An Interview with Jim Barnes, Village Manager of Wellington, FL
By Krista Martinelli for AroundWellington.com
AW: What does being a public servant mean to you?
JB: Ultimately being a public servant means being able at some point to put the greater good above what my personal agenda is and what my personal point of view is. Our decisions all have to be based on that premise. It’s putting the needs of the group above the needs of one person.
AW: You have worn “many hats” leading up to Village Manager. What was your favorite role, other than your current role?
JB: Parks and Recreation Director was the best job I ever had. Your job is simply to make people happy. You’re providing a service when people are there on their off time. They attend your programs because they want to be there. It’s one of the few jobs where you actually have time to play.
AW: What makes Wellington so special?
JB: My wife and I (with our two children) moved to Wellington in 2005. Since 1977, I have lived in Palm Beach County. You might ask…Why would I want to move to an incorporated area when I could live in an unincorporated area – without paying additional taxes? I can see the benefit that you get living in a municipality – there’s that level of service. Wellington (and other cities) are most responsive to your needs. The other part of it is (unique to the Village of Wellington) at the time of incorporation in 1995/96, we had about 22,000 people – when I first started working for Wellington in 2003, we were at about 40,000 people. A lot of major growth happened (from about 2003 to 2009 before the economic downturn) – and today Wellington is home to about 65,000 people. In 25 years, we grew by over 40,000 people. In spite of that growth, you still have a sense of community. I still think that the Village of Wellington (VOW) has a feel of being a close-knit, small community.
AW: Tell us about a few things that are unique to Wellington.
JB: Everybody can find something for themselves here. Perhaps the best example is … we were able to accommodate a group of folks who play stickball. The Wycliffe Stiffs have a place to play stickball at Village Park, and we even created street signs for them, so they’d feel like they were back in the good old days in New York. I believe “The Commish” Marty Ross has a fake manhole cover that they use as home plate. We love working with Marty Ross and Harry Klaff. And that’s just one example.
We have great schools, 11 great schools to be exact. All are A-Rated schools. Even though we’re not a gated community as a whole, you still have that personalized feel and attention that you would have in a gated community or a much smaller neighborhood. We offer great recreation from toddlers to seniors. For the little ones, we offer TumbleTots with Miss Muriel, a very popular program for toddlers.
AW: Tell us about the equestrian side of Wellington. How do equestrians contribute to and shape Wellington?
JB: It’s interesting…until I started working and living in Wellington, I didn’t know the extent to which equestrians were a part of Wellington. They are a part of the Wellington “brand.” It didn’t start out as an equestrian community by design; yet it’s evolved into an equestrian community. As a part of that evolution, the brand developed as well. The equestrians affect a lot of different parts of Wellington – the real estate, the commercial side, increase in traffic in stores (roughly from Thanksgiving to Easter each year). We have many seasonal residents like farriers, people who take care of horses, people who take care of equestrian property, and they travel back and forth. There are the actual competitors and the service side of the equestrian business too. The bottom line is that the equestrians also contribute to the local economy. Based on anecdotal and empirical information the equestrian industry generates significant economic benefits to the Village, and is unique for its size, scale, and breadth of businesses, activities and services with some sectors reporting over 30% increase in business during the equestrian season. The equestrians provide a special brand identity, and the equestrian developments drive a portion how the Village also looks. In the past 5 to 10 years, there has been more overlap between the equestrian and the non-equestrian worlds within Wellington.
AW: Describe the new recreation facility at Wellington High School. How did that project come together?
JB: It’s a great facility – it’s a win/win for the Village of Wellington residents. Plans were started
at for the Greenbriar Park facility, but before that design was completed, we thought of other opportunities that were outside of the box. We decided to look at Wellington High School, seeing as their practice fields were existing but not in great shape. Next, we sat down with the Palm Beach County School District staff. We developed fields that are both available for the school and for the community. There are 4 multi-purpose fields (the super pitch), 3 outdoor basketball courts, and 8 tennis courts. Fun fact: the super pitch is the biggest synthetic turf field in Florida. We also renovated the school’s stadium field. From 6pm to close in the evenings, the Village of Wellington can use the facilities except the stadium field.
