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State’s youngest mayor making his mark

Frankfort puts on upbeat face

– Before even setting foot into his office in City Hall, Mayor Chris McBarnes was making headlines.

In November 2011, at age 23, McBarnes handily outpaced the competition to become the top representative of his hometown and the youngest mayor in the state.

Now, at the end of his first year in office, the 25-year-old Butler University graduate seems to be a lifetime wiser and has even bigger dreams for the future of his city of 16,000 about 25 miles east of Lafayette.

“I knew that election, even though we worked so hard on it, was just a baby step in getting things done. Because for me, although some people didn’t believe me, this wasn’t just about a cool story,” McBarnes said.

On his way to office, McBarnes and his administration campaigned on four essential cornerstones: economic development, neighborhood revitalization, communication and citizen voice.

Those cornerstones also served as his master plan throughout the year as McBarnes became acclimated to the many hats he was forced to don as mayor of Frankfort.

“The first thing I really learned that hit me in the face was really the complexity of this job,” he said. “You are not only the president of the city council, you are not only the president of the board of works, but you’re a counselor. Now you are helping with public safety, and you are now a street engineer.

“There are so many different things that pull on you, and I knew I needed a road map ... not only put forth by me, but from what I heard from my constituents to keep my efforts honed in on a daily basis.”

McBarnes’ first order of business was bringing Frankfort’s image into the new year with a dash of modern-day style. Gone are the folksy, wooden “welcome to Frankfort” signs that greeted motorists headed into town.

They were replaced with slick, blue and white signs designed by local students.

And instead of jumbled words and “Home of the Hot Dogs” slogans plastered on each sign, the new welcome signs bear only three words: Purpose, Passion and Progress.

The city also received a digital facelift in the form of a redesigned website that is clean and easy to navigate, as well as a new city logo.

“When people look to relocate to a community to raise their family or when a business is interested in coming to a community, they don’t go to the community. They go to the World Wide Web, and now we have a modern website that citizens and business owners can connect with,” McBarnes said.

“We are on the map in a way that we have never been before, and this is going to continue in the future.”

The largest feather in the economic development cap? The announcement that Frankfort would become home to an Ivy Tech campus and begin offering classes by this fall.

“I think this project will truly change my city forever,” McBarnes said. “I want to give future young professionals in Frankfort the opportunity not just to have jobs, but to great careers in our city. The retention of our youth through this project, I believe, is going to be remarkable.”

Blake Mann represents the youth sector that McBarnes hopes to see flourish in Clinton County.

Mann was born in Frankfort but moved to Illinois with his family as a child. He moved back to Frankfort two years ago and was shocked to see the city on the verge of being led by someone just a few years younger than he.

Mann said he hopes to attend classes at Ivy Tech in Frankfort this fall.

“I didn’t know what to expect, but (McBarnes) is for real,” said Mann, 28. “I think it’s great. I’ve visited over the years before moving back, and this place always seemed a little behind to me. But there is a lot of new energy here. I’m excited about it.”

A pair of leadership summits, four mayor’s night out events, a renewed focus on connecting with the city’s Hispanic population and a larger social media presence were just a few of the things covered as the McBarnes administration aimed to improve communication throughout the community and strengthen citizen voices.

Agatha Morris is a longtime Frankfort resident who was initially skeptical of McBarnes but threw her support behind him after hearing him speak for the first time.

“I was never very active in the goings-on of the city. It was just more of the same every year,” she said. “I think his focus is in the right place, and he seems to be very accessible. I think that goes a long way.”

McBarnes understands that though he’s more than mature enough to take the reins, he still has a lot to learn about leading a city, he said.

“I love my hometown. This is where I was born and raised, and to give back to it is a pretty special feeling.”