Brett Barker has always loved being a leader, but more of a “quiet” leader, he said. Involved in student government while in school, and being on the City Council in Nevada before becoming mayor, those were ways to be involved without being the top official.
“I never would have seen myself being mayor,” he said honestly. It was more of a timing thing. With former mayor Lynn Lathrop deciding not to seek another term, Barker felt it was important that someone who’s already knowledgeable about some of the issues the city has been dealing with, step up. So he did and was elected in November.
It turns out that Barker is Story County’s youngest mayor at this time. But at 34, he doesn’t lack experience in leadership or being involved when it comes to politics.
“I’d always been interested in policy and government,” said Barker, who is a native of the state of Florida, where he was born and raised until his sophomore year of high school. His father’s job in nuclear power brought the family to Geneseo, Ill., just outside of the Quad Cities. It was a town about the size of Nevada, and a place where Barker was able to hone his skills in band. Those skills later earned him a spot playing alto saxophone in the Hawkeye Marching Band at the University of Iowa, where he enrolled to study pharmacy.
“I’d always been in band … did honors bands and such. In college, I did the athletic bands — marching and pep — and got to see lots of great sports with Iowa football, basketball and wrestling,” said Barker. In fact, most who know him know how he’s still a huge Hawkeye fan (especially when it comes to football) living in what many consider “Cyclone territory.” About that, he smiled. “I always used to joke around that I was a missionary (here).”
While there is a lot of good-natured ribbing, Barker said he’s truly grown to appreciate Iowa State and what it brings to the local area in more ways than just sports. “Iowa is very lucky to have three great regency colleges. It’s a lot bigger than sports,” especially when you consider things like how the universities affect economic development, training opportunities and more. Loving one of those regency universities initially, the University of Iowa, so much, he said, is why he decided to remain a resident of Iowa for the long term.
He moved to Nevada in 2008 to become the pharmacy manager at NuCara. In 2010, he was promoted to director of clinical services for the pharmacy, which has 33 locations in five different states. As of 2012,barker is vice president of operations for NuCara. He still has his office for the company in Nevada, working in the upstairs of the pharmacy on Sixth Street, but he does a fair amount of traveling to other sites, as well.
Looking at Barker’s service to the city of Nevada, it goes back to 2010, when there was a vacancy on the council for the Ward III position being vacated mid-term by Michael Neff. Barker applied and got the appointment. He was first elected to the Ward III seat in 2011.
He had actually run for council earlier than his 2010 appointment. He ran against Brian Hanson for the at-large seat on the council and didn’t win. He said that proved not to be a bad thing. “Sometimes setbacks are the best thing to happen,” he said. “Brian (still serving in the at-large seat today) is an excellent council member and is great with the public. He’s got a lot of institutional knowledge, and now, he’s the old seasoned one on the council.”
In fact, Barker will need council members like Hanson and the other capable council members as they tackle the challenges Nevada faces for its future.
First, Barker said, is the new wastewater treatment plant that will be put in within the next five years, due to DNR regulations. The land is already purchased south of town for the new plant.
Second, he noted, is the continuing issue of safety along Highway 30 through Nevada. “Eventually, we would like to be on the DOT’s five-year plan again, but we need a consensus of the council and community before we circle back.”
Third is downtown infrastructure and the big project that will be coming to Nevada over the next three years. The project will include Sixth Street, from I Avenue north to Lincoln Highway. It is anticipated that next summer, a lot of planning will take place, and in the summer of 2020, the actual work will happen. Streets and sidewalks will be torn up, as new sewer and water lines are put in. Barker said it is a project that has been needed for some time, as pipes have been collapsing in the downtown area under the streets. “We will be working with downtown businesses closely,” he said, and as someone who works out of the downtown area himself, he said he, too, is “not looking forward to the (time that the work happens), but it needs to be done… It’s something we’ve known (has to be done) at the pharmacy for at least 20 years.”
Along with the downtown infrastructure work, there will also be planning going on about how sidewalks will be constructed once the infrastructure work is completed. This is all part of a downtown design project, that may also get into redoing building facades, too.
Fourth, in terms of challenges, is a more general one, as Barker said he believes it’s important to “foster a positive vibe for the community. We have so many great things happening here … I want us to keep telling the story of what we have going on.”
When it comes to those good things, Barker has no trouble listing Nevada’s strengths.
“We are very well-positioned for future growth. We have a lot of advantages with the railroad, the I-35/Highway 30 intersection, Iowa State University’s proximity and the renewable energy industry. All of these things put us in a really good spot to attract businesses and families.”
Other great things in Nevada, he said, include a good school system, a good parks and recreation department and a great small-town feeling. “All of that attracted my family and will attract others as well. Nevada has a lot of big city, quality-of-life elements, but still is a smaller community,” Barker said.
One of the projects he’s been very supportive of is the rec center, which has been approved for construction on the SCORE Park’s east side. Barker hopes the facility will increase adult parks and recreation programs and provide additional gym space for many youth programs.
Barker and his wife, Tracy, who works as a radiologic technologist at Story County Medical Center, have three daughters, Ella, a third grader; Lexi, a first grader; and Graceyn, 3.
When it comes to being a dad, being vice president in a company and being mayor, Barker’s plate is full. But he’s not intimidated by the amount of responsibilities he holds. He knows, for one thing, that there is a good city staff to work with; a staff that does most of the work that needs to be done. His role as mayor, he said, is just to steer the ship and make sure things are moving along, as well as to be an advocate for the city.
Serving people is in his blood. “I just really love to give back and have an impact on the community. There’s a lot we can achieve, and being willing to be a part of that is rewarding.
“I am happy to help anyone in the community with whatever issues they have and learn from people how it is we (as city leaders) can better serve the community. We need to know where the challenges are, so we can make things better.”