Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola says the city is making progress in reducing crime, improving its economy, providing information to citizens and reaching out to underserved communities.
The mayor delivered his annual state of the city address Thursday before a group of city officials, activists and community members. You can read a full transcript of the address here. You can also listen to it at the bottom of this page.
Stodola noted that Little Rock has a 4.3 percent unemployment rate, lower than the rate for the state of Arkansas. He praised the revamped Main Street Corridor in downtown, which he said has drawn $100 million in private investment and $2 million in public investment. Other expanding companies have led to the creation of 430 new jobs and $11 million in new payroll in 2015.
Stodola said the city’s youth employment program hired 625 kids last summer, but the city had more than 1,200 applicants. This prompted him to admonish business leaders to hire more youngsters.
“I want to speak to our business community and ask them to reach out this summer and employ a young person," he said. "Give them an opportunity to demonstrate responsibility, teach them the importance of hard work and how with discipline and dedication it will pay great financial dividends in the future.”
On crime, Stodola signaled a mostly positive note, saying overall instances of crime have dropped over the last few years.
“Annually, we report to the FBI all Part 1 offenses that occur, which I like to call the Big 8. We report 4 violent crimes: murder, rape, robbery, and assault, and the four property crimes: burglary, larceny, vehicle theft and arson. I am happy to announce that this year we have submitted to the FBI as Part 1 offenses the lowest number of occurrences we have had in 15 years. By comparison, in 2003 we reported 21,341 Part 1 offenses and this past year we are reporting 15,699 offenses. This represents a 26% reduction in the number of Part 1 offenses reported to the FBI, and it also represents a 4.7% reduction from our previous year, 2014. In 2014, we recognized a 5.8% reduction. I am pleased to say that while we have certain hot spots of violence, last year we reported a 30% reduction in the number of homicides in our city.”
Stodola credited the work of the Capital City Crime Prevention Task Force with seeking solutions to systemic issues of crime, saying the group has concluded that a large majority of violent criminals have problems with drug or alcohol abuse. He said the task force should issue a report based on its findings in the coming months.
The mayor also cited a recent report showing the use of force by Little Rock police officers is at a four year low, the result of the department practicing community policing as outlined by the U.S. Department of Justice.
“It’s very difficult for our police department to anticipate where someone may use violence and use a gun. And I will tell you that the prevention efforts that we use in multiple different ways continue to drive these numbers down,” said Stodola, in one of a few unscripted asides.
Stodola reiterated support for reentry programs for ex-offenders and for “banning the box,” referring to the part of a job application that asks people to check whether or not they’ve been convicted of a felony.
The mayor praised the work of at-large City Director Joan Adcock for reaching out to the city’s Hispanic community through a group called Working Together in the Community. The group of activists, city officials and other southwest Little Rock community members has been meeting for about a year to find ways of seeking solutions to issues facing the community.
“This has been a great opportunity to bring our Hispanic residents together with the City in a very direct way, which is reaping very positive results and making our neighborhoods stronger. This year we have high hopes to implement a municipal ID program, which will greatly aid in the providing of City services and benefits to the community,” he said.
Stodola also emphasized the city police department and the Housing and Neighborhood Programs department’s effort to hire more Spanish-speaking officers.
Heralding the city of Little Rock’s participation in an “open data” initiative, the mayor said Little Rock city government’s new online data portal is meant to empower.
“What used to take a trip to City Hall can now be accessed instantly from anywhere in the world in a more usable format. Our city officials and departments will be able to make more informed decisions, stream-line processes and improve operations. Data will be used to measure performance and to show it in an easy to understand format.
Open data will also be used by the City to help make better procurements on contracts as well as to track vendor performance. In 2015, the foundation was laid for this open data work and now in 2016 we are about to implement these policies, best practices and tangible results in the form of open data portals.
Currently, we have developed 20 different data sets using data topically organized. Information such as Planning Commission action items, lists, maps and permits, public safety data, 311 call history and the like.”
The online data portal was launched last week. The city is also partnering with Bloomberg Philanthropies to make the data more accessible to citizens.
On the contentious plans by the Arkansas Highway and Transportation to expand the Interstate 30 corridor from 6 lanes to 10, Stodola said it was a “decision of “monumental importance.”
“I would like the public to know that I along with our City Board of Directors, and our staff are all working very hard to find a plan that will allow this city to continue to grow and prosper and connect our various neighborhoods in unique and uplifting ways. I continue to remain optimistic that such a goal can be accomplished.”
The project has sparked opposition from some downtown community members. The plan is currently undergoing an environmental assessment in accordance with federal law. Construction is set to begin in late 2017.
Listen to the full address below.