OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — On Wednesday, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert delivered her annual 'State of the City' address.
While 2020 was a rough year, Stothert said the challenges faced by the city brought out the best in Omahans and the city needed focus on change in the areas of diversity, inclusion and equity and more.
"It is really hard to fight an enemy you can’t see and yes we’ve all been inconvenienced. We’ve come this far we can’t let up now," Stothert said.
COVID-19 infected about 63,000 residents or around one in nine people, the mayor said. Six hundred and fifty-three died due to the virus. At this time, about 114,000 vaccine doses have been administered and infections are down — a trend she hopes will continue.
The mayor thanked healthcare workers in the city that put in long hours during high-stress times to keep people alive and comfort family members when they suffered a loss. She also thanked Douglas County Health Director Dr. Adi Pour for leading the community as it continues to navigate through the pandemic.
Economically, the pandemic had a large impact on the city and the people who live there.
The city expected a loss of about $75 million but thanks to funding from the county and state through the CARES Act — as well as cutting some city services, hiring freezes and other budget-management tactics — the city had a surplus of more than $5 million at the end of 2020.
"We made some really tough decisions that were very unpopular for a while but not knowing if we we’re going to get any cares act money. We had to take steps immediately and we did, but those weren’t easy and we did and I think that helped get us through," Stothert said.
According to the mayor, the city received about 22 million in Housing and Urban Development funds and they are working to get it distributed. She said it will go to rental assistance, utilities, work force education, food insecurity and more.
Unemployment rose as well with a peak of about 10.2%. At the end of the year, that was down to about 3.3%.
This year, Stothert said the city will once again be home to sporting and other events that shine a light on Omaha. She believes tourism and hospitality are key to rebuilding in 2021.
In response to protests that took place last summer, Stothert said the city is focusing on increasing diversity, equity and inclusion. All city employees will be required to undergo bias, equity and inclusion training. Some already have.
"We always say we can be better, and we can be better and so we felt very very strongly that the city of Omaha and our employees, that it was important we set that example and that we would require the bias training for everybody, that we have some outside help to help us with that training, that we reviewed our policies, that we changed a lot of our policies that we were very open," Stothert said. "We’ve always been a notch above a lot of police departments but we can be better and we will be better."
Boards that will focus on areas of improvement and plans to implement change in the community will also be part of the effort.
The Omaha Police Department is looking to implement body cameras for the entire department, increase the use of mental health responders in times of crisis and provide advanced crisis training for officers.
OPD is also looking at ways to bring in more diversity and is part of an effort to develop a second chance program, the mayor said. The program would give people who have been charged with misdemeanor crimes the chance to take part in diversion classes. If people complete the classes and no other arrests or charges pop up, they may have their charges dropped, she said.
Watch her whole speech below or on our Facebook page.