When Franklin Mayor Steve Barnett arrives to work each morning, one of his first tasks is taking the time to respond to emails from the city’s residents.
His inbox has messages from residents about their questions and concerns, ranging from what city streets will get paved to plans to improve the stormwater system.
About a month ago, Barnett was appointed as the acting mayor, and about two weeks ago, a Republican Party caucus selected him to the position permanently. Since then, the former city council member has quickly learned that he is the primary person residents are going to go to with their concerns and questions, and his email inbox has been proof of that.
Just this week, Barnett already has gotten at least 50 emails from city residents. To keep in touch, he plans to dedicate an hour each morning to respond to his constituents.
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Sometimes all that is needed is the reassurance that a resident’s concern is heard and understood. For example, Barnett received an email last week from a resident concerned that the city would pave over the remaining brick sections of Yandes Street, one of the last remaining brick street in the city.
“That is a sore spot with residents,” he said. “They like that brick street.”
In response, Barnett not only reassured the resident that the street would retain its historic brick surface, but that extending the brick portions is an option the city is considering in the future.
“It is one of the last ones left,” he said. “It is probably important that we save that part of our history.”
During his first few weeks in office, Barnett said he has drawn from his experiences in public service as a city council member. Little about the job has come as a surprise to the man who grew up in Franklin and previously served eight years on the city council.
Barnett has a different perspective on his job than the most recent mayors. None of the past four mayors served on the city council. That background has made for a smooth transition from council member to mayor, since he was already in involved with much of what is happening in the city.
A typical day, if there is such a thing, is often filled with meetings. Whether it is for a committee figuring out a new home for the city court or a developer interested in bringing a business to Franklin, Barnett’s schedule has been full of discussions about the future of Franklin.
Outside of hiring a new city engineer to replace Travis Underhill, who took a job under former Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness at the Indiana Department of Transportation, city staff is planned to remain the same, he said.
“They know what to expect from me, and I know what to expect from them,” he said.
Barnett also understands the types of questions and information the city council will want from the mayor’s office.
If there is one area where he has had to learn the most, it is about how to get funding for city projects. Barnett credits Clerk-Treasurer Jayne Rhoades and her office with helping him learn about how city projects get financed. Tax dollars the city collects are kept in more than a dozen different funds, each with its own rules on how the money can be legally spent or transferred, information that is essential when looking to fund a project, such as a new city court or fire station.
“They have helped me tremendously,” Barnett said. “They tell you the ins and the outs, what you can do, what you can’t do.”
Much about the city has changed since the time Barnett was a high school student decades ago. Barnett recalled attending high school classes where the current Franklin Middle School building is and looking out across U.S. 31 and seeing rows of cornfields, now an area that is fully developed. He envisions a future where children growing up in Franklin desire to stay and are able to because of the variety of jobs and opportunities available for them.
With two daughters and two granddaughters, it’s a goal he is personally invested in.
“I want them to grow up here and not want to leave because there aren’t jobs or there aren’t good parks and recreation,” Barnett said. “I want every kid that grew up here to say, ‘That is my home and I want to stay.’”
To do this, the city needs to do have the right amenities and jobs to attract residents, he said.
One proposal Barnett outlined in his state of the city address last week is a study on the Franklin park and trail system. His goal is for every trail in the city to be connected.
“Some people say we’ve got enough trails, but quite honestly, we need to make sure we can make all the trails connect all throughout the city,” Barnett said.
Looking ahead to his next three years in office, one of the biggest challenges on the horizon is the next phases of construction on Jefferson Street. Barnett said he plans to visit each business along Jefferson Street to reach out to them and get any ideas they have to make construction easier on them. His goal is to get all of the infrastructure work accomplished without losing any businesses.
“It is tough on all the business,” he said. “It is tough on the residents who have to move around, but after this summer, we will have something to be proud of.”
One part of Barnett’s job he hasn’t gotten used to yet: being called “Mr. Mayor.”
“I’d rather people just call me Steve if they see me on the streets,” he said.