Farmington Voices: Vicki Barnett, Farmington Hills Mayor

The Farmington Voices: 2021 Elections podcast offers candidates for city offices in Farmington and Farmington Hills an opportunity to provide information about themselves and their candidacy. Local candidates running on November 2, 2021, can schedule an interview by writing to joni@farmingtonvoice.com.


Transcript

Speaker 1

Vicki Barnett is a candidate for mayor in Farmington Hills. She is running for a second and final term. Vicki, thanks for taking a few minutes to talk about yourself and let voters know a little bit more about you. Let’s start with how long you’ve lived in Farmington Hills and a little bit about your career, your community involvement, that sort of thing.

Mayor Vicki Barnett
Vicki Barnett (City of Farmington Hills)

Speaker 2

Well, first I want to thank you for taking the opportunity to interview the candidates so that our residents have more information about who they want to vote for and why. I think that’s really important to make sure that our voters are educated about the issues that face them directly in their community every day. I moved into Farmington Hills when I got married back, it will be 40 years ago, and our first house was in Farmington Hills. It was during a massive recession with very high mortgage rates and, um, we were so excited to at least have an opportunity to actually own a home when mortgage rates were so high, and we chose to live here because I’d grown up not far away in Franklin, and this was a great area, and I knew it had great schools and great amenities. And it was just at that point beginning to develop was a very young city. It became a city in 1973 after the voters voted to change from a township to a city form of government. And so things were very exciting around here, and it was new, and it was undeveloped. And there were a lot of things that I was really excited to expose to a future family and I, so I started here in 1981 and I’ve been here ever since, and I’ve never regretted a day living in Farmington Hills. It is a wonderful place to live and now to grow old and to watch my kids, my daughter, especially, live here with her husband and hopefully raise her family here as well. So we hope to be a multi-generational family, living in Farmington Hills. And I got involved first in, in politics at the local level, especially during those early years of 1982, ’83, when the political landscape was changing. The city was young, it was facing some growing pains. It didn’t know what direction to go in. And I first met Bill Costick, who was one of our city managers at the time. And he had a vision for where he wanted to take the city and where he wanted to develop the city. And he was a great city builder as well as an incredible city manager. And I learned a lot from Bill Costick even before I got involved with the local government. My first experience with local government, however, directly was with the schools. And I think that’s the gateway, the gateway political drug for most, for most parents is when their kids start to get involved in school. And you joined the Parent Teacher Association, and you learn about full funding and how that impacts your kids and the, all of the problems that Lansing can sometimes visit on your school district and impose itself in ways that may not be the proper way to deal with education in your particular community. And I’ve always believed that local governments are the closest to the people, and we all have different identities, and it’s most important to maintain local control because that’s where people really get to speak to their local elected officials and create a civic identity. From there, I got involved and ran for city council in 1995 and was elected to Farmington Hills city council. I served two, four-year terms on city council and in 2003, I ran for mayor and it was, I was so honored to represent the city of Farmington Hills as mayor, both here and as our representative at the National League of Cities level and at the Michigan municipal league level. And so I served two years as mayor and then I was reelected. And, eventually in 2008, I was elected to represent the Farmington Hills and Farmington as their state representative in Lansing, and to bring all of this knowledge that I have about how our local governments function to Lansing to make sure that Lansing lawmakers wouldn’t overstep their bounds and intrude on the rights of citizens in their local community. Again, we faced a tough recession. There were a lot of decisions that had to be made regarding public finance and how we were going to spend our budget dollars that were, were really crashing down around us. And as we know, that great recession lasted quite a long time and had a tremendous impact, not only at the state level, but on services locally and on our roads and our bridges and our infrastructure. And we’re still suffering from a decade of lost funding to fix a lot of that infrastructure that is now breaking down through some of the storms that we’ve experienced with the flooding on our highways that really impact our residents in 2019. I decided to run for mayor again, because there were things that I thought the city needed to move forward on that had been languishing for a little while. The city had started the broadband committee to look at building out our own broadband system, internet system to best service our residents and to give them other options and to bring in some competition. And the city was doing a great job on that, but there were other problems that were developing underneath and, and it’s no secret to a lot of people that we’ve had some difficult problems with our community library. And I wanted to see if my skills at bringing people together and being a consensus builder would help to address those problems and get our community moving forward again in a very positive direction. And I am so pleased to tell you that we have an excellent city council. Everybody is working together, and we don’t always agree on every issue, and we’re not supposed to agree on every issue. Everyone that’s elected to serve is elected because the residents value their skills and their opinions, and they want those viewpoints reflected in the deliberations of the policy-making that we do on city council. And we’ve been able to do that extremely successfully, and I’m running for a second term because the one thing that we still haven’t gotten around to addressing is the goals for 2040. We haven’t done in-depth visioning for what we want our city to look like and what our citizens will need and our business owners will need 20, 30, 40, 50 years from now. And we’re just starting that process. And I really want to work hard to see it completed so that we leave the city better off tomorrow than where we are right now, which honestly is still a really good place with a AAA bond rating, one of the safest cities in the state, and one of the safest cities in the, in the country with great amenities and a wonderful school district, and one of wonderful opportunities for people of all races, creeds, religions, and cognitive and physical abilities to enjoy. I’m very proud of the direction our city is going in.

