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Franklin leader finds job has unexpected roles


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Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness near the Main and Madison Street intersection where a large construction project is nearing completion Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012, in Franklin, Indiana. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal
Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness near the Main and Madison Street intersection where a large construction project is nearing completion Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012, in Franklin, Indiana. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal

Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness near the Main and Madison Street intersection where a large construction project is nearing completion Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012, in Franklin, Indiana. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal
Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness near the Main and Madison Street intersection where a large construction project is nearing completion Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012, in Franklin, Indiana. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal


On a spring night, Joe McGuinness drove around in the rain.

The Franklin mayor had taken office less than five months earlier and still was nervous that every drop of rain could lead to flooding and destruction, similar to the flood that ravaged the city in 2008.

McGuinness didn’t want the same to happen on his watch. Just after midnight May 8, he drove through the dark city streets looking for any damage the rain had caused.

The new mayor didn’t expect driving around in the rain to be part of his job description. He expected to attend meetings with businesses and oversee city projects; but since becoming mayor, McGuinness has added to his list of duties answering city officials’ phone calls in the middle of the night, visiting local schools when a nearby bank was robbed and stopping in the street to answer residents’ questions.

A year into the job, McGuinness said he isn’t sure there are set guidelines for what a mayor is supposed to do. But he knows what he thinks his duties and responsibilities are and his process for handling them.

“The entire city is my responsibility,” he said.

As mayor, McGuinness has focused on revamping the downtown area by getting a grant that will improve the fronts of multiple buildings, creating more parking spaces and starting construction on one of the city’s largest ever road improvement projects.

Downtown is where McGuinness spends most of his time, and he wants to keep improving the area with the hope of attracting businesses.

As the city works on those projects, he expects to hear concerns from residents.

This year, most of the complaints McGuinness heard from residents involved the North Main Street project, which will upgrade the sewer system under Main and Madison streets.

The project was planned before he took office, but construction on the road began in June. Since work started, the project is ahead of schedule, and part of Main Street between Jefferson and Madison streets already is open.

But the city didn’t get to that point without some growing pains.

McGuinness said he will always remember the date of the first public meeting about the project: April 25. He had planned to tell residents about the project and let them know what to expect during construction. But instead, residents wanted to know why trees were cut down before construction started. He didn’t have an answer, but he promised to replace them once construction was complete.

After listening to residents’ concerns at that meeting and in the following months, McGuinness changed the city’s policy for informing the public about construction projects. He wants the city to be more open with residents and let them know what to expect up front, as well as if anything changes.

When that section of road reopened in November, McGuinness stood outside as the barricades were taken down. He saw residents and business owners in the area walk outside to see the new street and heard them say how great it looked.

“To hear people say it was the best Christmas present they had, I was proud of that,” McGuinness said.

For McGuinness, his job as mayor lasts 24 hours a day and continually changes.

He keeps a computer tablet by his bed in case he wakes up and needs to write down any notes. He keeps his cellphone turned on and his office door open. He checks emails at his office, in his car and while lying on the couch watching TV.

“I’m always on my toes. I could have a meeting about public safety or another issue, then 30 minutes later have a meeting for economic development or a ribbon cutting for a new business,” he said.

He doesn’t mind the constant change. He likes to stay busy.

At home, he taught his children the motto “Lazy doesn’t live here.” He tries to follow that in his daily activities, both in the office and out of it.

In an average day, McGuinness spends 10 to 12 hours in meetings, at his office and at city events. He gets information about city projects and talks to city officials about any issues that have come up. He makes sure all city offices that need to be involved in a decision are and asks lots of questions to get people thinking before anything is decided.

At the end of each day, he makes sure his two children get their homework done and is an assistant coach for their various sports teams.

McGuinness has been coaching the teams since his son, Will, was 3. He is currently an assistant coach for Will’s basketball team and has continued to coach football and baseball.

He sometimes misses practices, but he hasn’t missed a single one of 8-year-old Will’s or 6-year-old Ella’s games since he took office as mayor, he said. His children’s games are mostly on weekends, and though he sometimes has to run from a game to a city event and back, the schedules haven’t yet conflicted.

McGuinness said spending time with his family is his escape from the pressures of being mayor, and he wants his kids to see him as an example of someone who works hard.

“I want to be a solid family figure,” he said.

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