Mayor Sherman Lea Delivers State of The City Address

Sherman Lea giving this year’s address.

Mayor Sherman P. Lea gave the 2018 State of the City Address this morning at an event hosted by the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce at Hotel Roanoke.

The Mayor spoke to a crowd of more than 300 people, giving his perspective on how city government, municipal volunteers, local agencies and businesses work together to make Roanoke a great place, and to meet the needs of those in our community. The transcript of the speech is below. To watch a video of Lea’s address go to

Good morning! It is my privilege to welcome you to the 2018 State of the City Address.

Thank you, Mr. Cowell. City Council appreciates your enthusiasm and positive energy as the manager of Roanoke’s local government.

I want to recognize some special people who are here today.

  • My colleagues on City Council
  • Special Guests

Thank you all for being here today.

This morning I am proud to tell you that the State of the City is good.

  • The National Civic League has recognized Roanoke as an All-America City seven times, most recently in 2017
  • This year, Roanoke was awarded its fourth consecutive Pacesetter Award from the Campaign for Grade Level Reading for Star City Reads
  • The Center for Digital Government has recognized Roanoke as a Top Digital City every year since 2001
  • Roanoke Parks and Recreation received a Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award Honorable Mention for the implementation of the Virginia Outdoors Plan
  • As part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, Roanoke received the “SolSmart Bronze” Award for Advancing the Growth of Solar Energy, showing we have taken important steps to encourage solar energy growth
  • Our local government is a leader in best practices, with departments such as Parks and Recreation, Police, Fire, Sheriff and the 9-1-1 Center meeting national accreditation standards.

These recognitions and accomplishments are wonderful, but they tell only part of the story. Roanoke is an outstanding city, in large part, because we are a community full of people who care.

Someone once said, “The change the world needs is not in the hands of everyone who is alive. It is in the works of those who deliberately contribute to make it a better place.”

Over the years, Roanoke has become a compassionate, vibrant city because of the contributions of time, energy, and commitment it receives from the people who live and work here. These contributions are essential to making Roanoke a better place.

I am happy to report, Roanoke is seeing promising results from the outstanding contributions made this past year. Citizens, local government, businesses, agencies, and organizations are successfully working together to create quality of life and bring positive change.

Today I want to share with you examples of those contributions.

City services touch all aspects of our community, and the people who work in our local government influence the quality of services provided to citizens.

The City of Roanoke is an organization with a dedicated group of hard-working individuals that work every day to provide the services we depend upon.

This year, through the “Lunch with the Mayor” program, I have had the opportunity to meet one-on-one with employees in different departments. The program gives me a chance to listen to their feedback and ideas, and offer my appreciation and support for their work. These conversations have confirmed my belief that city employees are dedicated to making our city the best it can be.

Also this year I was honored to attend the celebration of National Public Works Week at our Public Works Service Center.  It was a privilege to share a meal with employees who work so hard to repair our streets, maintain storm drains, collect solid waste and recycling, service our vehicles, and maintain our green spaces.

Our city employees go above and beyond what is expected to make sure our community is a great place. They maintain high standards so that we can have accredited police, fire and 9-1-1 agencies; first-class libraries; quality recreation programs; clean and attractive parks and greenways, and neighborhoods free of trash and brush.

Employees work behind the scenes to carry out the city’s financial responsibilities, to oversee programs that help citizens in need, and to make sure the city’s internal processes run smoothly.  They do all of this and a lot more because they understand the importance of their contribution to making Roanoke a great place to live.

City employees also go above and beyond by participating in community-wide efforts.

A good example is the recent Clean Sweep Neighborhood Cleanup in the Melrose-Rugby and Melrose-Loudon neighborhoods. This event exemplified what can be achieved when we combine our efforts.

A total of 58 city employees from across the organization – including Solid Waste Management, Stormwater, Police, Parks and Recreation, Fleet Management, Code Enforcement, and Lead Safe – as well as their managers and directors, took part in this event.

City crews collected more than 38 tons of trash, bulk, and brush for the day. The team also collected 90 tires from residents and from the rights of way.

But most important, the collaboration gave everyone who participated a feeling of pride that they could contribute to something greater than themselves – their community.

This event reinforced the city’s commitment to the Melrose-Orange Target Area, which is currently the focus of Community Development Block Grant funds to spur revitalization and improve the quality of life for residents.

Another way city employees participate in community-wide events is through the Lea Youth Outdoor Basketball League. In the summer of 2015, the Roanoke Police Department joined Roanoke Parks and Recreation, community organizations, and myself to start the League.

During the summer, kids and teenagers between the ages of 11 and 18 are invited to play basketball two nights a week. At the games, people from all walks of life come forward to share how they have overcome obstacles to attain success as part of a “quality moment.” While basketball attracts the kids to the league, it’s what they learn from the “quality moment” presentations that we hope they’ll remember.

This summer, the League games were played at Melrose Park. Since starting the Lea Youth Outdoor Basketball League we are seeing a change in the image of this park. This summer no crimes were reported in the park and not a single arrest or ticket was issued. In fact, Police data showed only 1 person calling 9-1-1 at the park during the summer from June 5 to July 19 – when the league’s games were played.

