I attended a meeting this morning at City Hall convened by Mayor O'Leary with representatives from key city departments, Board of Education, Board of Aldermen, WDC and community leaders. The topic: Blight.
When the Republican-American first reported that there was interest in relocating the Walsh School students to the new Jonathan Reed School, I was not happy. While I absolutely agreed that the Walsh students should have the best educational facilities, I was horrified at the concept of abandoning the school. If a neighborhood is blighted and the city decides to give up on it, the neighborhood will become a war zone/slum/ghetto/whatever you want to call it. Closing the school will make the neighborhood worse. Yes, the students would be attending school in a new building, but they would still be living in the old, blighted neighborhood, which would disintegrate rapidly. If the neighborhood blight is a problem for the school and the students, the only solution is to clean up the blight. If the school building needs repairs and upgrades, make that happen too.
I was very happy to read yesterday's article, in which the Mayor and the School Superintendent both supported improving the neighborhood and the school, rather than giving up on them.
The meeting this morning was the first of many. I wasn't sure what to expect. I've grown accustomed to city meetings in which everyone sits around debating what to do, complains about the problems, and then nothing ever gets done. This was not that sort of meeting. This is not that sort of Mayor.
Mayor O'Leary made it very clear that it is time for change, time to change the culture, time to change the tactics, time to change the attitude. He expects everyone, city employees and city residents, to roll up their sleeves and work their hardest to turn this city around. As he said, when you walk through neighborhoods like the one surrounding Walsh School, you can feel overwhelmed by the problems and not know where to start. I'd say, based on today's meeting, he's going to take on all the problems at once, building a strong team of people to make it happen.
He has encouraged everyone to be creative with their solutions and to be willing to try new things. He wants to end the culture of negativity, of people saying things can't be done, that problems can't be solved. He asked each department head present to come up with some specifics on improving the city's response to the blight problem, and he asked the community leaders present to make sure the residents do their part as well. He made it pretty clear that he expects everyone to work hard, find positive solutions, and give it all they've got. Leadership in action!
I don't want to sound like I'm back in campaign mode (I'm not), but this was a great meeting. During the campaign, every so often someone would ask me if O'Leary really was going to follow through on his promises to clean up blight, etc. It's not going to happen overnight, but it's pretty obvious to me that this city is about to get a whole lot better.