• Essay Project 2021

Essay Project 2021: Mayor by Day, Family Man by Night


By Charlie Vallier


When I was in third or fourth grade, my class took a trip down to City Hall to see what actually happened in the building that we all drove by all the time. I still remember walking back to the school thinking about how I wanted nothing more than to be Mayor of Portland. In these past couple of weeks I had the privilege to get to know Mayor Jim Barnes and all about him and what he does for our community. He is truly an amazing man that has made Portland his home since 1987, and continues to love it more and more with each day that he is here.


Jim Barnes moved to Portland in 1987 with his growing family because he and his wife had wanted their children to grow up in a community that they felt was safe and where the residents shared a faith-based culture just like the small towns they had both grown up in. They found that Portland was the perfect place for just that. Both him and his wife Denise had been transferred from Grand Rapids to Lansing for work and Portland being so close they felt there was no need to move to Lansing. Before Tom and Allison were in school, Jim and Denise were not very engaged in what was going on within Portland. However, once the children were in school Jim and Denise became very engaged with school activities and meeting the parents of their classmates. Once they did, they realized that Portland was more of a shared culture than they initially thought. It was perfect.


In 1999, Jim decided to run for City Council. He told me that he had always been interested in local government and wanted to experience the decision making process associated with creating policies and procedures that go into running the many and varied operations of a city. Before I continue with the story, I need to explain how City Charter works. It is a document that provides the rules of governance for the City. It is similar to the United States Constitution in the way that it provides the rules for the governing of the United States. The Charter states, there will be three City Council seats open every two years. The top two vote-getters get four-year terms and the third place vote-getter gets a two-year term. The Charter also states that after each election the Mayor is selected by the City Council. So instead of having a mayoral election, the mayor is a member of the City Council who the Council selects after each election to officiate at City Council meetings and ceremonial events. Now back to the story, in April of 1999, Jim was elected to the Portland City Council for the first time. In 2003, he was re-elected to the City Council and was chosen by the City Council to be Mayor. He has been the Mayor ever since April of 2003.


While getting to know Mayor Barnes, I have learned so much about him and his role as the Mayor of Portland. Something that stuck out to me was that while being the Mayor, he is also employed full-time by the State of Michigan. The City Charter states that all members of the City Council will be paid $500.00 per annum and the Mayor gets an extra $200.00 for his compensation as a council member. According to the Lansing State Journal, the average State of Michigan worker makes between $50000 and $70000. That is much easier to live off of rather than $700. The Portland Website states that while some may think that the Mayor is a full time job, the City Manager does most of the work. Another thing I learned from my interview was that Mayor Barnes has the authority to officiate at marriage ceremonies.


All my life, I have been fascinated by the Mayor and thanks to this article I finally got the privilege to understand what the Mayor does and get to know so many amazing things about Mayor Barnes. He is a great person and Portland is lucky enough to have him as our Mayor.


The force that is going to carry you to your goal,

Is coiled up inside of you, in your energy, your pluck, your grit,

Your originality, your character, and your possession of a strong,

Persistent, tenacious purpose.

Whatever you do in life, keep in an ambition – arousing atmosphere.

Keep close to those who are dead in earnest,

Who are anxious to do something in the world.

You will catch the spirit of your environment.

- Orison Swett Marden



This essay is part of a writing project by students in Chandra Polasek’s ELA class at Portland High School. The project asked students to focus on elements of their own town while getting students engaged with the community. The essays were written with the intention of being published in The Portland Beacon.

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