By ELENA DURNBAUGH
Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett became the 77th president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors at the organization’s 88th annual meeting in Honolulu Hawaii on Monday.
Barnett gave an inaugural address announcing his priorities for the organization during his term, which will build on the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ two-year, bipartisan platform of inclusion, infrastructure, and innovation.
During his speech, Barnett called on the mayors of America to help their residents achieve the American Dream, as originally described by Pulitzer Prize-winning author James Adams in his 1931 book “The Epic of America.”
” ‘It’s not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position,’ ” Barnett said. “My friends, that is truly the bipartisan vision we want for our communities.”
Barnett emphasized his commitment to continuing the work of outgoing President Mayor Steve Benjamin of Columbia, South Carolina.
“Our laser-like attention on the 3 i’s has been crisp and productive,” Barnett said. “I’m committed to continue to work and to lead the conference and to build on our two-year, bipartisan platform.”
Barnett said that the Conference would continue to advance local government’s role in identifying and prioritizing infrastructure needs in transportation, water, energy, and community tax incentives for infrastructure investments. He said that mayors would engage on the national level to provide updates and appropriate action on the $2 trillion infrastructure package that Congressional leaders and the president have promised.
The role of technology and an emphasis on smart cities is also a priority for Barnett. During his speech, the mayor announced that the U.S. Conference of Mayors would have its first ever presence at the Consumers Electronic Show, which is hosted in Las Vegas each January.
“Our plan is to lean into smart cities and the autonomous vehicle presence currently in place to show and expand our understanding and deployment of data and tech-driven, resident-centered, smart initiatives,” Barnett said.
Barnett has been an advocate for autonomous vehicles in Rochester Hills and sees the city as having an important role in transportation innovation. Last month, Barnett visited Corktown in Detroit to meet with leaders from Ford and Agro AI to discuss the launch of the companies’ third-generation, autonomous test vehicle.
“Innovation isn’t necessary, but neither is survival,” he said.
During his address, Barnett also highlighted the importance of diversity and inclusion, saying that it was essential ot achievements in other areas.
“None of this happens without our ongoing commitment to inclusion,” he said.
Citing the Partisan Conflict Index by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, Barnett said that the country was facing “historically volatile times,” which made a focus on diversity and bipartisanship more important now than ever before.
“This hyper-partisanship is exacting a price on our cities, and we know that we are uniquely positioned to offer working solutions to change our course,” he said.
According to Barnett, it was important to include everyone in the conversation, including those who have been historically marginalized and those who feel like they have been left behind.
Barnett introduced three new active themes– invite, invest, inspire– to build upon the current idea-focused U.S. Conference of Mayors’ platform.
Barnett encouraged mayors to invite “any and all who will champion our message to be part of our cause,” including residents businesses, and other cities.
He credited an invitation while he was a student at Oakland University with shaping the entire trajectory of his journey into public service.
“My campus involvement had opened up my eyes to the excitement of leadership and the fulfillment of public service,” he said. “There’s no underestimating what a single, simple invitation can do.”
The mayor also announced a new investment initiative, “100 Mayors Who Care,” to provide a charitable investment in an organization of the participating mayor’s choosing to improve the lives of the residents in cities where the U.S. Conference of Mayors will meet in the future.
“We’ll leave with the knowledge that we made a tangible difference,” he said.
Finally, Barnett called upon his fellow mayors to work with him to inspire people, saying that he wanted to inspire children to see a better future, the electorate to see workable solutions, and the next generation to get involved in public service.
“We will inspire every zip code in our cities to see hope,” he said. “Now is our time. Our cities need us. Our country needs us. Bipartisanship needs us.”
In addition to previewing the plan for his term, Barnett thanked his family, friends, and city staff for supporting him. He said that his administrative team had been especially instrumental in Rochester Hills’ success.
“They’ve all been so innovative, creative, and focused on serving our residents,” Barnett said.
Barnett has served as the mayor of Rochester Hills for more than 13 years and is the longest serving mayor in the city’s history. Under his leadership, Rochester Hills has been acknowledged as “One of the Top Places to Live in America,” and has been named as the “Safest City in Michigan” for the past three years. In 2015, he won a historic third mayoral term with 53% of the vote as a write-in candidate. This November, Barnett will once again be running a write-in campaign.
In October, Barnett and Rochester Hills will host the Fall Leadership Meeting for the U.S. Conference of Mayors alongside Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and the City of Detroit.