2023 State of the City
Mayor Nancy Rotering delivered the 2023 State of the City address at the Monday, January 23, 2023 City Council meeting.
"I am pleased to present the 2023 State of the City of Highland Park.
I’d like to begin by recognizing my City Council colleagues – Tony Blumberg, Michelle Holleman, Annette Lidawer, Adam Stolberg, Kim Stone, and Andrés Tapia. Our collaborative and respectful partnership has been critical as we have faced the challenges of this past year. The expertise and professionalism of each member of our team has proven to be an enormous asset to our community. Thank you to each of you for your dedication and unwavering commitment to the people we represent.
We are all deeply grateful for the leadership and dedication of our staff. We are particularly thankful for the steady leadership of City Manager Neukirch, senior staff, and corporation counsel Steve Elrod. We have been impressed and inspired, but not surprised by the way in which staff have served our community during this difficult time, with many going well above and beyond their usual scope to respond to the tragedy and at the same time, ensuring that day-to-day City business continued with minimal interruption.
The Highland Park shooting was the darkest day in the history of our town. Seven precious lives were taken while dozens of others were injured in under a minute by an individual armed with an assault-style weapon. We keep each of them and their families in our hearts.
Each of us carries the weight of the Highland Park shooting: the unspeakable grief of the families whose loved ones were violently taken from them, the ongoing challenges for all who were injured, the lasting mental and emotional trauma experienced by individuals in attendance, and the consequences this has wrought on us all: residents, business owners and employees, neighbors, and City staff alike.
The City’s new Resiliency Division is staffed with a team of victims’ services professionals, who work in partnership with our Police Department Social Worker and Senior Center Social Service Coordinator, and are prepared to assist members of the public and partner agencies in addressing the ongoing needs following the mass casualty tragedy we endured. The Resiliency Division will also provide support with respect to the permanent memorial process.
As a community, we turned our pain into action. Finally, after persevering for ten years, urging those who could do something to take the next step, we welcomed the State of Illinois banning these combat weapons from our state.
What I have come to understand both in my own grief journey and in speaking with community members of all ages and experiences, is that while our lives changed irrevocably on that day, who we are as individuals, as a community, as one Highland Park did not change. We are a welcoming city, committed to encouraging engagement from all residents and fostering diversity, equity, inclusion and transparency in our government and our policy initiatives. We value the arts, prioritize public engagement, and continuously incorporate sustainability principles in our work. We build partnerships across sectors to assist our neighbors, and seek out opportunities to help others, even when we ourselves are in need of support. We honor our seniors with tailored programs and services, and we work to create an environment where our youth can flourish and thrive. These priorities –and more – have not changed. In fact, our commitment to them has only intensified.
Together, as a team of elected officials and professional staff, our goal is always to provide our community with the highest standard of excellence in City administration, regardless of the challenges that come our way. Our commitment to the City’s four core priorities – fiscal stability, public safety, infrastructure investment, and community vibrancy – guide us in making decisions large and small, because we understand that each has an impact on our neighbors. We have turned to these core priorities throughout the year to guide our strategic planning and consideration of policy initiatives. Our core priorities are our guiding principles and kept us focused on our long-term objectives, ensuring that we never lost sight of those things that are most important to our community members.
With this in mind, and thanks to the careful administration of the City’s resources, we begin 2023 with a balanced operating budget for the twelfth consecutive year. The City’s budget is our most important policy document, identifying the scope of work for a given year, summarizing our transparent approach to fiscal management, and establishing long-term priorities for a sustainable and resilient future. Built on this foundation, we are proud to maintain our Aaa bond rating, the highest rating available and an indicator of our fiscal strength and prudence.
2022 began with a number of exciting projects on the horizon, from welcoming the most popular member of our staff, community service and wellness Pawfficer Vinny Duke to the groundbreaking of the new Ravinia Fire Station. This new, state-of-the-art facility will serve the needs of our community for decades to come. The approval of new housing and mixed-use developments within the city will welcome new neighbors to our city and provide additional support to our local businesses. Construction on capital improvement projects, including the Clavey Road Reconstruction Project, continues, with the addition of the first season of the SMART streets rehabilitation program as well. This new, ongoing initiative takes into consideration the short-term needs and long-term health of our roadways in prioritizing streets for resurfacing.
Investing in Highland Park’s business community through a variety of attraction and retention efforts continues to be a priority for the City, and in 2022 we listened to the feedback of businesses and residents and created an exciting new seasonal event space in Downtown Highland Park: The Lot. Over the course of its first season, which included the return of the Taste of Highland Park and a slate of events to showcase Highland Park’s shopping, dining, and service destinations, more than 23,000 attendees from Highland Park and beyond enjoyed events at The Lot. Planning for the 2023 season began in late 2022.
As part of our Enjoy Highland Park marketing campaign, our Weekender e-newsletter has become a much-loved weekly staple featuring things to do, restaurants to try, and shops to visit right here in Highland Park.
In recent years, the City has invested in building partnerships with sister governments and nonprofit organizations serving our community. These partnerships were vitally important in responding to the needs of our community as we weathered the pandemic and have been more critical than ever in the aftermath of the shooting. We will be forever grateful for their support. We appreciate that we are all stronger, more flexible, and more adaptable when we work together to leverage the expertise of our colleagues.
Resident and partner input is vital in all policy initiatives presented for the consideration of the Council. As a City, we pride ourselves on maintaining a learning-focused approach to our work. We are always learning, always evaluating, and always ready to implement new strategies to work most effectively for you. We were pleased to host three Neighborhood Meetings this spring. City elected officials and staff joined with elected and administrative professionals of the other governments serving Highland Park to obtain input from the public to help guide key initiatives going forward and answer questions.
We are looking ahead to 2023 with complex emotions, but above all, hope. For all the questions that 2022 may have asked of us, we begin the new year propelled by action. While we are never guaranteed answers to the questions 2022 has posed, we do believe that the only way we will discover them will be together, as one community, returning again and again to our shared values for purposeful action that precipitates necessary change.
Thank you for your support, your continued engagement, and your trust."