Warr's Speech on State of the City Largely Apologetic in Tone
By Keith Burton - GCN 2/8/07
At a packed Orange Grove Community Center luncheon Thursday, Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr spent almost an hour in a lengthy speech that provided little substance regarding the current state of the city. It wasn't until Warr was on page four of his speech that the audience of Gulfport's business and leadership community found a reason to applause, and that was after Warr thanked the help the city had received from the Knight Foundation.
An apologetic tone to Warr's presentation came early in his speech when he said in his second paragraph, "I want to let you know up front that there are lots of things yet to fix..."
Later, Warr told his audience, "I didn't think things could get much harder, but the truth is - the storm is behind us and we are now dealing with the reality that post-Katrina decisions and solutions are very complicated...Our recovery has not been perfect, nor has this past year."
Warr then went on to describe what he saw as a successful management team that is overseeing the city's recovery. This is the same "team" that has seen department head replacements and departures since Warr has been in office.
Applause for Warr's speech were few, and mostly toward the end of this presentation when he described the work of his department directors.
At one point, Warr told the audience while lauding the city's increased sales tax revenue that "Gulfport is definitely open for business," an obvious point where Warr anticipated applause, but the audience remained silent. The copy of the speech GCN received showed Warr's statement in bold text.
Two places in Warr's presentation that was well received, were his announcement that the owners of the damaged Racquet Club Apartments and Chateau De Le Mer condominiums have said they will be demolishing their Katrina-destroyed units. Those announcements drew the first spontaneous applause, and came at page seven of his prepared text.
Warr did not comment on his frequent travels or what his trips are doing for the benefit to the city. He made no comment regarding his recent trip to China.
Warr was also very vague on his next steps as mayor. "Our biggest challenge in economic development is our next step," Warr said. But he didn't explain what those steps would be. He added that, "I have every confidence in working with the city council that the city can have a land use plan to help define the right next steps."
A look around the room during Warr's presentation was interesting in itself. The audience clearly came to hear something important from the mayor. Progress in the hardest hit areas of the city has been hard to find. But during the speech, the audience sat in almost a stupefied state. There were few smiles, or nods of agreement. They listened motionlessly.
Warr talked also about the law enforcement troubles in Gulfport, especially in recent months regarding the high numbers of murders in the city. He praised the city's police chief and patrolmen noting that that the suspects in all of the cases were now behind bars. But at the same, Warr noted that one of those murdered was a woman that worked in his home for 15 years "My own family is no exception, as we mourn the loss of a dear lady named Delphia Fitts who worked for our family for 15 years and was killed in her home by a drug addicted criminal just two days before Thanksgiving."
The comment was an odd way to acknowledge that Gulfport is a safe community to live in.
Toward the close of his speech, Warr became misty-eyed talking about a time with his grandfather as a young lad. He told a story of being with his grandfather who taught him a life lesson while he was plowing a field behind "a huge black horse named Dolly."
Warr went on to say that, "I learned very quickly that there had to be easier ways to make a living and if I could find one with a better view, that would be a very good thing. The view is definitely better here in Gulfport..."
Certainly, the views in Gulfport are better than the ass of horse, but why Warr would make that a point of humor in his speech is an odd way to describe a city that he leads.
Click Here to Read All of Warr's Speech (.pdf file)