Speaker 1

Then what would you say would be one of the challenges that Farmington Hills faces and how do you think that would, should be addressed? What solutions would you offer?

Speaker 2

I think that if I look back at running in ’19, I never expected to be a mayor presiding over a pandemic, a recession that resulted from the pandemic and still suffering through a pandemic with all of the changes that means. And that comes with coming out of a pandemic and creating a safe, viable, strong, financially strong and sound community going forward. I never thought I would be in a position where we had to shut down senior programs and after-school programs, and basically preside over a situation where our police officers and firefighters were working around the clock was massive overtime, trying to protect our residents and get them quickly to a hospital to get taken care of when COVID raised its ugly head and made the air unbreathable for a whole lot of people. And it’s very unfortunate that we lost so many of our neighbors during this crisis, and I really can’t wait for it to be over. And I’m so glad we have a great vaccine that is protecting residents right now, but we’re not out of the woods. That’s the health side of it. The economic side of it also we’ll need somebody with experience on the financial end and understand how municipal finance works and what we can do to protect our coffers, because the last thing we want to do during these difficult times is to look at our residents and say, we don’t have any money to fix that. That’s not a viable option. So we’re looking at now a very dynamic and changing work environment. I don’t think people are going to go back to their businesses in their offices and work the way they did prior to the pandemic. I think we’ve seen that a lot of successful transitions in work can be done in their homes. And that’s where this broadband committee that was set up was so important to allow us to have an opportunity to get a contract with SiFi Networks, to build out a broadband system so that all of our residents and business owners can telecommute and can work from home and have reliable internet and broadband resources available to them wherever they live in our community. So we’re looking now at what happens when the leases in our office buildings run out and people don’t renew their leases at the rate that they were redoing them before, what do we do as buildings that then become office buildings that are empty and obsolete and may become blights in our town? So that means we have to now address the zoning and planning opportunities that await us for mixed use changes in zoning and making sure that we can keep our commercial property values as high as they are now to take the burden of taxation off of our residents and keep it at this 40 to 60 split, which is now mostly 35 percent of our, our property taxes are paid by businesses and 65 percent are paid by our residents. I’d like to see that switch again and become more 60-40 so that we have a much more stable tax environment.

Speaker 1

My last question is how will Farmington Hills be better by the end of your term? What specifically do you expect to contribute over the two years, if you’re reelected?

Speaker 2

I’m a champion for diversity inclusion and equity. And for a long time, we thought we’d been addressing inclusion and equity, but we haven’t really, and I’m not talking about just our police officers and our firefighters, because on that score, we’re doing very, very well. We have an accredited police department. We have a wonderful, diverse community that speaks 87 different languages in our public schools. We are the most diverse city in the county and one of the most diverse cities in the state, and we’ve handled it very, very well on those terms. But when I talk about inclusion, I’m also talking about hiring an economic development coordinator and director that knows how to find grants for minority-owned businesses, that can help disabled veterans start a company in our town, and have a good business structure that we can start to train people and use our new opening of The Hawk, which will have a maker space as well as an incubator space for small businesses available, to provide opportunities for people who would never think of starting a business to start one. Entrepreneurship is the key to creating small businesses and creating a stable and exciting work environment and an opportunity for people to reach their dreams and their goals. We also need to address the needs of our special needs population. Not everybody has the same ability, both cognitive and physical, and I want everybody, no matter what your disabilities are, or whatever challenges you face, I want everybody to be able to live their best life here in Farmington Hills. And that means creating park and recreational space for autistic children, for children with other challenges, maybe they have mobility problems. They should be able to use our parks as well. Seniors should be able to have a space that has accessible opportunities for them to engage in physical activity. While we have a great senior center, we don’t necessarily have a great senior playground. And there’s so many opportunities for us to develop these things with the fact that we bought The Hawk, and we converted Harrison High School into the Hawk and created this space for everybody to use. So I want to make sure that as a champion for these kinds of visionary ideas, that we move the city forward in that direction and that we complete the project that we really know will have a strong impact in the recreational and the business lives of our citizens.

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