By BRYAN K. BARNETT, MAYOR OF ROCHESTER HILLS
In my leadership role with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, I have been afforded some amazing opportunities to represent the residents of my community while interfacing with some of the nation’s most influential leaders. I found it exhilarating to hear widely divergent points-of-view directly from those leading the conversation, all within a 72-hour period in Washington D.C. last week.
I was among a small group of mayors invited by The White House to meet President Trump and Vice President Pence to discuss infrastructure and public safety. While some may disagree with the President’s unconventional approach and unique perspective on some issues, it was an easy decision to accept, attend, and participate on behalf of the citizens of Rochester Hills.
The next morning, I was invited to have breakfast with Nancy Pelosi as she spoke to mayors about tax reform and immigration. This was an offer that would make some uneasy, but I was equally pleased to accept her invitation and again contribute on behalf of our community.
And if those folks didn’t get your political blood boiling, I also had private meetings with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and the Mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio. It was a week of extreme personalities, opinions, and perspectives…and I loved it.
You see, I’m a proud Republican, but that doesn’t mean I dislike Democrats or that I can’t learn something from leaders in both parties. I know that I angered both sides of my Facebook audience when I posted pictures with the people I mentioned above, but my job as Mayor is complex. I need to represent my City and my residents to all who can influence our destiny regardless of party affiliations.
Frankly, I think that’s what’s wrong with Washington. That people from opposite parties can’t even sit down and have a conversation without somehow abandoning their principles or party. Well, I refuse to accept that premise.
When I meet with these leaders, my job is to represent the City of Rochester Hills and interface with influential people no matter their political ideologies. I am not going to agree with every leader or every statement, but positive change isn’t going to happen from simply attacking others.
Both Republicans and Democrats have good ideas and neither party has it all figured out. Different viewpoints are what it takes to think outside the box and devise innovative solutions.
I believe, if our country is going to move forward, it is going to start on the local level by respecting our neighbors and listening to each other, entertaining opposing thoughts, and fostering an environment of civility where we do not all have to think alike to be valued. I learned things from leaders like President Trump and House Minority Leader Pelosi that I can apply here at home. In turn, I was able to share with them some of the positive things happening here in Rochester Hills.
In the end, while I’m pretty sure I didn’t change the course of history while I was in Washington, I did find that engaging and listening goes a long way. It means understanding rather than criticizing, supporting rather than undermining, and focusing on common ground rather than dwelling on our differences. Most importantly, it means keeping mutual respect and civility at the center of it all.