|Apalachicola Mayor Van W. Johnson, Sr.|
October 6, 2015
(As written -- There may have been some slight deviations in its delivery)
Eight years ago I stood here and asked that you join me on a journey to transform Apalachicola into the most livable city in the entire State of Florida.
You accepted that challenge, but from the onset of that journey we faced obstacles brought on by the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, which not only tested our nation and our state, but also our city, causing three local banks to collapse, real estate prices to plummet and record foreclosures.
But despite it all, we overcame those obstacles and were able to achieve more for our city with less, and progressed more than most other cities throughout Florida of similar shape and size.
As a result, the City of Apalachicola is now nationally known as a distinctive destination, attracting thousands of visitors and luring hundreds of new residents into the community each year.
Four years later, I again stood here and asked could we begin anew, to work in a spirit of true harmony and cooperation. Where together we could dream, hope and plan for a brighter future.
You did, and by working together we were able to accomplish so much, we now have a dedicated Senior Citizen Center where our elderly can gather and socialize. We have a state recognized afterschool and summer enrichment program where the youth of our community can congregate in a safe environment.
We supported our local seafood workers by acting as their payroll agent during the shelling program, and we secured grant funding to add amenities in the downtown district to support our growing tourism industry.
We took BP to task over the 2010 Oil spill, which resulted in a million dollar settlement, and we were able to enhance the quality of life for all of our residents with summer music in the park, a spectacular Annual Independence Day fireworks display through a collaborative effort with our friends at Historic Apalachicola Main Street and we partnered with members of the community to establish a History, Culture and Art Center.
Once again, I stand before you tonight, thankful, humble and excited to begin my third term as Mayor of this wonderful city and I ask of you this time, that we again work together to position Apalachicola for generations to come as an undeniable envy of small town America.
To my colleagues on the Apalachicola Board of City Commissioners, our City Administrator, Clerk, Police Chief, staff and fellow residents of Apalachicola, I thank each you for trusting me to continue to serve as Mayor of this great city.
The oath of office I just took, reaffirms that trust and placed before my administration the task of continuing the progress made over the last eight years, to build on that progress, and to protect what we all so dearly love about Apalachicola for future generations.
To build on that progress, as a community we must have both the courage and foresight to think about the future and to plan accordingly for the city our children will eventually inherit.
I believe the path forward on the journey we started eight years ago is through a visioning process that will develop a plan for our city that will not only protect and preserve what we have, but to use what we have to create jobs and economic opportunities.
That is why I’m supportive of the proposal received from Mrs. Bonnie Davis to form a Citizen’s Task Force to work with the City Commission, members of the community and other appointed boards to develop a vision for our city’s future.
Two key components to creating economic opportunities are education and job training. That is why my administration strongly believes and supports the long held vision of Dr. Frederick Humphries to establish a Florida A&M University branch campus in Apalachicola. Now poised to become a reality, a branch college campus would not only provide a post high school education, but it would also bring about a transformative change to our city, a change that will not only spur local industries, but also provide a trained workforce and a more engaged community.
With that, the goal of my administration over the next four years will be dedicated to creating economic opportunities for all through public-private collaborations, and the use of our local renewable resources like our river and bay that will neither adversely affect the historic flavor of our community nor those resources.
We have already begun the process by capitalizing on the momentum from the past eight years with the launch of a pilot job training program for youth adults, complete with leadership skills and academic programming. All through a public-private partnership between the City of Apalachicola, the Conservation Corps of the Forgotten Coast, the Conservation Corps Network, Community Training Works and the Franklin’s Promise Coalition. The focus of the program is to conserve, protect and improve our environment.
In addition, over the past eleven months my administration has been in communication with a foreign business interest and a municipal government in the region of Tuscany, Italy to create sustainable local jobs by establishing a plant in Apalachicola that will process from our local fishery various finished products and ready to eat Tuscan meals for sale on the U.S. market.
Furthermore, we have established a dialogue with our neighbors and stakeholders along the Apalachicola River Basin, concerning the city's interest to begin working together, to return the river system, a natural economic resource, once again into a functional waterway, for commercial and full season recreational boating activities, to which will usher into the region more tourism dollars.
Growing our local economy to create jobs and economic opportunities doesn’t mean we have to give up anything; neither does it means sacrificing the historic integrity of the community nor desecrating the city’s plan. It simply means having the foresight and the wiliness to do so.
Lastly, I firmly believe the greatest measure of any community is in how it treats its most vulnerable. Because of this belief, I wholeheartedly support the citizen led initiative by Creighton and Holly Brown to begin renovating and restoring run down and abandon properties within the city to create affordable and mixed income housing.
No one person or group of people has all the answers or the solutions, but based upon our past successes, by working together we can definitely position our city as an undeniable envy of small town America.
Thank you and May God bless each of you and May God continue to bless the Historic City of Apalachicola, Florida.