Mayor emphasizes inclusion in 2019 State of the City

State of the City focuses on inclusion as a success story, references Neil Diamond song. Downtown and Sunset neighborhoods will become destination locations, Mayor Denis Law says.

Mayor Denis Law started his State of the City with a video of Renton with Neil Diamond’s song “They’re Coming to America.”

The song was meant to tie into the diversity of Renton, being minority-majority, where over half of the population is people of color. One of the city’s successes, Law said, is its work on inclusion.

“The fact is, ‘They have come to America,’ and not just from European nations,” Law said in his speech.

He also used the speech to contrast Renton’s approach at inclusion and the discussion at the nation’s capital of building walls at the southern border.

Law later went off script to tease that the national economy was looking good all thanks to him, another possible poke at President Donald Trump, who’s often quoted crediting himself for rising stock market and employment numbers.

The future of Renton will include more frequent festivals and events to celebrate diversity, Law said.

He also tied up the speech by saying that the Downtown and Sunset neighborhoods will become destination locations. The majority of both neighborhoods’ populations are people of color, according to an estimate from the 2010 to 2014 American Community Survey.

“Hundreds of millions of public and private dollars are being invested as part of the revitalization of the downtown and Sunset Neighborhood,” he said.

Among what Law said Renton’s current and ongoing improvements to inclusion were include the formation of the Mayor’s Inclusion Task Force, changes in city hiring practices, implicit bias training and multilingual communication efforts, and the Renton African American Pastoral Group, with other similar groups in development.

Many of these changes were headed by Deputy Public Affairs Administrator Preeti Shridhar and Inclusion and Equity Consultant Benita Horn.

In addition to making the city more inclusive, Law has worked on improving the city’s reputation.

“Many years ago, Renton was considered one of the worst cities in the region by developers. Complaints ranged from an onerous permitting process to inspectors lacking in any semblance of customer service,” Law said.

The Chamber of Commerce, Renton School District, Renton Technical College and Valley Medical Center were all mentioned as partners in the “Ahead of the Curve” slogan and campaign to improve the city’s reputation.

That improvement continues today and requires ongoing attention, he said.

Some parts of the speech were direct lines from Law’s Facebook post in December 2018, where he announced his plans to not run for reelection in 2019. Among them were his discussion of starting as mayor as the 2008 recession hit, and prioritizing customer service amongst his staff and administrators.

Since 2008, Law has seen a new rank of administrators as others retired. He spent part of his speech naming heads of departments and how many employees they are responsible for, including the most recently hired administrators like Chief Administrative Officer Bob Harrison and Police Chief Ed Van Valey.

The mayor’s State of the City included mentions about public safety and investments in the city, including the downtown Renton area.

He also highlighted the funding of additional officers, equipment and training, and the hiring of the police department. The council recently approved the purchase of 32 police vehicles at a little over $2 million, already included in the 2019-2020 biennial budget and part of the Take Home Cars program.

Law included some numbers from the Public Works Department over his time as mayor. Included was converting all street lights to LED, future Sound Transit investments in the Renton area, and a water meter reading system that saved property owners about $430,000 since installation.

Similarly, Law spoke about his work over the last 10 years in Community Services, including the addition of seven new parks and 44,000 hours of Volunteer Program service.

Community Services employees also work with addressing homelessness, in collaboration with police and code enforcement, local churches and other service providers, he said.

The city offers spaces for homelessness services and contracts the work out, and there is no 24/7 shelter assistance, something collaborators have said can be improved.

Among attendees were Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus, Tukwila Mayor Allan Ekberg, Kent Mayor Dana Ralph and city of Covington Mayor Jeff Wagner.

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