Duluth mayor plans moves around policing, broadband, sustainability

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson delivered the 2021 State of the City address from City Hall. Duluth Mayor Emily Larson delivered the 2021 State of the City address from City Hall. |  Photo: Carl Sauer/WDIO

Baihly Warfield
Updated: April 06, 2021 06:11 PM
Created: April 05, 2021 05:46 PM

In the year ahead, Duluth Mayor Emily Larson wants to start a police accreditation process, attract new internet providers to the city and launch a system for citizens to communicate with city officials. 

All of that and more was laid out in the 2021 State of the City address.

Larson hasn't given a speech like this since 2019. She had one planned for 2020, but it was postponed when the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shutdowns began. 

The speech was delivered virtually from City Hall.

Community Policing

Larson acknowledged the difficulty of the last year around not only the pandemic but also the death of George Floyd. She told a story about a Duluth Police sergeant who, when challenged by protestors, read a list of names of people who have been killed by police. 

She said the Duluth Police Department will do a "top to bottom" racial bias audit. It will also begin a multi-year Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies accreditation process. 

"It is the platinum standard for best police practice rooted in community trust," Mayor Larson said. 

She said auditors will determine where in the department improvements can be made. 

Broadband

During the pandemic, Mayor Larson said it became clear that high-speed internet is not a luxury but an essential utility. 

Charter Spectrum is the only provider for the City of Duluth, and Larson said they know it. 

"Spectrum even raised prices in a pandemic - and this community, held hostage, had no choice but to pay or go without access. This is unacceptable. Personally, I feel it's immoral," she said. "Tonight, I'm calling on Spectrum to work with us to provide equitable access, to lower costs and to improve reliability. But we also need more competition in the market."

She wants to use $1 million of the money Duluth will get from the most recent round of COVID relief to incentivize new service providers to enter the market.

Charter Spectrum said that its prices are nationally consistent and do not include data caps, modem fees or contracts. 

"We offer a low-cost broadband service to eligible families and seniors for just $17.99/month - and it has been available in Duluth for four years," a company spokesperson said in a statement. 

The company also pointed to a pandemic initiative that it said provided 450,000 students, teachers and families with broadband service for 60 days free of charge. 

311 System

Larson is asking her Chief Administrative Officer, Noah Schuchman, to create a 311 division. 

The city is currently developing a phone app for citizens to submit complaints. Eventually, they want to launch a phone line too. The goal is for that to open in 2022. 

Sustainability

A greener city has been a goal of Larson's since she took office in 2016. She said that since 2017, city emissions have been reduced by about 20% in every sector but transportation. 

Going forward, she will have Sustainability Officer Mindy Granley form a Sustainable Duluth task force. And she wants to focus in on renewable energy. 

"My goal -- and I am confident we will achieve it -- is for Duluth to have a large scale solar array in the next three years," Larson said. 

But she also wants community buy-in to commit to living more sustainably. 

Housing

The mayor also announced a $2 million Housing Trust Fund to spur affordable housing. 

"It will help rehab or renovate dilapidated units to make them livable, develop infill sites, and support accessory dwellings on existing properties," Larson said. 

Credits

Baihly Warfield

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