Hours after right-wing extremists led an insurrection in the U.S. Capitol, the city of Eugene held its annual State of the City Address event on Jan. 6, where new city leaders took their oath of office and recently re-elected Mayor Lucy Vinis gave a speech reflecting on the chaos of 2020.
First, without mentioning the incident specifically, Vinis acknowledged the pro-Trump riot in Washington D.C. and said despite the unrest, Eugene elected officials and the city government will continue to do important work for residents and reject forces that tear democracy apart.
“We are holding this important annual ceremony on a day and in a time of profound disruption and danger to our democracy,” she said, adding later, “In this past year of crises, this is one more.”
During the virtual ceremony, new and re-elected officials were sworn into office including current Ward 1 councilor Emily Semple, Ward 7 councilor Claire Syrett and Vinis. Matt Keating, who is replacing the now-retired Betty Taylor, was sworn in for Ward 2 and Randy Groves took his oath for Ward 8 following Chris Pryor’s retirement.
Vinis also acknowledged the work of Pryor and Taylor, presenting them with plaques to honor their years on the council and dedication to the city.
Eugene’s “Year in Review” video was also played during the event, addressing the many unprecedented events of 2020 from the novel coronavirus to the Holiday Farm Fire and various action steps the city has taken. The video cited the city’s role in organizing volunteers during the wildfires.
The video discussed Eugene’s COVID-19 response, touting its creation of “alternative shelter options” for those who are homeless. This includes the microsite program and the approval of five additional rest stops in September, which provides individuals with a place to sleep, bathrooms and storage.
The city was repeatedly criticized during 2020 for its sweeping of homeless camps during the pandemic and lack of options for the unhoused when Lane County had hazardous air quality during the Holiday Farm Fire.
On the topic of community safety, the review video also reflected on the Black Lives Matter movement that developed in response to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“Safety was top of mind all year. Not only as a response to COVID-19 but as the killing of George Floyd sparked reflection and many conversations about policing and racial justice,” the narrator said while video footage of protests played. “The city and our police department worked to facilitate many peaceful protests, fulfilling the responsibility to protect life, safety and property in our community.”
The video did not mention Eugene police’s initial response to the protests which led to police in riot gear using tear gas and rubber bullets, including the tear-gassing of a Eugene Weekly journalist who recently settled an excessive force lawsuit against the city and EPD. This incident is also mapped on Amnesty International’s documentation of national police violence in response to protests.
Near the end of the ceremony, Vinis gave her address, describing the year’s events as a “cascade of crises.” She said now is the time to step up and create change.
“The crises of 2020 make it abundantly clear that our connectedness to each other is integral to our progress,” Vinis said.
In reflection, Vinis said the response to the last year is a commitment of equity, explaining that the city has stepped up to engage with Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) and LGBTQ communities as well as improved the climate action plan.
Vinis also addressed recent comments from those who have told her she didn’t have to run for a second term because of the difficulties of the past year. In response, she said there was no place she’d rather be than working for this city, even during this time.
“I am pleased and grateful to say that the City of Eugene this year strove mightily, and relentlessly, to help all boats stay afloat, and to help us navigate, collectively, to safer waters.”
Watch the full State of the City Address here.