That’s a significant result, and it proves we are making a difference.  I want to thank our city employees in the Police, Parks and Recreation, and Fire-EMS departments, as well as the Sheriff’s Office, the Salvation Army, and Star City Reads – who come out to the games and interact with these young people – for their part in helping us form positive relationships in the community.

We are fortunate that many individual citizens give their time through the Municipal Volunteer Program to help our city. This year 1,485 Municipal Volunteers contributed 11,663 hours of service.

Volunteers serve as Riverkeepers, monitoring our streams. They become Tree Stewards, helping us take care of the city’s tree inventory. Some volunteers build trails with the Pathfinders for Greenways, or they help our Libraries deliver books to children.

They also monitor conditions on greenways. In fact, during the month of June, eight Greenway Ambassadors volunteered over 90 hours of time monitoring various parts of our Greenway system.

And there are many folks who serve on Council-appointed boards and committees to provide guidance to our city government and its programs. Volunteering is a huge time commitment, and we are so grateful for these contributions, which make our city a better place.

When it comes to community contributions, where do I begin? We are a community that comes together to help our fellow citizens. We have so many organizations that work with the city to provide help to those in need.

In May of this year, we cut the ribbon on the Community Solutions Center. The creation of the Center was the result of community partners and resources coming together for the benefit of our residents.

Feeding America Southwest Virginia, Goodwill Industries of the Valleys, and Northwest Roanoke community leaders were critical in making this Center a reality. Funding for the project came from Food Lion Feeds ( the City of Roanoke’s Community Development Block Grant funds. The Roanoke Police Department also played a leading role.

The Center offers a new resource to the Melrose community, providing a variety of services: a community kitchen, feeding programs, job training, a headquarters for community discussions, and a location to meet with police officers.

It also strengthens the community in a location where crime has been a problem, by repurposing the property to promote positive and foundational change in the neighborhood.

Pamela Irvine, the President and CEO of Feeding America Southwest Virginia, tells me that since the opening of the Center, they have served more than 600 meals to the community.  There has also been strong community engagement with their Kids Farmers Market, which teaches children how to buy nutritious food.

The city partners with Goodwill Industries of the Valleys for the Youth Summer Employment Program. This program offers youth a chance to gain work experience and learn skills through temporary jobs, preparing them for future job opportunities.

This year, 123 students participated in job readiness training. At mid-summer 33 students had been placed in jobs at three different sites, with ongoing efforts to employ the additional 67 students.

Roanoke is one of 50 cities that have joined a national effort to improve health in low-income neighborhoods. A local team, comprised of Roanoke College, City of Roanoke, LEAP for Local Foods, Freedom First Credit Union, and United Way led the “Invest Health” effort. The program intends to provide better access to healthy food, physical activity and public transportation for low-income neighborhoods.

The city’s Homeless Assistance Team is a partner in RYSE (Rehousing Youth for Success in Education) – a program facilitated by United Way of Roanoke Valley – which assists families with students to find permanent housing.

This comprehensive approach to homelessness affecting children in our region, brings together the resources and the expertise needed for real progress. In the past year, RYSE – in partnership with the City of Roanoke’s Central Intake, Roanoke City Public Schools, and other community partners – assisted 21 families experiencing homelessness.

These families, including 15 families with children enrolled in Roanoke City Public Schools, did not qualify for traditional resources, but had been living in hotels/motels and doubled up with friends and family.

Thanks to financial support and case management from the RYSE partnership, these families now have safe, affordable housing with basic household necessities and connections to community resources, leading to outcomes of higher earnings and improved health and education for the entire family.

Feeding America Southwest Virginia and YMCA Roanoke Valley partnered with Roanoke Public Libraries on the free “Feed and Read” Program. At Feed and Read, children receive free USDA-approved meals as well as literacy and enrichment instruction while they eat, so their brains and bodies are nourished all summer.

The program serves balanced “Hot Meals” to children over a 10-week period each summer in all city library branches. This year, the program served 10,724 meals at all six city library branches from June 4th to Aug. 17th.

The city has shown leadership and collaboration with local agencies on Roanoke’s Campaign for Grade-Level Reading initiative, Star City Reads. This program is achieving measurable progress on student readiness outcomes, and has been recognized nationally for its success. Star City Reads is led by Roanoke Public Libraries.

The coalition now consists of 29 partners, including Feeding America Southwest Virginia, Roanoke City Public Schools, the Roanoke Police Department, Turn the Page, the Virginia Tech-Carilion Research Institute, and other community organizations.

Because of Star City Reads, kindergarten readiness, chronic absence, and summer learning rates are improving for the city as a whole and for low-income children in particular.  The latest assessment shows that Third-Grade Reading SOL Pass Rates rose from 65.1 percent in 2013 to 76.1 percent in 2017.

