. So, these two decisions I think have also influenced the business community.
The businesses in the City of Atlanta have been voting with their feet. I think about Bill Rogers and the Atlanta Committee for Progress, and I think about all of the CEOs and leaders that meet with me on a quarterly basis to give me time, to give me energy, to give me their best advice. When there’s a task that needs to be handled that the City of Atlanta can’t handle, these folks are stepping up in a way that I rarely see anywhere else in the United States of America. Because of the way that our business community has responded, and because we did the hard thing and turned into the fire, businesses are voting with their feet.
Now I know that everybody out there has Google. I want you to Google when you get somewhere alone, don’t text while you drive or Google while you drive. But I want you to go back and look at a time in the last 10 or 20 years when one of the leading companies of the world Coca-Cola, which operates in more than 200 countries, made the decision to move more than 1,000 jobs into downtown Atlanta. When companies like Carter’s, just so you know what Carter’s does, they make OshKosh baby clothes. When Carter’s decides to consolidate all of their business operations in Buckhead and build a best-in-class office. When Porsche Cars North America makes the decision to build a $100 million headquarters on the campus of Hartsfield-Jackson on property that the city bought back in order to help make that transaction happen, you should feel good.
When Richard Dugas was making the decision about where he was going to put PulteGroup, one of the leading companies in the United States of America, the second largest homebuilder in America, he chose Atlanta. When Jonathan Bush, who leads athenahealth, Inc. decided where he wanted to put headquarters, he decided to put it in Ponce City Market, which four years ago was a 2 million square foot vacant eye sore on Ponce de Leon. And today, it is attracting a quarter of a billion investment with 1,000 jobs going in. It’s not bad to be boring.
So today gives me an opportunity to thank the business community for what you have done. But there is an issue that we need to take on, and so, as I start thinking about where we’re going, there are two new things that we’ve got to do if we are going to be excellent.
You know, in Atlanta, the police department set up the A.P.E.X. unit, whose sole objective is to target the worst offenders. Those cases that they work, they work from start to finish with meticulous attention to detail to try to make sure that the prosecution sticks. From April 2011-December 2010, in the A.P.E.X. unit alone, our officers have arrested 481 individuals. Those individuals average 15 previous arrests and every A.P.E.X. arrest made from April 2011-2013 resulted in a felony charge. Of those 481 arrests, 95 percent of those individuals were convicted of a crime they were charged with. This is very important, but despite this, 72 percent of the 95 percent convicted spent no time in jail. In fact, they received sentences that required them to get probation or something else.
Now I know that there are a lot of folks who have been critical of me making this such an important issue, but I’m here to tell you all if we get the issues of repeat offenders in the City of Atlanta right, we can have one of the safest cities in the United States of America. And the argument I am making today is that addressing this repeat offender issue in the City of Atlanta and in Fulton County will generate the type of dividends that we have been experiencing for the past four years.
So as we stand here right now, crime is at near 40 year lows. What do you think will happen if those 481 individuals who make up such a large percent of individuals who cause the most challenges in our environment actually receive the sentences that they deserve?
So I want to be very clear because I am sure there’s going to be commentary after this speech that the mayor just wants to lock people up. Let me look you in the eye today and say don’t you believe it. But when someone is arrested 95 times and convicted 75 times, that individual should not go home on probation because they’re going to be coming to your home.
And the other point I want to make is this: when a community is safe, it opens up the goodwill of the overall community, and so the person who actually needs a second chance, the person who may have fallen down, Ambassador Young, one time or two times, or three times; you’re actually going to get more investment in the people who actually need a second chance if you eliminate individuals who have made a choice to opt-out of society.
So, I’m going to need you all’s help, because I want you to be armed with information over the next year because I’m going to stay on this issue. These 480 individuals are not going to ruin the fabric of the City of Atlanta. We’re going to take them on, we’re going to find them, we’re going to prosecute them, and we’re going to get the appropriate sentences for those individuals and it’s going to free up more to help other people.
I also want us to focus on another issue. I saw Courtney English here today. I’m so proud of the effort of he and the school board is leading in finding a new superintendent. You all, as of today, it’s time for us to shake off the challenges related to the APS scandal and to get back into the game for Atlanta school kids.
