State of the City:  Lawrence Mayor Whitfield stresses connectivity in first major address to the community


A little more than four months after assuming office, City of Lawrence Mayor Deb Whitfield gave her first State of the City address April 16, with a theme of making connections to, from and within the community.

Whitfield said the success of the city doesn’t rest solely on the mayor’s administration.

“It lies in the hearts of the people who call it home,” she said. “And in those who work to make the city a better home for others.”

Whitfield thanked other elected officials in the audience, including Lawrence Common Council members, Indianapolis City-County Council members and state representatives serving in the Indiana Legislature. She took a moment to honor the memory of the late state Sen. Jean Breaux, who died March 20.

In addition to elected officials, Whitfield recognized the efforts of city employees.

“Some of these individuals are new to the City of Lawrence government and I appreciate the innovation and new perspectives they brought with them,” she said. “Others in this group have served the City of Lawrence for 20, 30, in some cases almost 40 years. I’m glad these long-term employees accepted my invitation to stay and be a part of the Whitfield administration.

“People often say to understand where you’re going, you need to know where you’ve been. The depth and breadth of the institutional knowledge these longtime employees contribute means your City of Lawrence team possesses a diverse mix of talent and perspective that balances fresh ideas about where we’re going with the long view of where we’ve been, and I’m proud to work with every member of this team.”

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City of Lawrence Mayor Deb Whitfield, left, presented commendations to Lawrence Central girls basketball coach Jannon Lampley, MSD of Lawrence Township Schools Superintendent Shawn Smith and Lawrence Central Principal Franklyn Bush. (Photo courtesy of MSDLT)

Speaking of team, Whitfield congratulated the Lawrence Central High School girls basketball team — whose members were in the audience — for winning the Class 4A IHSAA state championship. She gave each athlete a commendation and a framed photograph, and noted that their coach, Jannon Lampley, was the first Black female coach to lead a girls’ basketball team to a state championship.

Whitfield made several announcements during her address, including the formation of a new Lawrence Community Advisory Council — which was one of her stated goals soon after her election.

“The members of this council are faith leaders, neighborhood association representatives, grassroots leaders, local business owners — people who know the City of Lawrence inside and out and can speak in an authentic way to the priorities and the needs of our residents,” she said. “They will help bring your voices straight to the mayor’s office, so the decisions we make always reflect what we’re hearing from you.”

Whitfield also announced the use of about $2 million in what remains of the city’s American Rescue Plan Act funds to purchase new bulletproof vests for police officers, and for firefighter training opportunities. She noted that the Lawrence Police Department has filled 62 of its 65 officer positions, and soon will hire two more officers.

Whitfield predicted that by the end of the year, LPD will have all 65 officer positions filled for the first time ever. She added that the city has created a new crime analyst position.

“This individual will collect and analyze law enforcement data to identify patterns, trends and criminal activity here in Lawrence to allow LPD to deploy resources and personnel even more effectively and strategically as they safeguard the security of our residents,” she said.

Whitfield also announced a new partnership with Community Health Network Foundation to provide cancer screening for Lawrence Fire Department personnel, noting that firefighters are exposed to more toxic chemicals than other professionals.

“That’s why cancer has become a leading cause of death among firefighters, accounting for nearly two thirds of line-of-duty deaths among firefighters nationwide,” she said. “But thanks to our new partnership with Community Health and its foundation, this June all Lawrence Fire Department firefighters will be eligible to undergo an innovative cancer screening process capable of identifying a much broader range of cancers than the general population is typically screened for.”

Whitfield added that the city will seek new ways to address health needs in Lawrence and plans to offer basic health screenings during the weekly summer Fort Ben Farmers Markets, and will appoint a new chief medical officer to advise the administration moving forward.

Whitfield mentioned connections throughout her speech and closed with a message of connectivity to Lawrence residents.

“I look around and see a community that cares, a community that connects, a community that creates,” she said. “Together, we’ll continue to build in Lawrence, a community of opportunity where everyone has a chance to thrive, to lead and to succeed.”

A livestream recording of Whitfield’s speech is available for viewing on the Current in Lawrence/Geist Facebook page.

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City of Lawrence Mayor Deb Whitfield at her State of the City address April 16 at Lawrence Central High School auditorium. (Photo by Leila Kheiry)

New format for State of the City

City of Lawrence Mayor Deb Whitfield’s first State of the City address departed from the lunchtime address traditionally hosted each year by the Greater Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, which sold tickets to those who were able to attend.

The April 16 speech marking Whitfield’s fourth month in office was instead an evening event, free and open to the general public at Lawrence Central High School’s auditorium.

“Tonight is the first time in many years that a Lawrence mayor’s State of the City address is open to the public and free of charge,” Whitfield told the audience. “When I made the decision to open tonight to the community, I knew we needed a location that was easily accessible to all residents, a place where everyone can feel welcome and safe, and definitely somewhere that has plenty of free parking.”

A livestream recording of the speech is available for viewing on the Current in Lawrence/Geist Facebook page.