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Steve Williams: It's time to demand an expectation of excellence for city

Oct. 21, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

The race for the office of mayor is an election about competing visions and expectations.

A quote that is appropriate to our city is, "The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and falling short ... but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark."

We have for much too long set our aim far too low. It is time that we begin to demand an exceptional Huntington. An exceptional city is one where excellence is the expectation, not just an aspiration. Excellence must appear by design and not by happenstance.

I have led efforts the past three-and-a-half years on City Council insisting that city operations be efficiently run and effectively delivered. We have insisted that the administration live within its means and said "no" to repeatedly proposed tax increases.

An exceptional city manages its finances to assure world class delivery of services. Last year we found ourselves mired in a $2.5 million deficit because of mistakes the administration made in calculating our pension obligation. Finishing a budget year in the red is inexcusable. The administration proposed two permanent tax increases to fix their mistake. I led the efforts on City Council to reject them.

Last year the administration presented a proposal to award a contract for new seats in the Civic Arena for $3.5 million. As chair of the Council Finance Committee, I insisted the bid be rejected and rebid. The new bid saved $1.5 million.

Last spring when presenting its budget, the administration said the only way to balance the budget was to raise taxes or cut services -- and proposed a 67% tax increase! We said no to higher taxes. I led Council's effort to demonstrate how we could increase services without raising taxes. As a result, City Council's budget fully funded the police department, added 11 new fire fighters, and assured in excess of $1 million was again placed in paving -- and did not raise taxes!

An exceptional city implements policies that encourages world class innovation, investment, and development, that utilizes proper planning techniques to assure that neighborhoods are protected and investment is encouraged that enhances neighborhood and community life. The most recent example of rezoning policy is an example where executive leadership has been missing. There is an absence of leadership when a problem is acknowledged but not acted upon. Excuses inhibit excellence. Visionary leadership doggedly works through obstacles. The zoning problems should have been corrected when they became apparent two-and-a-half years ago.

Are new jobs being created or has there simply been a shuffling of chairs on the deck? Exceptional cities create investment and development opportunities that are not available elsewhere. The creation of a next generation Wi-Fi program, creation of TIF Districts, and technology zones would take advantage of the research capability at Marshall University and attract technology companies that are seeking the quality of life and amenities available in a university-centered community such as Huntington.

To become an exceptional city, we must have a sense of urgency about how we approach our policy and how we measure our progress. Yes, crime is down, but do students at Marshall really feel safe walking down 4th Avenue or 6th Avenue in the evening? Yes, buildings are being demolished and neighborhoods roads are being repaired, but wouldn't it be nice that a sense of urgency doesn't only occur during an election year? An exceptional city is able to boast of progress every year, not once every four years.

Huntington should be on the cutting edge of innovation. Cities across the country should look to us as a laboratory of innovation.

If you share my belief that there are some things in this life and on this earth that only we are able to perform and provide at a quality and quantity unlike anyone else, we must begin acting and creating policies to match our belief. We need to discern what distinguishes us from all others and determine what policies will highlight our opportunities.

Developing Huntington into an exceptional city requires visionary leadership, the ability and courage to make tough decisions, and the determination to develop consensus on how the city should move forward. Join me in advancing an exceptional Huntington!

Steve Williams is the Democratic candidate for mayor of Huntington.



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