Written by Phil Cerroni
By Alice Canham
One guest called it “quite a display of school spirit” when several hundred Irving citizens and employees celebrated the State of the City address Jan. 29 at the Irving Convention Center.
“There’s been a lot of talk in our Rotary meetings about how proud we are,” said Doug Fox, who serves as president of the Noontime Rotary Club in addition to his leadership role with the Irving YMCA. “That we can claim the distinction of having earned Baldrige recognition… it means we have a really good thing going here. We have a great City staff, and a great city administrator in Tommy Gonzalez. We’re doing everything we can to take care of taxpayer dollars.”
Indeed, all of the speakers at the 32nd annual event focused on the City’s latest award. Organizations compete to earn the national merit based on business efficiencies leading to measurable results. Irving is only the second municipality to be selected for the honor in the 25-year history of the Baldrige, and it is the only entity to be honored this year with the Baldrige Presidential Award.
Keynote speaker Harry Hertz, Director of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program/National Institute of Standards and Technology, told the assembly there were some particular victories for Irving to celebrate.
“You have maintained a AAA bond rating through one of the toughest economic times in our country’s history,” Hertz said to applause from the crowd.
“You have exceeded nine comparable cities in demonstrating financial transparencies. Citizens have rated their overall satisfaction with the delivery of services at 74 percent, compared to Texas overall at 46 percent and the U.S. government at 38 percent. The I-WIN wellness program for employees has been recognized by the American Heart Association for successfully addressing rising healthcare costs and reducing healthcare risks. And finally, the City has adopted Lean Six Sigma, using it to save $44 million in efficiencies since 2008.”
Hertz emphasized that the entire city was part of the team that earned the Baldrige, not just the employees.
“You did this together,” he said, adding that Baldrige recognition is just the beginning of a journey of education and improvement, one that has led six past double-winners to an average 93 percent growth in revenues.
There were other metrics to applaud, as Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne took the stage.
“Our results speak for themselves,” she said. “For the eighth year in a row, Irving experienced an overall reduction in our crime rate… down more than 40 percent over that period of time.
“The City opened the first leg of the DART Orange Line.
“4,382 new jobs were created, through 16 corporate expansions or relocations, including the opening of the Christus Health headquarters last week, United Healthcare’s call center, TK System Global Services and Michael’s Crafts, just to name a few.
“We oversaw 19 capital improvement projects that saw $22 million reinvested in fundamental services for our citizens. And two new areas opened as part of Campion Trails, a great secret treasure for our city.”
Van Duyne also praised improvements to the city’s library system, the Lake Carolyn promenade system, and developments in the sports community that saw the return of the North Texas LPGA tournament and recruitment of a professional tennis team.
Dismissing the controversy surrounding the City’s decision to end funding to the Entertainment Center project (“the albatross”, as she termed it), Van Duyne told citizens that “…we are no longer paying hundreds of thousands of dollars per month for a project that’s not progressing, nor looking at the prospect of hundreds of millions of dollars in debt.” She expressed optimism that soon the City would settle a related lawsuit she called “frivolous,” so the City could actively engage in pursuing other prospective developers.
Telling the audience that “…we now have the meat and the potatoes – it’s time for some spice”, Van Duyne summarized changes that she felt would bring new life to the city. Introducing a liberalized food/liquor ratios in restaurants; concentrating on development of more single-family homes and maintaining what she called “a balance of disparate voices” would allow Irving residents to have it all, she said – a place they could enjoy living, working and playing.
Finally, she pointed to the successes of the venue where the event was being held.
“Two years ago we opened this convention center,” she reminded guests. “Since then, we’ve welcomed 485 events and almost 450,000 people.” She hinted that the coming weeks would bring an announcement of the long-awaited companion hotel project.
Iin closing, Van Duyne encouraged citizens to keep sharing their concerns.
”We respect and appreciate your active and dynamic interest,” she said. “We need to keep hearing from all of you. So don’t let up.”