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October 22, 2017

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Mayor reflects on change, economy in his last address

Term limits mean Gibson, at the helm for past 12 years, won’t seek reelection


Heather Cory

Mayor James Gibson and David Dahan, president of the Henderson Chamber of Commerce, pose for a picture after Gibson’s State of the City address Thursday at Green Valley Ranch.

Henderson State of the City

After serving three terms as the Mayor of Henderson, James Gibson gave his final State of the City address Thursday at Green Valley Ranch. Launch slideshow »

After 12 years in office, Mayor James B. Gibson had one campaign promise he could no longer keep — saving his wife, Laura, from embarrassment at public functions.

Gibson, at the start of his 12th and final State of the City Address on Thursday, insisted that she stand up and take a bow, something she had made him promise not to do when he ran for office in 1997.

"I'm not running anymore," joked Gibson, whose three-term administration will end this year because of the state's term limits law.

It struck the tone of a reflective address — one that not only touched on the massive changes the city has seen during his 12 years in office, but on the economic challenges it has faced in the past year.

To illustrate how Henderson has changed since 1997, he highlighted the influx of nearly 140,000 residents, the completion of several major infrastructure projects and the $250 million that the city generated last year in tourism and special events.

"This is not my father's Henderson," said Gibson, son of longtime state Sen. James I. Gibson, who represented Henderson until his death in 1988.

Gibson compared the current recession, which has left the city with a $53 million shortfall in the current year, to a 1988 fire that destroyed nearly one-third of Yellowstone National Park, but allowed nature to renew the park.

"We can't see anything good in the fire itself," Gibson said. "But as nature takes its course, there is hope for a recovery, and that what will emerge will be even better than before. We're in the heat of that fire right now, in the economic sense. Our recovery will require both a national economic recovery and skillful leadership at the local level. We will have to be at our collective best."

Though the times are difficult, Gibson said, the city's preparation — it has about $10 million in a rainy-day fund — and its budget cuts, along with the five-year financial plan the City Council approved last year, have left him confident in Henderson's future.

"We've encountered circumstances that will require that we change in order to seize the opportunities that lie ahead," he said. "But the foundation on which our city is established is stable, it is sound and our future is bright."

Though the city's budget adjustments included the scrapping of several capital projects, Gibson highlighted a number of others that have been or will soon be completed, including several traffic improvements, a new police substation, the Justice Facility expansion and a handful of parks and trails projects.

Gibson also announced a new initiative, My Henderson, to unify the city's sustainability initiatives. Last week, the city took out a loan of up to $22 million that will be used to retrofit city buildings with energy efficient technologies. The engineering firm that designed the project has issued a performance bond that will pay the city the difference if the amount the city saves in energy costs fails to equal or exceed the payments on the loan.

"The theme 'My Henderson' is intended to convey the message that each one of us has a responsibility in this city, while recognizing the fact that no one of us can do it alone," Gibson said.

Turning his sights on education, Gibson cited a number of partnerships the city has employed to obtain land for schools, sports programs and books for students and to found Nevada State College in Henderson. The city has also recently set aside the land for a future science, space and children's museum.

"Our challenge is to make our contribution to an ever-expanding legacy of good works and achievement in this city — and when the children of this community stand in our place, they'll have been lifted, they'll be better than we were and their sights will be set on achieving goals higher than we ever imagined," Gibson said.

In order to maintain that standard in a sagging economy, Gibson said, the city will have to work even harder to develop and maintain partnerships with private institutions as well as other governmental organizations.

"We must be focused on leveraging every dollar, working together as public institutions," he said. "We've found great success in public-private partnerships and must continue to explore the opportunities that exist for creativity and innovation, not only in public-private partnerships, but in public-public partnerships as well."

When it came time to reflect on legacies, Gibson politely declined.

"People have asked me how I would define my legacy as I look back over the past 12 years," he said. "My response to them is that I don't claim a right to any legacy. Rather, I've been a contributor. I've played a part. We have all — electeds, staff, business people, children, families — all of us together created a legacy that is a measure of a living effort, not a static remembrance."

Jeremy Twitchell can be reached at 990-8928 or [email protected].

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