AW: How do you work with the Village Council?
JB: The Village Council is like a corporate Board of Directors; they oversee the big picture and set policy. The Village Manager is like the CEO of the day-to-day operations and implements the Council’s vision. The Council only has two employees that report directly to them – the Village Manager (me) and the Village Attorney, Laurie Cohen. We have meetings open to the public on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of every month at 7pm. These meetings are listed on our Village of Wellington website – and you can watch past Village meetings on the website too. We also have agenda review meetings which are on the 2nd and 4th Monday of every month.
In addition, I try to meet with them (the Village Council members) individually on a regular basis. Part of the Sunshine Law is that two or more council members cannot meet unless it’s held as a noticed public meeting.
AW: How is the Village of Wellington prioritizing diversity?
JB: It’s always been something that we’ve done. It’s part of the Village’s DNA. That doesn’t mean we always could not do better and always improve. In the last year, inclusion, equity and diversity have become more commonplace in workplace discussions. We’re not the epicenter of a lot of things happening in the rest of the state or the country. We held Juneteenth/ Redteenth at the Wellington Amphitheater on June 19, 2021, for the first time. That term–Redteenth–refers to the melding of World Sickle Cell Day and Juneteenth into one event. The point: to raise awareness and support for those affected by Sickle Cell Anemia and also commemorate Juneteenth, which is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. The whole event was very well-received, and it will grow each year.
We need to look through an equity lens when we look at different things, our workplace practices, hiring, and programs in the community. We need to be better about providing programs for everyone in Wellington. It’s a continuous process for us. It isn’t a one and done, it’s an evolving work in progress.
AW: Tell us about your family.
JB: I’ve been married to my lovely wife Kim going on 31 years with our anniversary coming up on July 28th. We make it really easy for people – “we’re Kim and Jim.” Our kids are Kyle (23) and Devyn (21). Kyle is in graduate school at the University of Michigan studying conservation/marine biology. Devyn is at UCF studying advertising and PR. We also have a short hair dachshund named Tucker.
AW: What was your experience prior to your roles for the Village of Wellington?
JB: I worked both in the public and the private sector. I worked as a planner and project manager for an engineering consulting firm. At the County level, I also worked as a project manager and planner for permitting, planning and development of public facilities.
AW: What was it like growing up in the Philippines?
JB: I was born and raised there and moved to the US when I was 11. Largely it’s the same climate-wise Lots of humidity, sunshine and rain. I think this background gives me an interesting perspective. I still have family in Philippines, Spain and here in the U.S and fortunately still speak Tagalog and also speak Spanish. Living in another country broadens your perspective in general. I have fond memories growing up there as we lived right next door to my grandmother and her family. Surprisingly, my mom was 47 and my dad was 56 when they were blessed with me. Being the youngest child and a late-in-life child of older parents also benefitted me with a different perspective on things.
A Final Note from Jim Barnes:
I appreciate the opportunity to be Wellington’s next Village Manager. It has been an honor to serve our community for the last 17 years in various capacities and I look forward to serving in this new capacity. I’m fortunate to stand on the shoulders of those who came before me and alongside of an experienced and solid team of staff members. Together, we will work in partnership with Village Council to serve the residents and our dynamic business community of Wellington.
Please be advised that Wellington is a public entity subject to Florida’s broad public records law under Chapter 119, Florida Statutes. Most written communications, including email addresses, to or from Wellington employees and elected officials regarding city business are public records and are available to the public and the media upon request. Your email communications may therefore be subject to public disclosure. If you do not want your email address to be subject to disclosure as a public record, please do not send electronic mail to Wellington. Instead, contact the city by telephone at (561) 791-4000.
Editor’s Note: As the Village of Wellington is 25 years old this year, Village Manager Jim Barnes tells us that there may be a celebration later in the year. They were waiting to get beyond Covid-19 to celebrate. Thanks to Jim Barnes for being such a pleasure to interview.