This summer, a Youth and Teen Center was opened at Goodwill’s Melrose Jobs Campus. It is a safe place for middle and high school-aged kids to go in the summer or after school, and gives them access to programs focused on financial education, summer employment, work experience, and vocational activities and mentoring.

I want to thank Nicole Ross for her efforts to make this Center a reality, and for her compassion for the young people in our community.

The Salvation Army’s New Day Center on Dale Avenue is a great example of community collaboration. The Center is a community-based street outreach program and drop-in center for youth ages 18 to 24 who are aging out of foster care, or who are homeless or at-risk.

New Day Center works with partner agencies to establish a referral system, so that youth who come to the Center get the help they need. That means if the Center can’t provide what they need on-site, it will get them to who can. The Center also provides a 24/7 hotline for youth who need to reach out for help.

When issues arise, the people of Roanoke pull together to find solutions.

A good example of this is the Roanoke Valley HOPE Initiative. This is a collaboration of volunteers and local agencies, led by the Roanoke Police Department and Bradley Free Clinic, to provide resources for the treatment and recovery from drug addiction.

This initiative is working, and we are optimistic for its future success. Since its inception last year:

  • More than 160 participants have sought information and referrals from the program;
  • More than 82 percent received treatment options, and all agreed to pursue the treatment options identified;

Earlier, Dr. Bishop gave you an update on Roanoke City Public Schools and their efforts to prepare our children for success in life.

I am proud to say that Roanoke continues to be part of the Community College Access Program at Virginia Western, funded by the city and neighboring localities to make college available tuition-free to graduates of public high schools.

This year, 62 graduates from William Fleming High School and 55 graduates from Patrick Henry High School were offered and accepted CCAP for the 2018-19 school year. A total of 605 Roanoke City Public School students have completed the program since its inception.

This is another excellent example of how we contribute as a community and as a region to give our young people a chance to succeed. And that contribution yields an enormous benefit by shaping our citizens of tomorrow.

Now, let’s talk about you, the business community. There are many contributions from inside Roanoke’s business community that make our city great.

Business leaders in the Roanoke region have indicated they want more opportunities for future leaders to build essential skills to advance in an existing business or grow their own businesses as entrepreneurs.

At RAMP, the regional business accelerator located in downtown Roanoke, aspiring entrepreneurs have the opportunity to learn to use their skills, talents, and interests to propel their high-potential startups to expand and create jobs in the STEM-H fields.

RAMP – which stands for Regional Acceleration and Mentoring Program – is a partnership of Virginia Western Community College, the City of Roanoke, and the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council. Focusing on the Roanoke Valley and New River Valley, RAMP is our region’s first technology startup accelerator program, and it’s been very successful.

This is a valuable contribution to the future growth of Roanoke’s business community, as well as other localities in our region, and I encourage you as business people to continue your support for this program.

Modeled after the hit ABC TV show “Shark Tank,” Roanoke’s “Star Tank” offers an opportunity for people with marketable ideas to make business presentations to a panel of potential investors who have access to capital, connections, and the knowledge to help make businesses succeed.  Star Tank started in 2014 at the Grandin CoLab, a co-working space designed to help startups and small businesses find, maintain, or gain traction.

Through the leadership of local entrepreneur Chris Desimone (pronounced Dee – See – Moan) and with the support of many organizations, Star Tank’s central goal is to support the growth of the local economy. It does this by jump-starting viable new businesses, and growing local existing businesses.

I applaud this outstanding contribution – another way business leaders are stepping up to aid the vitality and growth of Roanoke’s future business community.

Another success story for empowering local entrepreneurs to start new businesses is the Mayor’s Business Summit. In January, I sponsored the 2018 Business Summit at CoLab, which focused on the GIG Economy. This was a follow-up to my first Business Summit, held in 2017, which was well attended by the community.

These events were sponsored by the city’s Economic Development Department, Freedom First, and the Virginia Small Business Development Center.

At the events, experts share the pros and cons of owning a business, including guidance for financing options, how to obtain a business license, and management insights from local business owners.

The event also emphasizes the importance of mentorship in a company’s development, and how vital it is to have someone to act as a sounding board and ask the right questions.

From these Business Summits, small business owners have emerged to find success. At this time I would like to recognize two people who used what they learned at the Business Summit to start their new business.

With such positive results, another Business Summit is already scheduled for Tuesday, October 23.

Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

From what I have shared today, it’s easy to see that Roanoke’s greatest, most effective givers are the people who make up the Star City.

You care about Roanoke. And it’s through your efforts that we create a sense of optimism and momentum; and show we are making a difference in the lives of others.

As we’ve seen, this happens by working together to contribute to the quality of life for everyone who calls themselves Roanokers. And the more involved everyone is, the better our city will be.

As Mayor, I am proud to live in a place where people come together and help each other succeed in their personal and business endeavors.  We are so passionate about our city. We have done so much, but there is more to do.

To our community I say, thank you for your contribution and for your commitment to continue the work!

I ask you to join me in a commitment to keep the momentum going, and continue building a positive future for Roanoke together.

Thank you.

Latest Articles

- Advertisement -

Latest Articles

- Advertisement -

Related Articles