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Tuesday, February 18, 2014 - 5:51pm

Savannah Mayor Focuses on Economy, Police Reform in 2014 'State of the City'

Fighting poverty, finding new leadership for the police force, and providing job opportunities for Savannah's youth were the key themes of Mayor Edna Jackson's "State of the City" address Tuesday.

Speaking in a nearly-full ballroom at Savannah's Civic Center, Jackson said the local economy is recovering. She touted expansions by several local businesses and the city's record-breaking tourism rate last year.

But Jackson also focused on the city's problems: a police force that she said is moving past a series of corruption and misconduct scandals, a murder rate of around 30 homicides per year, and a 25 percent poverty rate.

Jackson called on churches and community groups to create programs to involve teens in activities at the city's community centers.

Jackson said Savannah City Manager Stephanie Cutter has promised to "leave no stone unturned" to reform the Savannah-Chatham police force. She said she's leaving it to Cutter to decide how to recruit and hire a permanent chief to replace former Chief Willie Lovett, who retired abruptly last year.

In an interview with GPB after the speech, Cutter said she's close to beginning that search. She said the city and Chatham County will conduct a national search for a new chief. But she said it's also possible someone from within the department will be chosen. Cutter said she will meet with county officials soon to decide how to proceed.

Cutter said she feels confident that "pretty much" all employees of the police department who've engaged in inappropriate behavior have left. She said the department will put more emphasis on training and mentoring existing employees.

"They're happy; they're ready to move forward," Cutter said. "It's time to leave it in the past."

Savannah city staff had advertised the mayor's speech as a town hall event, but Jackson began by saying she would not take questions. She has scheduled a town hall meeting for April 22.