The past year was unorthodox. In a fitting summation of the times, so was Vancouver’s annual State of the City address.
There was the format – Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle delivered the speech to a video camera rather than the usual crowd in the lobby at City Hall. The content also deviated from the norm. Rather than touting a growing population or uptick in new businesses, McEnerny-Ogle’s address focused primarily on COVID-19 and a year of social unrest.
“2020 was a most unusual year,” McEnerny-Ogle said, speaking slowly and somberly from her office. “Many have endured extraordinary hardship and loss, and each of us have experienced change.”
The first portion of her speech revolved around the city’s efforts to mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic, as well as Vancouver’s partnership with Clark County Public Health to establish a COVID-19 testing and vaccination site.
In January, the city used its furloughed Parks and Recreation staff to help support a no-barrier testing location at the former Tower Mall. Now the site is also being used to administer vaccinations.
“Thousands of people have used the services at this site,” McEnerny-Ogle said. “We are very proud to be supporting the public’s need for COVID services.”
To help businesses struggling with a drop in customers, Vancouver waived its business license surcharge last year and worked with Clark County to distribute around $1 million in relief grants to local businesses, McEnerny-Ogle said. The city also developed its own Street Eats program, an idea borrowed from Portland that lets restaurants expand their outdoor seating onto the sidewalk and into a limited number of public parking spaces.
A few times, McEnerny-Ogle drove home the point that the city plans to take a back seat to Clark County when it comes to providing homelessness services. The mayor’s speech came just two weeks after the city council decided that it would sell the building that houses Vancouver’s day shelter for the homeless – though she didn’t highlight that decision in her speech, she alluded to the many people who “have questions regarding homelessness and homeless services in our community.”
Vancouver looks forward to “supporting Clark County’s leadership in this area,” McEnerny-Ogle said, adding that the Vancouver Housing Authority plans to continue its work together with Clark County on converting a central Vancouver hotel into a homeless shelter. “The city is pleased to be a significant supporting partner,” McEnerny-Ogle said.
Social justice and policing
The past year was also rocked by protests for social justice and police reform, especially after the death of George Floyd in the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department in May.
McEnerny-Ogle pointed to several ways that Vancouver advanced its antiracism work against an increasingly urgent backdrop.
“The city council responded and adopted a policy leadership statement affirming our commitment to racial equity and justice. The city then hosted a series of listening sessions with the city to better understand the lived experience of our residents,” she said.
The Vancouver Police Department is working to implement 84 changes recommended by the Police Executive Research Forum in June. A new Community Task Force on Policing, convened three months later, is overseeing that process, McEnerny-Ogle said. The task force is also working to establish a fully operational body-worn camera program in the VPD by early 2022.
Vancouver also created a new high-level position at City Hall: A director of diversity, equity and inclusion. The position was filled on March 1.
“The city remains committed to this important work,” McEnerny-Ogle said.
A whole year remote
Last year, the annual State of the City address was one of the first major events upended by COVID-19.
As the virus spread and other municipalities scrambled – Clark County canceled its own State of the County speech just a few hours before it was scheduled to start on March 11, 2020 – Vancouver decided that McEnerny-Ogle would deliver the speech to a near-empty room at City Hall, utilizing the technology that was already in place to broadcast city council meetings online.
At the time, the prospect of McEnerny-Ogle speaking to an empty chamber was a striking reminder that the wheels of government would need to spin differently, at least temporarily. The event was ultimately canceled.
With a year of remote governing under the city’s belt, the address Monday evening took advantage of the changed format. The mayor’s speech was matched to a virtual presentation that included video clips, pre-recorded interviews, photos and renderings.
“It’s hard to believe that was over a year ago,” McEnerny-Ogle said. “Here at the city, we had to reimagine operations.”
The mayor also touched on transportation, new development and the city’s climate goals. Her full address can be viewed at CVTV.org or on Vancouver’s social media channels.