The mayor highlighted achievements, set new goals for 2013 and beyond, and discussed the strain between his office and the council during the speech that lasted about 15 minutes and kicked off the council meeting.
Hobgood said 2012 had several high points. In the last five years, he said, the city has reduced its debt from $70 million to $48 million.
“Perhaps the greatest gift that a council can give its citizens is a debt-free city,” he said.
Construction on Hickory Log Creek Reservoir came to a close in 2012 and is permitted for water releases. After much discussion during the year, the City Council decided not to sell its stake in the reservoir.
“While we do not need this capacity at this time, this is an insurance policy for our water supply and a tremendous gift to future generations,” Hobgood said.
Other 2012 accomplishments Hobgood cited were:
* Approving changes to the city’s charter as recommended by a charter review committee;
* Designing and bidding for Etowah River Park, with construction to begin this spring;
* Funding a part-time manager and equipment for movie projection at the Canton Theatre;
* Expansion of the city’s farmers market and Taste of Canton, as well as the launch of First Fridays and a community garden;
* A successful year for the city’s golf course;
* The groundbreaking of the new Northside Hospital facility near Canton Marketplace;
* Moving ahead with engineering design for wastewater treatment plant improvements; and
* Purchasing about 20 acres along Bluffs Parkway for recreation and a possible fire station.
As for the city’s low points, Hobgood said the council’s working relationship was not as good as it should have been.
“We wasted time on minor issues that were very costly and consumed a lot of valuable council time,” he said.
Hobgood also called the recent elimination of his assistant’s position “detrimental to the operation of the mayor’s office.”
Hobgood called for the council to change the public’s perception regarding public input.
“The public impression of our council seems to be that we are slipping back into the past and discouraging public participation and input,” he said.
Hobgood said the council’s moves to change the charter at the end of 2012 were another low point.
“While I am disappointed in the low points of 2012, I am not bitter or angry, but rather optimistically determined that 2013 will be a banner year for our city,” Hobgood said.
“We have had a lot of discussion about a vision for our city, or lack thereof,” he continued.
Hobgood called for a citizens’ commission to develop a vision for the city through 2050.
“Although 2050 seems a far distance into the future, the vision must be developed incrementally over both the short and long term,” he said.
Hobgood called for the commission to be made up of 21 Canton citizens, three appointed by the mayor and by each of the six council members. He asked for the commission to look at an unconstrained vision for the city and also a constrained vision taking finances and circumstances into account.
The city council must work for short-term and long-term goals, Hobgood said.
He said the city should engage a professional organization to develop a brand for the city.
“This city must have an identity,” he said.
The city should develop a citywide development plan “that will add quality, not just quantity, to our city,” he said, noting that economic development efforts must be enhanced on all fronts.
Hobgood said developing an Etowah River protection plan needs to be an important priority for the city.
“Not to do so will betray future generations and deprive them of the beauty and utility of this great resource,” he said.
Other goals Hobgood outlined were:
* Move quickly to develop a park on the city’s recently acquired property along Bluffs Parkway;
* Expand arts and cultural opportunities in the city, perhaps by hiring a director of cultural affairs;
* Work to make downtown a walkable, active and vibrant area;
* Strengthen the city’s ethics ordinance. “This council can only govern with public trust. Good ethics is essential to developing public trust,” he said;
* Improve emergency services and other city services in the most economical way;
* Develop a recreation department and maximize recreation facilities and resources;
* Support and fund events downtown and citywide. “The rental car tax and other user fees are highly preferable to property tax increases,” he said;
* Continue to reduce debt;
* Work to ensure that the Cherokee County School District builds its new central office building downtown;
* Complete a trails project to connect Etowah River Park and Boling Park, and coordinate these trails with the county’s trail plan; and
* Work to expand public input and participation in the city’s business.
Hobgood urged the council, citizens and business owners to support the commission on Canton’s future. He also urged the council to exercise leadership.
“Although we can lead, the fate and future is not in the hands of the governing body, but in the hands of those governed. For it is you who have the power for change,” Hobgood concluded. “While we cannot change the way our council has performed in the past, we can change the way we move forward. And now is the time to move forward.”