Mayor Pete Buttigieg laid out his vision for South Bend on Wednesday and continued to stress unity during his first State of the City address.
Overall, he described the state of the city as hopeful.
Buttigieg, who was sworn into office Jan. 1, also acknowledged the recent controversy in the South Bend Police Department.
He demoted the city's police chief, Darryl Boykins, two weeks ago in reaction to a federal investigation that found the department was out of compliance in the way it recorded phone calls.
"Not long ago, I faced an unpleasant choice and the need, among unattractive alternatives, to discern the least bad option," the mayor told an audience at the Salvation Army's new Kroc Center.
"I made the choice I felt was best for the city," he said. "I knew it would be difficult, that it would be potentially unpopular and it would likely be misunderstood."
Buttigieg, citing confidentiality issues, has refrained from fully explaining his decision, leading to confusion and rumors. But he said Wednesday he's confident he made the right choice.
Ultimately, he said, he will be judged on whether South Bend becomes a better place on his watch.
"My commitment to you is that I will always make decisions with a view to this goal," he said, "whatever the consequences or appearances."
Boykins has been reassigned as a captain within the department, working with the street crimes unit and supervising school resource officers. Chuck Hurley, who was police chief from 1984 to '88, is leading the department on an interim basis until the mayor selects a new chief.
Buttigieg said he'll listen closely to residents through that process, and emphasized how important it is for the city to preserve the trust built up between the community and police officers in recent years.
He said his administration will focus on data-driven, evidence-based techniques to set goals and prevent crime, especially violent incidents among youths. He also announced measures to create a more visible police force with neighborhood foot patrols and plans to open a police substation in a downtown storefront.
The city has to move forward in other respects, too, the mayor said.
Buttigieg identified five themes ... safety, prosperity, education, connectedness and efficient service ... to guide his election campaign last year.
He highlighted some economic developments ... downtown housing, Coveleski Stadium renovations, a veterans health clinic scheduled to open next month, plans to convert former Studebaker properties into technology centers, construction of the new St. Joseph's High School and the Kroc Center itself ... while giving credit to city workers and past mayors.
But he also described his administration's economic efforts that go beyond specific projects.
Buttigieg announced on Jan. 1 he was initiating a top-to-bottom review of the city's community and economic development department to cut red tape and build a better system for business growth.
He plans to convene an economic summit in June for the region's various economic development groups to work on coordinating efforts.
"And whenever we do spend economic development dollars in the future, it will be guided by a concrete set of guidelines and a clear strategy," he said. "This includes laying out expectations on measurable targets such as the ratio of public to private dollars, expectations for jobs and accountability, and protections for taxpayers to ensure both sides live up to their commitments."
Finally, Buttigieg implored city residents to embrace their diversity and focus on unity. That doesn't mean everyone has to agree all the time, he said, but it does require trust and understanding.
"We know what we are up against, and it is not each other," he said. "Our diversity must become our strength, just as diversity has been the strength of our country."
Common Council member Tim Scott, D-1st, said he liked the focus of the mayor's speech.
He said there are council members who still have questions about the Boykins decision and federal investigation, but they will continue to work with the mayor for the betterment of South Bend.
"I don't think we all agree on the decision," Scott said, "but we'll work through it."
Council member Karen White, D-at large, added that she hopes they can get enough information about the chief's situation to bring some closure to the issue.
"The information we have received has been very limited," she said. "I think we do owe it to the community. The community is really concerned about the process and the lack of transparency."
Staff writer Kevin Allen: