SIDNEY — After a journey of more than 7,000 miles that spanned four months and 10 days, Sidney Mayor Mike Barhorst has reached his goal of visiting every county seat mayor in Ohio. Dubbed Le Grande Tour by Barhorst, his first stop was in Troy on April 1. His last stop included the city of Lancaster and the villages of Waverly and West Union.
“I had really intended to complete the trip prior to assuming the office president of the Association of Ohio Mayors on July 1,” Barhorst said. “There were a number of complications that prevented me from reaching my goal. For example, a Columbus Mayor Andy Ginther had to cancel, as my visit there was scheduled long before the police involved shooting that forced our visit to be postponed.
“In another instance, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley canceled just hours before my meeting with her so that she could meet with Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo,” Barhorst said. “I joked with Mayor Whaley and said had it been the Secretary of Defense I would have understood, but I can’t believe you are throwing me overboard for the Secretary of Commerce.”
Both visits were rescheduled, along with several others that were also postponed due to unforeseen circumstances.
“I was surprised by the number of county seats that are villages (villages are municipalities that have populations of less than 5,000 people),” Barhorst sad. “In the case of Monroe County, Woodsfield is not only the county seat, but it is the only municipality in the county.
“I was also surprised by the number of county seats that do not have a police department or a professional fire department,” Barhorst continued. “I was also surprised by the number of gravel roads over which I traveled, and large areas of the state where there is no cell phone service.”
“According to the mayors with whom I met, the most pressing problem statewide is that there are far more jobs available than workers to fill those jobs,” Barhorst reported. “The second most pressing problem is a lack of available housing. Ranking third is the need for workforce development – available workers lacking marketable skills.
“Statewide, infrastructure finishes in fourth place,” Barhorst continued, “followed by drugs and homelessness. That order changes in the larger cities, where gun violence is one of the top three greatest concerns. It also changes in the Appalachian Region of the state, where homelessness emerges as a major concern.
“I was warmly received everywhere I stopped,” Barhorst noted. “I did find out after a couple of the visits that the mayors of those respective communities who did not know me had checked me out prior to my stopping. In one case, they checked with State Forester Wendi Van Buren and in another with Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson in both cases just ‘to see if I was really crazy enough to want to visit them.’
“I could never have made the trip had City Clerk Kari Egbert not mapped out my trips and contacted each mayor’s office organizing each trip to maximize my time,” Barhorst said. “Of course, there were a couple of trips that involved more windshield time than I might have liked. One I’ll likely never forget included an early morning stop with Upper Sandusky Mayor Kyle McColley, a mid-day visit with Cleveland Mayor Jackson, and a late-day visit with McConnelsville Mayor John Finley. That particular day I spent more than 7½ hours behind the wheel.
“One of the questions I asked in each community was about their community’s biggest challenge,” Barhorst related. “Believe it or not, one mayor told me that there were no problems in his community. In his first year in office he had corrected all the mistakes the previous mayor had made and things were now perfect. I was about to call my wife and tell her to start packing but as I was leaving the community, I noticed several things I would have considered ‘problems’ and as a result, didn’t make the call to my wife.
“My GPS system was a life-saver. There were a number of detours, several of them temporary in nature, but I was fortunate that I arrived at nearly every stop on time. On one such detour, I was told to turn onto a gravel road and proceed for five miles. The road was a narrow, one-lane path. Every tenth of a mile there was a right angle, and there was no cell reception. I was fairly certain that I was going to be late to see Ironton Mayor Sam Cramblit. I was not very happy and remember saying a few things out loud that are unprintable.
“Then, with just about four-tenths of a mile remaining, I turned the corner and saw 15-20 baby rabbits eating the grass along both sides of the road. I stopped my Ford Explorer and watched as they attempted to jump into the tall grass, some bouncing back onto the roadway after unsuccessfully trying to penetrate the thick grass before they all successfully escaped.
“Around the next bend was a doe nursing her fawn,” Barhorst continued. “Having grown up on a farm and having seen lots of deer, it was something I had never seen before. Again I stopped and just watched in awe. I was surprised they finished before both jumped into the tall grass aside the road.
“Around the next bend was a field of tall grass, a variety I did not recognize, and there were between 30-50 cardinals eating the seeds atop the grass. Again I just stopped and watched. I don’t think that I’ve ever seen more than two pair of cardinals in one place at the same time in my entire life.
“Then around the final bend there was a covered bridge. I stopped, took a photo, and suddenly wished that I had taken photos at each of the previous turns in the road,” Barhorst said. “I will admit that now that I was at the end of the five-mile stretch of gravel road and being rewarded with such sights, I felt a bit guilty about being so impatient when I was forced to take that detour.
“Once I was back on the state highway, I had cellphone reception,” Barhorst stated. “As it turns out, Mayor Cramblit was not feeling well and had not gone into the office that morning. Reminded of our meeting, he arrived at Ironton’s city hall about the same time I did.”
When asked if he was glad he made the effort to visit all 87 other county seat mayors, he was quick to respond.
“It was one of the more interesting things that I’ve done in my life. I’ve told Sidney’s councilmembers that our residents don’t realize how fortunate we are. We have so many things other communities only wish they had. In addition, I met some truly wonderful public servants, people I’ll continue to stay in contact with well into the future.
“Based on my experience, when Mayor Barhorst sets a goal he won’t quit until he accomplishes that goal,” Ohio Municipal League Executive Director Kent Scarrett stated. “Visiting all 88 county seats is a major accomplishment. Given the timeframe he set, it is even more impressive.
“I know that Mike received an education on the leadership styles of his fellow mayors and how their respective municipalities operate.” Scarrett continued. “I also know that the mayors he visited had the opportunity to learn a great deal from him based on the lessons he has learned through his own experiences in local, state and national government.”