In a State of the City speech focusing on progress and equity, acting Richfield Mayor Michael Howard called for police body cameras and the creation of new governmental bodies to address the city’s diverse population and oversee economic growth.
Howard, serving in an interim role as mayor pro tem, gave his address in the Richfield City Council Chambers the morning of Feb. 27, during an event organized by the Richfield Chamber of Commerce.
While he acknowledged the current spurt of redevelopment in the city and trumpeted Richfield’s progress in becoming a more inclusive community, Howard stated, “Our city has always made public safety our top priority, as it should.”
That requires investment, he said. “Specifically, I would like us to develop a plan to implement body cameras for use department-wide, and make sure we are making the investment we need to support it,” Howard proposed.
The effort to build trust and transparency would recognize that not everyone sees their community’s police as on their side. “The reality is not everyone in our community has had he same experiences or perspectives when it comes to this relationship,” Howard said.
Richfield has come a long way since the Great Recession stalled redevelopment in the city 10 years ago, but there is still a need to reach groups that are underrepresented in local government, he observed.
“Equity must drive our decision making,” Howard said. “It must be part of the discussion for everything we do, because each action we take as a city has a chance to narrow gaps or make them wider.”
He proposed the formation of an equity task force to create an action plan.
“My vision is that this task force can be a partnership with our community. It can help gather and track relevant data, set goals and propose solutions that will create a Richfield with something for everyone and opportunity for all,” Howard said.
He called the need for greater equity “the challenge of our times, not just in Richfield, but in the state and the nation.”
Howard cautioned the capacity crowd that the city’s progress in recent years – in increasing diversity in government and in redevelopment – ought not breed complacency. The housing market is booming, the upcoming reconstruction of 66th Street and an underpass at 77th Street connecting the city to the airport should pay dividends, Howard said, but there are still people struggling.
The healthy housing market, for instance, isn’t “great news for someone who’s seeing their rents skyrocket,” he said.
And in a city with such a large population of immigrants, some are facing mounting insecurity, he acknowledged. “Some of our residents are afraid of what they hear coming from Washington D.C.,” Howard said.
Howard called for the expansion of certain city programs, including one that aids low-income families. The Kids at Home program provides rental assistance to prevent children from having to move from school to school during periods of housing instability.
“Now is the time to assess our needs and expand this innovative initiative. More resources and more support for Richfield families should be our goal, and we can do it,” Howard said.
He also called for reinvestment into Richfield Rediscovered, a program that replaces aging housing stock with new homes, where such opportunity exists.
Meanwhile, the continued redevelopment of the city’s east side means the creation of an economic development authority has become a priority of city staff members, and one Howard endorsed during his address as well.
“While there isn’t a great need to reinvent the wheel, there is a need to reinvest,” Howard said.
Redevelopment on the east side will come with new housing options, and Howard voiced his support for an “all of the above” approach to the opportunity.
He advocated for an array of housing types, ranging from affordable housing, to “move-up homes” for growing families, and single-level living options for seniors.
While Howard took advantage of the platform provided by the State of the City address to promote a host of initiatives, the clock on his mayoral seat was ticking. A special election is set for March 7 to pick Richfield’s new mayor, after former mayor Debbie
Goettel left office mid-term to join the Hennepin County board of Commissioners.
In a speech that focused on Richfield’s progress while acknowledging the room for growth and the struggles of some residents, Howard declared, “Richfield is on the rise, and many are taking notice.”
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