Everybody got burned over the last 10 years--teachers, administrators, people’s reputation, the business community. Well, when you think about it, you all, you all know that when we take on the challenge of public education and move the needle on public education in the City of Atlanta, we take on an issue that is fundamental to the overall health of the City of Atlanta. And so we’ve got to get engaged, and we’ve got to decide that despite the challenges that we’ve had over the last 10 years that we are going to play at the highest level.
The other thing that we’re going to do is embrace the fact that we are a leading city in the world. You know that in the midst of the snow storm, and I know that you all have been feeling bad for me, but I’m okay. About the only good thing about the terrible coverage that I got during the week or so was the fact that they constantly ran the statement that the metropolitan Atlanta area is the ninth largest in the United States of America. I took that as a positive point because finally the message got out, and it took Leon and Tupac the storm to get us acknowledged. I told my brother Tracy I knew the storm was going to be bad when it was named Leon. Why am I dealing with a storm named Leon? And then the second storm was named Tupac, you know what I mean? We’ve got bad weather. Leon and Tupac, back to back.
Here’s the deal, you all, before that storm occurred, I had spent a week in Davos, Switizerland with Muhtar Kent. And Muhtar was talking to the leading executives in the world about youth unemployment, global investment and making sure people around the world have clean water. And what you saw on that stage was the world recognizes how special Atlanta is. So A.T. Kearney in 2012 says that Atlanta is one of the leading 35 international cities in the world. There are only about 10 in the United States.
And then a recent study that was also presented at Davos said that Atlanta is one of the 30 leading cities in the world for foreign direct investment, one of the 10 leading U.S. cities. And when you look at Atlanta again and again, what we do is we lead the Southeast. And I wake up every single day making sure that Atlanta remains the dominant economy in the Southeast.
And you all, working together we are achieving that objective. Atlanta is now the ninth largest metro in the United States of America, Georgia is now the tenth largest state in the union. And this city is moving forward again.
We have the third largest concentration of Fortune 500 businesses. And the AJC PolitiFact, they thought they were going to get me when I said that our economy was bigger than 27 states in the union, but the metropolitan Atlanta economy is $295 billion and is bigger than 27 states in the United States of America, one of the 10 biggest in America. You all did that.
So what we’re going to do is we’re going to embrace our rising immigrant population. We’ve got the second-fastest growing immigrant population in the union, behind Baltimore as a region. We’re going to reach out to the technology sector in a way we never have before.
Next week, I am going to travel to Silicon Valley to meet with the leading technology executives because less than 10 percent of venture funds in the United States of America are coming to the Southeast and we’ve got to change that. Working with our CEOs, we are going to change the fact that 50 percent of Georgia Tech graduates go somewhere else at a time where technology, math and science are essential skills in the United States of America and around the world.
We’re going to open up a 311 Call Center that’s going to give you one source of contact when you have a need for the City of Atlanta. And we’re going to expand the number of Centers of Hope from four to six to 10, and because of that work, we are going to change people’s lives.
Now I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that the last two weeks or so haven’t been tough. But what I want you to know is your city is strong, and we are headed to a horizon that it’s better than it’s ever been. And when you look back on this time, and you have some quiet time, and you’re talking to your friends, we’re going to be the ones that guided your businesses in this city through the toughest times that it faced in 80 years. And we came out on the other side, and we took all of the heat, and the City of Atlanta is still standing and prosperous again.
Now I know that it doesn’t mean that there won’t be other hardships and challenges, another Leon or Tupac. The famous international thought leader, Mike Tyson-- he is on Broadway guys. Mike Tyson has a quote that I love, Cathy knows it. He says, “everybody’s got a plan until they get hit.” You map it out, you get a game plan, you think you’re going to put 100 trucks on it, everybody’s got a plan until they get hit.
Here’s the deal ladies and gentlemen, we’re a city that gets back up and that thrives. And what I want to leave you with today and what I hope that you will keep in your hearts is a quote that moves me very much. It says that when we get down, we should remember the words of the author who says he encourages us to be better and to remind us always that when we fall down, to get back up, because the ground is no place for a champion, and that is what we all are.
God bless you. Thank you for letting me be your mayor. Let’s go, Atlanta! Thank you!