2015 State of the Town

The Wake Forest Rotary Club presented the Seventh Annual State of the Town Address & Dinner on Monday, Feb. 23, 2015, at the Wake Forest Renaissance Centre. Originally scheduled for Feb. 16, the event was postponed due to inclement weather.

Wake Forest Mayor Vivian Jones delivered the State of the Town Address, providing Wake Forest citizens an opportunity to reflect on an impressive list of accomplishments in 2014. She also discussed several goals Wake Forest will strive towards over the next 12 months.

Full Text of 2015 State of the Town Address

The following is the full text of Mayor Vivian Jones' State of the Town speech, as delivered Feb. 23, 2015:

Good evening – Thanks to everyone for being here this evening and special thanks to the Rotary Club for your continued support and sponsorship of this event. Thanks also to Vicki Smith for giving tonight’s invocation. The Heritage Jazz Combo was great—thank you so much for sharing your talent with us. And what a special treat it is to have Marcus Anderson with us tonight. We are always happy to have Marcus with us and look forward to ways we can collaborate in the future.

Originally I had planned to talk about this first item at the end of my speech but I decided to go ahead and get the elephant in the room out for everyone to see right from the very beginning. Yes, I am talking about the event that occurred this year that will probably have the most long-lasting effect on Wake Forest of anything else that happened—even longer lasting than those pickleball courts that we set up this year! Stand up Mark! Yes, you are that elephant in the room I’m talking about!

In December, Mark Williams announced he will be retiring April 30. Mark has been Town Manager since 1993, for 22 years; and I meant it when I said his retirement would affect us more than anything else that happened this year. Mark’s steady hand at the helm during our ups and downs has kept us constantly moving forward. It will be a challenge for us to replace Mark’s character, his integrity, his leadership, and his dedication to our community. Thank you Mark and best wishes for a long and happy retirement! (APPLAUSE)

In August of 2012 at our mid-year retreat the Town Board adopted a strategic plan for the town, and at our annual retreat this past January, we updated that plan and talked about our vision for the future. I want to share our goals with you, discuss how we have worked to meet those goals, and explain how we expect to continue meeting them as we go forward.

Goal Number 1 is to stimulate economic development. As you know, we partner with the Chamber of Commerce to provide economic development programs for the town. Lisa Hayes, our Downtown Director works with the Chamber on downtown development. We have a robust business retention program where we visit local businesses of all sizes and flavors to let them know we appreciate them being here and discuss ways we can help them thrive and grow.

When businesses are looking at Wake Forest, we provide them with planning and infrastructure assistance. If needed, we discuss financing tools. We have developed a solid relationship with the Department of Commerce and the regional economic development groups so that we are included as a recommended destination for businesses looking at the Triangle area.

We continue to be proud of our investment in the Wireless Research Center of North Carolina. Their testing services are expanding daily and their engineering expertise and assistance to their customers is becoming a major part of their service. They are also serving as an incubator for startup technical companies that we expect to grow and expand in our community. Businesses like Sinewall, Power Secure, Pack Rat, and Moffat Pipe are growing tremendously and adding jobs as they grow. Long time companies like Electric Motor Shop and Superior Tooling are doing very well and adding jobs in our community every day.

In March I attended the celebration of Dr. Danny Akin’s tenth year as President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Akin has been a stabilizing influence on the town and gown relations over these ten years and we are pleased to congratulate him and wish him well.

The Seminary now has over 3300 students, an all-time high. Their master plan for the campus and their property will benefit the town in many ways as we go forward. The students and faculty at Southeastern are an important part of our community. The business volume, the full-time jobs, and individual income generated by Southeastern makes their economic impact on Wake Forest a major force in our economic vitality.

The one thing we know at this point is that people are going to continue to move here and businesses are going to continue to set up shop here. It is our desire and our job to make sure that we maintain our position as a good place to live and work and that our economic development provides benefit to all of our citizens.

2014 was a year of celebration of our charming and thriving downtown. We held our second Mardi Gras Celebration which brought many visitors downtown to parade and party and then dance the night away at the Renaissance Centre to the music of Boneslingers. In April we held our first Dirt Day when we got to play in the dirt and learn about gardening and planting and just having fun. Our new streetscape certainly brought more residents and visitors to downtown and I believe the merchants will confirm that business has never been better.

One of the stars of downtown is White Street Brewery which won a gold medal at the International Craft Beer Conference in Denver and was named one of the top ten craft breweries by Bon Appetit. In August, the Department of Commerce announced that Wake Forest was one of only 20 Main Street Towns in North Carolina that earned accreditation for meeting the revitalization performance standards set by the National Main Street Center. They said, “Accredited Main Street programs create vibrant communities by using a comprehensive strategy to preserve their historic character and revitalize their commercial districts.” Thank you to Lisa Hayes and all the merchants for their dedication and hard work. We will continue supporting downtown by updating the Renaissance Plan and building on the progress we have made.

