Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson's inaugural speech today promised a new era in city government that draws on a broad-based constituency to achieve a fresh vision for reinvigorating blighted neighborhoods and discarding a "that's the way we've always done it" approach.
Here's an early text of her speech:
Thank you all so very much for joining in this special event whether you are here in person or watching live on CCG-TV. To the council, city manager, city attorney, elected officials, prior mayors, public safety officials and the citizens of Columbus, Georgia, it is my great honor and privilege to address you all as the 69th mayor of this great city. I cannot start this address without first recognizing my husband Trip, and my mother, father, sister and in-laws. Without their love, confidence and unwavering support this moment would not be. To Tollie Strode, a campaign manager that took not one cent for his year-long effort, but believed in a fresh vision, a broader constituency and a new chapter for Columbus; to the many members of our campaign committee who lent their names to this cause of good government when most folks were asking “Tomlinson who?”; to those volunteers who walked neighborhoods, waved in the cold and rain, made calls, sent e-mails and persuaded friends; and to those voters of Columbus, Georgia, who showed up in impressive numbers not once, but twice, in order to see this day because they sensed Columbus was on the verge of reaching that next level of greatness and because they knew we needed a fresh pair of eyes and a renewed energy to maximize our community’s potential – to all of you - you have my deep and abiding gratitude.
To Mayor Jim Wetherington, who could not be with us today, but who is ably and gracefully represented by his wife Shirley, thank you for your decades of service to Columbus and to Georgia. Thank you for making this transition one of the most productive in history. Because of your graciousness, your character and your deep sense of service, we were able to confer and bring this administration up to speed in a few short weeks – all for the benefit of the citizens of Columbus. Our prayers are with you and we wish you a full and speedy recovery. Today marks a day we will look back on as the beginning of a new era, much like that which my friend Milton Jones referred to in his giving of the occasion. It is simply the time in which Columbus will evolve into a better, improved community. Not because of the person in the mayor’s office, but because there has been a subtle, yet seismic, shift that occurs in communities once every so often – a new coming of age – a natural evolution of betterment.
Our last era was ably led by many of those in attendance today – our former Mayors Hydrick, Martin, Peters, Poydasheff and Wetherington; our devoted city council and city manager; and our numerous business and civic leaders. It is because of your sure stewardship that we stand ready to grasp our future. We deeply appreciate your leadership and service.
You have laid a firm foundation for our new chapter – and just as with the building of the Temple at Mt. Zion, we will be guided with justice as our measuring line and righteousness as our plumb line.
This election season we tapped into a new pulse of Columbus energy. There was an acknowledgement of a broader more engaged citizenry. A new civic dynamic was created and it is the one under which we must now govern. The politics of distraction and mindless destruction were rejected and the politics of thoughtful consideration of this community’s best interest were embraced. People said “no” to the Chorus of Can’t; and, by the tens of thousands people stepped forward to vote for what in fact we can do together.
As a community we will write this next chapter of our future, and it will be one that optimizes all of the assets and opportunities of our great city – not changing our city for the sake of change, or making it something it is not – but optimizing it.
We won’t let Government just happen to us. We will be pro-active, not purely reactive. We will focus on “What we need now” and less on “The way it’s always been done.” “Yes,” that requires more effort, and “yes” it necessarily means engaging a broader, more diverse constituency of citizens clamoring to be heard, but we will find we are up to the task. We will find in the short and long run that a pro-active government – one that knows where it is going and one that recognizes potential issues and mitigates them before they explode on the front page of the newspaper – is a more effective and more efficient government. Always reactive government is more costly to the taxpayer; and so, it is our obligation to avoid it.
This is a time when we will meet our opportunities at the door or go to the sidewalk to hail them, if need be. This is a time when we will build on what we already know is great about this city: its ingenuity, its diversity and its community spirit.
We are after all the city of Coca-Cola, Aflac, Ma Rainey, Primus King, The Columbus Challenge, and the Maneuver Center of Excellence (the largest military training base in the world). Our impressive history begs for an impressive future.
And so, it is time to address issues such as our depleting land resource and the overdevelopment of certain areas and the under-development of others. We aren’t making any more land in Muscogee County. To allow large areas of previously developed land in south and central Columbus to lie under-utilized is to ignore the effects it has on crime, our kids, our schools and the future economic prosperity of our entire county. If we are looking to make Columbus the “Safest City in America,” and if we are looking to maximize our jobs potential and our future economic prosperity, then we must address the areas of rank poverty and vacant and abandoned properties that are just down the road from where we sit today.
It’s time we stop facilitating the short-term, unsustainable growth that economically and racially divides this city and, instead, adopt wiser growth models that better utilize our resources and our taxpayers’ dollars. It’s time to begin to encourage private and public investment in current areas of blight that, truth be known, are “gold mines” of opportunity, if optimized. These will be the public-private partnerships of tomorrow, and they will pay higher dividends for our economic future.
It’s also time to acknowledge just how broad this community is and to celebrate it. We must tap into the expertise of those in the community that don’t necessarily come from traditional sources – they may not have been born in Columbus, they may not be from the corporate track, they may be small business owners or talented individuals with youthful transgressions in their past. These are our potential leaders of tomorrow. We must embrace them to encourage innovation, to optimize our local human resource and to attract young professional talent. The municipality can’t cure social divides, but it can facilitate markets and build communities where people feel safe, where people succeed and where they live more economically integrated lives. There is no doubt that I see the promise of this great city. There is no doubt that the citizens are in large numbers ready to maximize the opportunities headed our way. I invite you to become engaged – join your neighborhood association, serve on a civic board, join a blog. I invite you to open your mind and brainstorm with us as we shake off the “That’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality, and look at new ways to view our future and shape our community to meet tomorrow.
Like life, the next four years will be a journey, with a few bumps, false starts and unexpected turns. But, through it all we will be moving forward – not simply treading water or standing in place. And, I can’t think of anyone else I would rather take this journey with than the 187,000 of you.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve you as mayor.