By Sam Prickett
Mayor Frank Brocato delivered his annual State of the City address to the Hoover Chamber of Commerce on March 18, recapping the hardships of the previous year and promising a “much better” 2021.
COVID-19, he said, “challenged us as we’d never imagined,” but also revealed “the strength of the community, its character and the kindness of our citizens.”
He highlighted the city’s quick response to the pandemic, which included establishing an Emergency Operations Center, the Everbridge public alert system and a COVID-focused helpline operated by library staffers.
“There were so many things that had to be incorporated and implemented,” he said. “Looking back now, I realize that if we had not done that so early on, we would have had chaos instead of organized and supervised operations.”
Brocato praised city workers’ response to the pandemic, saying that the city “could not have made it through the past year without teamwork.”
“As I look back on how quickly we responded to the COVID crisis, I’m proud of our team,” he said. “For the nearly 800 city employees, I really don’t have enough words to adequately express how I feel about them … . You never looked for a handshake or a pat on the back. You continued to do your job with professionalism and dedication to serving our residents, our visitors and our community.”
He also highlighted the efforts of Hoover residents, including Wren Manners, who organized a meal program for doctors and other community members, and Rebekah Crossman, who sewed and distributed more than 2,000 face masks throughout the city.
Brocato pointed to the leadership of Hoover City Schools Superintendent Kathy Murphy, who coordinated with city Chief of Operations Jim White and fitness center staffers on efforts to continue providing meals to approximately 12,000 schoolchildren.
He also pointed to one of the more controversial elements of the city’s COVID response — the decision to hold an in-person graduation ceremony for Hoover High School seniors.
“Dr. Murphy said it was the most difficult decision she’d made in her career,” Brocato said. “I also felt our students had already lost so much during the pandemic and worked too hard to get to that point to forgo celebrating that moment. I wanted them to enjoy a real graduation, and we worked hand-in-hand with Dr. Murphy and the school system to make that happen.”
The decision was “not without controversy,” he added.
“In fact, the story made national headlines as an example of how to conduct a safe ceremony, but some not only questioned but denounced the decision,” he said. “Still, we move forward in faith, finding ways to make sure the ceremonies were held in a safe manner while still honoring the outstanding accomplishments of our young students.”
Financially, the city made it through the pandemic relatively unscathed, Brocato said, despite early projections that the city could lose between $8 million and $15 million in revenue.
“From a financial perspective, I’m proud to say that our staff and our City Council were ahead of the curve with doing all we could to protect the city finances during the COVID crisis,” he said. “We called on our department heads and asked them to look at ways to reduce spending and cut costs … . Everything was on the table.”
Those cuts to operational expenses, along with “better-than-projected” revenues, meant that the city “ended 2020 in the black and financially sound,” Brocato said.
Business in the city continued despite the pandemic, he added, with 1,123 new business licenses issued and 23 new commercial buildings built; 399 new single-family homes also were built in Hoover in 2020.
Brocato touched on other crises that emerged amid the pandemic, including the protests in response to the police killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd.
“Protestors began holding nightly and then weekly protests on city property that required us to add another layer to our incident management plan,” he said. “I believe our police officers performed splendidly during this time, working long hours to make sure our city was safe and under control while at the same time making sure those citizens had the opportunity to express their first amendment rights.”
He also pointed to the July 4 shooting death of Royta Giles Jr., an 8-year-old caught in the crossfire of a shooting at the Riverchase Galleria.
In response, Brocato said, Hoover police increased their presence at the mall, while owner Brookfield Properties implemented “police-trained, gun-detecting canines that, while nonintrusive to shoppers, are able to sniff out anyone carrying a weapon.”
“We know these efforts cannot bring Royta back nor erase those scars,” he said. “Nevertheless, we are committed to making our city as safe as possible and making criminals know that brazen acts of lawlessness and evil will not be tolerated here, ever.”
Crime dropped overall in 2020, with a nearly 16% reduction in total offenses, he said, including a 30% drop in burglaries.
Bright Future Predicted
Despite the challenges that last year brought, Brocato said he believed Hoover’s future is “very bright.”
“As I look to the next four years, I do so with a clear and concise vision aimed at moving our city forward,” he said. Strategic priorities for the city, he said, include redevelopment of the Galleria, construction of a new interstate interchange exit along I-459, and expansion of the U.S. Secret Service’s National Computer Forensic Institute, which he called “a crown jewel for our nation’s law enforcement.”
He also pointed to ongoing efforts to make sure the city’s hiring process is diverse and inclusive, including advertising city job openings “to all groups of people” and appointing a diversity coordinator in the city’s human resources department.
“Moreover, we removed unintended barriers that might limit the success of underrepresented applicants in finding work with the city,” he said. “All of these efforts represent permanent, deliberate change to how we staff our city government.”
“I must admit, I was very grateful to see the arrival of 2021,” he said. “I truly believe this year will be much better than last … . I’m so encouraged about the future of our city.”