Downtown programs are not just for economic development but also help meet our second strategic goal which is to enhance and promote a safe and connected community. Festivals and events downtown give all of our residents that sense of connection.

The Parks and Recreation Department changed its name this year. It is now the Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Resources Department. The Renaissance Centre and new and expanded cultural programming for all ages has been an exciting journey.

We have movie nights, writers’ nights, scrapbooking and craft nights, interactive theater and other wonderful on-going programs. We are adding new programs all the time for seniors, kids, children with special needs, and others.

We have had many special evenings this year including the Malpass Brothers; the classic series in December; plays offered by our wonderful community theater, Forest Moon; and we had Marcus Anderson back for an anniversary concert.

We are pleased to welcome a new Cultural Arts Advisory Board which we expect to help us continue to “imagine the possibilities.” Speaking of writers’ nights, on Thursday, February 26, The Renaissance Centre will host a very special writer’s night featuring our own Carol Pelosi discussing her book, “Connections – 100 Years of Wake Forest History.” She will be joined by several other distinguished panelists, including Ed Morris, Durward Matheny and Chip Russell who will lead us on an exciting exploration of our town’s wonderful history. We hope you will join us for this special writer’s night here at The Renaissance Centre this Thursday night.

In addition to offering so many popular events, the Parks and Rec folks also kept up with their other duties. The renovation of Holding Park pool was completed and we had the busiest year ever at the pool.

If you haven’t been to the pool in a few years, you need to go and see the beautiful new locker rooms and other improvements we have made.

But that’s not all! We also responded to our growing number of pickleball players and now offer courts at Wake Forest Middle School and Flaherty Park. Pickleball is one of the fastest growing adult sports in the country and it looks like we are going to have to build some dedicated courts in order to satisfy our players.

We are updating our Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Resources Plan with many opportunities for residents to chime in on what they want to see happening and especially how we develop the second phase of Joyner Park. There have been many opportunities to give input both online and in person. This plan will be our guide for the next 5 to 10 years.

Habitat for Humanity came back to Wake Forest in 2014 and with the help of six local churches, 150 Americorp volunteers, and several local businesses, they built 5 new homes on Spring Street and did facelift projects on eight older homes. They were very pleased with community involvement and they want to do another project here in the near future.

In April, Steve Rhode from the on-line paper, Wake Forest News, asked me to participate in a Wake Forest Happy Video. Many people were taking advantage of Pharrell Williams’ catchy tune and making videos for the world to see on U-Tube. Steve put out the word and spent hours of time promoting, filming, and editing the Wake Forest Happy Video. We had a lot of fun and many people were involved and danced through the streets; even Chief Leonard showed a little rhythm! The key word here is “little!”

This experience reminded me again of how important our friends in the media are to our community connection. Thank you, Steve, for a fun time making the Happy Video and thank you for your tongue-in-cheek reporting of events.

But let’s not forget about our other friends in the media. What would we have done all these years without the Wake Forest Weekly to tell us what was going on, who was visiting in town, and how the local sports teams were doing. And we all expect to see David Leone at every event to take the pictures that will give us memories for a lifetime.

Carol Pelosi brings us interesting history of our community and the history of her growing up years in upstate New York as well as insightful reporting of town issues in her Wake Forest Gazette.

Wanda Mukherjee does a wonderful job supporting the schools, parks and rec programs, and community organizations with her reporting in Wake Forest Today.

And we truly appreciate the work Mechelle Hankerson is doing covering Wake Forest in The N & O’s North Raleigh News.

919 Magazine has a different but successful story-telling format and this year a new magazine, 27587, appeared on the scene with delightful stories about our history and our present day rovings. I just wanted to say thank you to all of these folks who keep us connected by sharing what’s happening here. Please stand up and let us all give you a round of applause!

A big part of staying connected is communication. We frequently hear from residents and others that our communication efforts are outstanding. We are proud to offer so many ways to talk with our residents and to hear back from them—the Town app, See/Click/Fix, Engage Wake Forest, E-notifier and many other programs have proven to be great ways to keep residents well-informed and participating. We need that participation across diverse audiences because we want everyone to be aware and to feel included in all the great things happening in our community.

One thing I want to share that I hope you have already heard about through our communication programs is that NCDOT has a bridge replacement program that will affect us in a major way over the next couple of years. In order to assist our residents to know how far along they are and where the detours are, we have established a connection on our website called “Operation Bridge Exchange.” We will keep this site updated with notices from NCDOT as the work progresses. The first of the four projects in our area was scheduled to begin today.

