Unprecedented. Uncertain. Unparalleled. All words that succinctly describe 2020 and should now be retired from the English language altogether.
When I was sworn in as mayor in 2019, none of us could have imagined a global pandemic would become a topic of discussion – let alone the immense, complex problem it is. As we all have experienced since last March, there was no tangible playbook for how to navigate a pandemic of this magnitude and severity. However, reflecting on our eventful – and equally uneventful – year, I am proud of how the East Grand Rapids community has responded to this tumultuous time.
Over the past year, I have witnessed community members serving one another, bringing groceries to loved ones, driving friends to appointments, assisting neighbors with yard work, tutoring struggling students and helping one another in so many other ways. I’ve also seen an outpouring of support for our schools as they have adapted to new ways to teach as well as for our local businesses as they have faced significant financial challenges.
I am beyond proud to represent and lead a City whose default response to crisis is to simply take care of one another. This is the most essential service we can provide and it is a hallmark of our community. I ask that we keep the momentum going as we continue to face the pandemic and its ongoing impact in 2021.
Just like community members, City staff have pivoted in response to COVID-19. Last March, the team re-evaluated immediate priorities, focused on essential services and provided you with the high-quality resources you have come to expect.
You are the City’s top priority and your engagement in your local government is incredibly important to us. That’s why we’ve made sure our City Commission meetings are set up in a way that allows you to participate safely from the comfort of your home. Our virtual meeting options are a great addition to the live streaming service we launched in mid-2019.
Residents also were engaged in our many construction projects in 2020, providing important input. Our Public Works team was able to accomplish significant work despite initial setbacks from the pandemic. If you read the 2020 Construction Recap online, you’ll see the team began creating the City’s
Mobility/Bicycle Action Plan. In addition to gathering research, the team collected resident input in several ways. Both of these pieces will work will together to help guide decisions in coming years. We’re grateful to those of you who took the time to delve into this project and provide your thoughts. Stay tuned for updates on this plan soon.
Our infrastructure reached a significant milestone in 2020. Thanks to our Public Works team and its contractors, EGR streets have reached the City’s goal of 70% good/fair to excellent road ratings five years early. We are proud of this accomplishment – and we could not have done it without voters’ support of the 2015 street and sidewalk millage.
While we’ve already seen incredible success halfway through the millage, this enormous project is still a work in progress. The Public Works team continues to plan for and work on the enhancement of our streets and sidewalks, ensuring we see long-lasting improvements.
City staff worked hard to reduce costs under a modified budget while also retaining team members. Parks & Recreation, specifically, was greatly impacted by COVID-19 restrictions. However, the team admirably stepped up as programming guidelines evolved. Unable to provide regular services, Parks & Recreation offered virtual classes and resources to help keep us active and mentally well while limiting our contact with others.
While many events and traditions were not possible, our team organized a few safe and physically distanced outdoor events that gave us some sense of normalcy – even if just for a moment. Our Fourth of July parade, for example, was a Citywide event that winded through the neighborhoods and allowed residents to watch from their homes or nearby. The City also continued its Concerts in the Park and Movies in the Park series – community favorites that got us out of the house and into much-needed fresh air. I know many of us, including myself, have been reminded of how fortunate we are to have access to such beautiful parks and outdoor spaces.
Another great success for our community in 2020 included our Public Safety Department officially earning accreditation status by the Michigan Law Enforcement Accreditation Commission. This achievement, which took three years of review and implementation, highlights the team’s dedication and proactive service to our community. Our cross-trained department, whose officers provide law enforcement, firefighting and medical first response services, is one of only 25 accredited agencies in Michigan, which has 600 agencies.
After the many racial justice events we witnessed across the nation last summer, it’s clear our nation needs systemic change. To address these events and discuss protocols, our Public Safety team provided safe and physically distanced conversation opportunities, dedicating two quarterly community engagement sessions to the topics of social justice and police brutality. The team also made policy changes, upgraded equipment and continued delivering quarterly reports to the City Commission as well as presented on various additional topics to be as transparent as possible with the community.
I am proud of the strides our department continuously takes to enhance itself. As we continue learning and talking within our homes, neighborhoods and communities, I encourage you to get to know our public safety officers, who welcome dialogue on racial issues and other topics, and familiarize yourself with their work and role in our City.
The state of our democracy was another point of contention in 2020. During what was one of the most politically charged years in our nation’s history, I am so proud our community acted on its civic duty and showed up for the presidential election. EGR had a record-breaking participation rate of 92% of active registered voters. I want to extend a special thank you to our election workers, who worked hard to answer questions, provide resources and help ensure a safe and secure election while navigating new absentee ballot protocols and a pandemic. Well done!
It was lovely to see several of you in December when we virtually met candidates for the city manager position – including our new city manager, Shea Charles. While we had multiple qualified candidates in our national search, we were most impressed with Shea’s robust background in municipal work and leadership. He has officially joined us from Howell, bringing more than 25 years of experience with him. Please join me in welcoming Shea and his family to EGR.
I also want to recognize Interim City Manager Doug LaFave. The City Commission and staff are incredibly grateful to Doug for his extraordinary leadership, especially throughout the pandemic. He took on immense responsibility in addition to his regular full-time workload as public works director – and did so seamlessly, ensuring all City operations continued to run smoothly. Thank you, Doug, for your unwavering dedication.
As we look ahead to what we all no doubt hope is a better year, I again want to encourage you to stay connected with the City. While not all EGR happenings are glamorous and light-hearted, it’s critical you are well-informed. National politics may dictate headlines and consume our news feeds, but local government significantly affects our daily lives.
Please make sure to connect with the City on Facebook and Twitter, subscribe to our e-newsletter, the East Express, and regularly attend City Commission meetings. The City website, eastgr.org, is also full of resources, tools and engagement opportunities. Our team is here and ready to serve you.
Wishing you a healthy, happy and much brighter 2021.
All the best,
Mayor Katie Favale