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Warr State of the City Reveals Major City News
Indicted Mayor Composed in Important Speech

By Keith Burton - GCN 3/5/09

In a packed ballroom at the Gulfport Courtyard Marriott Thursday evening Mayor Brent Warr delivered more than a State-of-the-City speech, he delivered some major news affecting the future of his city. It was just this past Tuesday that Warr had announced that he was not seeking re-election to concentrate on his defense in a federal indictment for Katrina fraud. The indictment, however, was not a focus of any part of his presentation. Instead, he spoke of his administration's accomplishments and challenges, particularly financial challenges that the city is now facing.

The big news of the night was his announcement that the city had just that day received title from the federal government of the 92 acres of the former Veterans Hospital property on the beach that has long been promised to the city. The title papers had arrived via Federal Express just two hours before Warr's speech and was still being carried around in the red-white and blue FedEx box. It is with some irony that the title to the property came after his resignation announcement.

Warr had much to praise through his almost hour-long speech. He thanked his staff and departments for their dedication and hard work. He noted particularly the city's police department for its efforts to sharply lower crime in the city. Warr spent time outlining his administration accomplishments since Katrina.

"Tonight, more than 70 percent of all city facilities that were damaged by Hurricane Katrina have been rebuilt or repaired - more than $65 million in construction, said Warr. "In the past year the Department of Public Works has completed 14 major infrastructure projects - including a massive overhaul south of the railroad tracks and the use of additional grants to rework sewerage systems in places like Biloxi River Estates in Orange Grove. In addition, there are 9 other projects in motion and by the time they are finished, the city will have completed an infrastructure overhaul worth more than $120 million."

Warr had sharp criticism of those in and out of government who have complained that nothing was happening in the City.

"Gulfport has been plagued by political bickering and gamesmanship for generations, and in these past four years that backbiting has continued." Warr said.  So tonight, I am calling on those who have worked against us in the past, and spoken ill of our city's efforts, to put an end to those tactics...And to those who say Gulfport hasn't made progress since the storm and that we've fallen behind, I say, "Look around you."

In early reports before Warr's speech, it was announced that he would talk about the city's financial situation. Just last week the news was out that the city was broke. That is not entirely the truth, the city isn't broke, but it is facing a very serious financial crisis.

In the next major  news of the night Warr revealed that starting tomorrow, the city is instituting a  hiring freeze and is halting all future capital improvement projects. Warr said that existing projects underway will not be affected by the halt on future projects.

"I want to talk frankly tonight about the city's finances. This pervasive crisis has touched every city in America, and Gulfport is not immune," said Warr.

Warr went on to say:

"In September, the City Council passed a $322 million budget, inflated mostly by storm related expenditures and FEMA reimbursements," Warr said. "Two weeks later, following the fall of Washington Mutual and Wachovia, President Bush spoke on the severity of the crisis and warned that more banks could soon fail.  Credit has since dried up and Americans have stopped spending. And as a result, sales tax numbers in Gulfport for the first quarter of this year are down significantly from previous estimates. Collections for 2009 are now expected to fall short of our budgeted amount by about $2.3 million. In addition, we now believe that the city's health care costs will exceed budgeted amounts this year by $2 million."

Warr was composed throughout his presentation. He rarely stumbled and spoke clearly without any extreme emotion. He was assisted in his speech with two clear teleprompters and didn't stray to any significant additions.

If there was some emotion by Warr it was expressed near the end of his speech:

"In the past four years we have built a solid foundation for greatness, and we have paid for it in blood, sweat and tears," Warr said. "I care for this city too much not to do everything in my power to perfect it. The pain I feel for having to walk away from her now is great. However, I'm comforted by the thought of knowing I gave Gulfport everything I had."

Prior and after the speech Warr was busy talking to people and shaking hands. He didn't appear to retreat in any way and one city councilmember described the whole presentation as "brave."

Additional Information:

Full Text of Warr's State of the City Speech - GCN

Indicted Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr Will Not Seek Re-Election...More - GCN

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