The Wake Forest Police Department has, for several years, conducted medicine drops for residents to safely dispose of unused medicine. In March they received over 37,000 dosage units which helps prevent accidental poisonings, substance abuse, and protects our waters. Are you aware that drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S.? Detective Sergeant Collie decided we could do more about this and applied for a grant from CVS Pharmacy. The grant was received and a drop box has now been installed at the Police Substation on Brooks Street giving you a convenient way to dispose of these potentially dangerous medications, thanks to Sergeant Collie.

On a personal note, this year Chief Leonard began holding promotion ceremonies and inviting family and friends to come and celebrate with our officers. I am honored to be invited and to meet wives, husbands, and children of our police officers.

In April we gained national recognition, but perhaps not the kind we would like to have, when a kidnapping occurred in our town. Our Police Department brought in the FBI and SBI and after several intense days, the person was returned home safe and the perpetrators were captured. We were very proud of the professionalism of our Police Chief and officers.

Over the last couple of months we have had a few incidents that again brought media attention to our community. During each one of these episodes, I have been extremely proud of how our police officers have handled themselves and these incidents. They have taken every incident seriously, they have investigated every lead. Our police officers receive excellent training; they care about our citizens and they want to provide the best protection they possibly can. We see every day the work they do and the many ways they make us feel safe and secure. Other people must recognize this also, because Safe Wise analyzed FBI data about towns with over 5000 population and they named Wake Forest No. 10 on the list of safest towns in North Carolina.

Our thanks and admiration should go out to our police officers not just for keeping us safe but also for the many ways they serve our residents—like organizing the Turkey giveaway at Thanksgiving that provided over 700 families with a turkey and the Shop With A Cop program when officers provide the money and take kids shopping at Christmas so they can have a new coat and presents for them and their families and a fun time with their friends, the Wake Forest police officers. We can never say thank you enough.

The Historic Preservation Commission this year adopted the Ailey Young House as a project and they are working on a plan of restoration. The house has been temporarily stabilized and our Planner Michelle Michaels is working on the national historic designation application. I am so pleased that we have recognized the importance of this home and the importance of the Young family in our past and are getting this restoration done. Stay tuned for further details.

We intend to fully utilize technology to enhance our community. At my suggestion, the Town Board has appointed a Technology Advisory Board to help us identify ways to be a Smart City, to embrace the Internet of Things, to be resilient, and to merge our technology with a civic purpose to provide services and information in the most efficient and cost effective ways.

Speaking of Advisory Boards, we now have 11 Boards made up of over 100 residents who meet monthly to advise us about ways we can be a better community. I would like for all advisory board members here this evening to stand up and let us give you a round of applause to thank you for your service.

We will continue to implement the plans we have in place and constantly be updating and evaluating our priorities to meet changing times. We will continue to keep our citizens well-informed, to build citizen participation, and to ensure citizen connectivity throughout our community.

Our Third Goal is to instill an organizational culture within the Town of Wake Forest that embraces and reflects our core values which are caring, commitment, integrity, and innovation. We will do this by maintaining continuity of our operations by mentoring, enhanced training, succession planning; by maintaining salary, benefits, and a working environment that encourages long-term employment.

We will also continue to improve our culture of providing excellent service to both internal and external customers. It is impossible to describe how many times these days we receive compliments on the service our employees provide. This past week with the snow and ice we saw how quickly our guys cleaned the streets and helped us get on with our lives. I received several comments about their work. Thanks to all of our employees for all you do to make this a great place. We have come a long way and we are going to stay on that path.

Part of that path is to build resiliency into our processes. We must have infrastructure plans in place and resource management plans in place that will withstand extremes in climate, in revenues, and in political pressures. We have a tremendous amount of creativity and innovational intelligence in our staff. We will continue to develop a culture that celebrates, encourages, and makes full use of this creativity.

Our Fourth Goal is to enhance our fiscal strength. We were fortunate to be able to maintain our fiscal strength through the recent recession. That was a major accomplishment!

In November you approved a $25 million bond package. Thank you for approving these bonds for streets, sidewalks, and greenways. We will be able to leverage this money to obtain grants which will allow us to do almost $55 million worth of construction. We will be selling the first $5 million of the bonds in March. This is all a part of our plan to continue to have a sustainable financial system in place.

Another item that will affect our finance is the on-going negotiations with Duke Progress Energy. We expect the sale of the North Carolina Electric Municipal Power Agency generation assets to occur in 2015. We do not know at this point how this sale will impact our electric rates but we anticipate a favorable impact and we will share with you as information becomes available.

The sale of the generation assets will not affect our distribution system. We will continue to provide distribution services to our customers as we have since 1909.

We are trying every day to be as transparent as possible. We are working every day to inform our citizens about what is going on in the town government. We are becoming a more measurement and data-driven organization which will ensure that we become even more collaborative across all departments.

We will make sure our fiscal policies keep us moving forward and following our long range financial plan. We are doing all we can to maximize the return on town funds by maintaining or improving our bond ratings and keeping our debt issuance plan in line. Our top priority is to maintain your trust in the sustainability of our financial system.

