In front of a crowd of hundreds of residents at the Gogue Performing Arts Center on Monday, Auburn Mayor Ron Anders touched upon the trials and successes of the city over the past year at the inaugural State of the City Address.
Anders recounted the successes of the city's efforts since he was sworn into office last November against the backdrop of the area's trials, including the tragic tornado that swept through and devastated Beauregard, the shooting death of Auburn Police Officer William Buechner, and the shootings of officers Justin Sanders, Webb Sistrunk and Evan Elliot.
"The first year has challenged us in ways that we never ever expected," said Anders. "These are things that we never thought would happen in our community.
"But in all that darkness there was light. The light of those officers — heroes in the truest sense of the word — shone brightly, as did the light of their fellow officers, firefighters and communications staff who continued to do their duty to protect and serve our community in spite of the profound sadness and loss that they felt."
"Light" was a theme Anders would touch upon throughout his address, which also noted the numerous volunteers who responded in the aftermath of the tornado to lend their time and help.
"I'm proud to be part of such a community," he said. "Families are connected because of love and we're all connected because we love Auburn and all that we are and all that we have. We want what's best for this place for everyone who calls it home."
Anders then shifted to talking about the successes of the city's efforts over the last year. He noted the efforts the city has made to increase transparency of government, including live-streaming City Council meetings, providing a recap of the meeting in the Mayor's Minutes and increasing the number of sessions and amount of time dedicated to citizens' comments during meetings. Increasing transparency was one of the key issues Anders ran upon during his mayoral campaign.
Anders also recapped the ongoing efforts of four task forces he established to deal with pressing issues in the city. He noted that the Boards and Commissions Task Force completed its mission with the revision of the city's procedures to appoint new members, including adding an interview process for potential appointees to the Board of Education and Planning Commission.
He also brought the crowd up to speed on the Short-Term Rental Task Force, which has drafted two ordinances and whose work will now be taken up by the Planning Commission and City Council, with multiple opportunities for continued public input.
The Student-Housing Task Force is moving along, he said, with the recent completion of a citywide inventory of student-housing, which will also be vetted by the City Council. He added that the efforts of the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force should produce a more permanent committee to address the issue in the near future.
He also provided an outline of future efforts focused on sustainability in the community, as well as the continued and increased outreach to students at Auburn University.
That Auburn City Schools received straight As from the Alabama State Department of Education's report card generated the largest applause from the crowd during the speech.
Anders also ran through the accomplishments of nearly every city department, including the efforts of the Economic Development Department in bringing new industry to the city, the continued efforts of Water Works to bring a new well online, the Planning Department's work to generate focus area plans, and the continued investment by multiple departments in northwest Auburn.
"All these projects and accomplishments are only possible because of the men and women who go to work in this community every day as city of Auburn employees. And I want you to know, because I've seen it firsthand, that your city staff cares about this community," said Anders, whose remarks drew loud applause.
Anders also looked forward to generating the Auburn 2040 plan next year, a process that will be undertaken by residents to produce a future plan for a community that is expected to reach upwards of 100,000 people, according the city growth models.
"When we reach for 2040, Auburn's light will have shone for 200 years, as we will have reached the 200th birthday of its founding and its charter," he said. "The Auburn spirit, the Loveliest Village, isn't found in Toomer's Corner or the size of our population or corporate limits, but within us."
Anders rounded out his address by presenting the Mayor's Lamplighter Awards to six community members. The recipients were Alvin Willis, Cynthia Boyd, Donna Young, Eron Smith, Rene Waldrop and George Echols, whose surviving family members accepted the award on his behalf.