One of the things I like about giving the State of the Town each year is the opportunity it gives me to talk about some of the accomplishments of our youth. Akshay Bhatia participated by invitation in the inaugural Drive, Chip, and Putt contest at Augusta National Golf Course and came away in 6th place overall and 2nd place in Chip for 12 to 13 year olds.

Jared Blaylock built a beautiful bocce ball court at Tyler Run Park for his Eagle Scout project and Yousaf Rahman restored the stream in Miller Park for his Eagle project. I sent about ten congratulatory letters this year to scouts who had attained the Eagle Scout designation.

I attended graduations for Wake Forest High School and Heritage High School. The seniors in our local high schools received scholarship offers totaling almost $9 million.

Our Youth in Government Advisory Board members and the Chamber Youth Leadership group have been involved in many activities in the community and have made a difference with their service.

And we are all proud of the Wake Forest High School football team who made it to the state finals for the second year in a row and the third time in four years. These young men, led by home-town coach Reggie Lucas, have been tremendous ambassadors for our community with their fine play and respectful attitudes. Thanks for coming downtown on the 14th when we celebrated their accomplishments.

2014 brought its share of sadness to Wake Forest. Way too soon in their young lives Braden Rock and Ashanie Russell were killed in auto accidents and Isaiah Langston died in one of those inexplicable events involving athletes who are supposed to be in top shape. The entire community was touched by these young deaths.

The deaths of several long-time and very active residents have left a tremendous void in our town. Folks like Bobby Allen, Frank Sullivan, and Beth Dickerson. And Dr. Ben Johnson whose musical talent graced many venues during his long tenure at Southeastern Seminary; Dot Hinton who was an important part of the Fourth of July Committee; Bill Howard, one of the newer residents who made such an impact on our town; Myra Mosely who shared her doctor husband with us for many years; and Bob Bridges who was on the Wake Forest Fire Department Board of Directors for years after serving as Chief of Police and as an auxiliary officer. In October we lost Dick Monteith, one of our former mayors and in July, Marlon Cole died at the age of 99. Marlon was a fixture in Wake Forest and is still missed at the Senior Center, the football field, and in the Mill Village. We were also saddened by the death of two of our K-9 police officers. Both Maverick and Lagos died after giving years of great service to our town and citizens.

I am sure many of you read David Leone’s column in The Wake Forest Weekly which he calls, This Week in History. I love this column because it gives us a peek at what happened this week in the past and reminds us of the people who were here and working to make this the great place it is.

Last week he shared a story from 1935 when about 50 Wake Forest men formed the Men’s Civic Club. They elected Dr. George Mackie as president, C.D. Matheny as vice-president. Durward, that was your father wasn’t it? And Lawrence Harris was elected secretary-treasurer. According to the college newspaper article David was drawing from, they wanted to, and I quote, “…beautify the town and make it so attractive that it will arouse the admiration of citizens, students, alumni, and friends, the thousands of passersby and the 400,000 … Baptists who regard this as the Baptist center of the state.”

They wanted to plant trees along the streets. They wanted to do a survey of sewage disposal conditions and make sure food like milk and meats were safe and cafes were inspected. They wanted a town newspaper and they wanted better law and order with traffic regulations. They imagined a plan for recreation and parks and playgrounds and tennis courts; and they wanted community musical organizations to be created.

These men had an incredible vision for our community – and I believe it has become a reality. So, please join me in celebrating our wonderful community. (VIDEO)

Many of the services Dr. Mackie, Mr. Matheny, and others were talking about are now provided by the town so our civic clubs and community organizations are doing more humanitarian projects. Their efforts demonstrate time and again that people in Wake Forest have always cared for each other. Eric Keravouri, our Town Engineer, came up with a new word this year – Communitarian – he said it means one who works tirelessly to improve his or her community. Wake Forest is full of communitarians! Thanks, Eric, for this neat word; and thanks to all of you for all you do to make our community wonderful.

Back last May, Derek Maul wrote in his blog about a report he had seen in the N & O that a library had been closed because officials had received a vague threat that something sinister “might” happen there. I made a note of his comments because I could see a correlation between that and my vision for Wake Forest.

You see, I don’t want us to live in fear. Sure, bad things happen, but are we going to live with unease and unrest and be guarded and defensive all the time?

Sure, growth is going to continue, but are we going to rail against more people and more buildings and more traffic? Are we going to constantly complain and be concerned that something bad might happen here? No. No. Let’s don’t do that!

My favorite Super Bowl ad this year was from Coca Cola- they said, “Life is what we make of it—let’s make it happy.” So, I ask you to join with me and look forward, as Derek wrote in his blog. Look forward with joyful anticipation to the good things that are happening here.