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Mayor Barnett’s death is a devastating loss

News of Carter County Mayor Rusty Barnett’s death Monday rattled Carter County in a way only the sudden loss of a leader, mentor, and friend can. Barnett was only 65 years old. Even if he were 165, it still would have been too soon.
Mayor Barnett’s death is a devastating blow to the entire Carter County and Elizabethton Community. Prior to his being elected mayor only two years ago, Rusty, as he was known to so many, was employed as Deputy Chief with the Elizabethton Fire Department. He had been employed with the fire department for 37 years before his election as mayor.
His service as mayor came also after serving as a member of the Carter County School Board, rising to the chairman’s position.
We’re not sure whether true public servants are either born or made. But if someone were to make one from scratch, our advice would be to look at Barnett for the blueprint. First of all, he was willing and wanted to serve. He wanted to make Carter County a better place to live and work. He worked hard to learn his roles as school board member and then as mayor. With no formal education, it was not easy, but he listened and became quite knowledgeable about the issues.
Barnett made himself available to people in the community. He listened to their concerns.
The mayor was a hard worker, very committed to Carter County and bringing new businesses and jobs to the community. Plus, he was an awfully nice guy, personal, amicable. Perhaps, one of his strongest traits was bringing people together and listening to their concern. Barnett as mayor had been a stabilizing force, showing professionalism and respect for colleagues and constituents, as well as a passion for service.
A lifelong resident of Carter County, Barnett as mayor was a strong supporter of cooperation between the Carter County government and City of Elizabethton and often appeared before the Elizabethton City Council in support of measures that both bodies could benefit from. He was also a supporter of a regional approach to economic development.
He had a great interest in our schools and the students. He worked tirelessly to improve the school system and to make opportunities available for both students and teachers to advance and be the best they could be.
Rusty, never one to seek the limelight, was a co-worker, a leader, and most of all, a friend. He had a soft voice and an infectious smile.
Sadly, we’ll never know the full potential of what his knowledge and leadership could have fully offered Carter County and the entire Carter County Commission, because Barnett barely served two years into his first term before his untimely death.
Carter Countians and today’s elected officials would do well to reflect on Barnett’s many strengths: an ability to make difficult choices and fashion compromise; an ear for those whose voices are too often ignored; a genuine respect for colleagues, constituents and those who seek to hold county government accountable. He accepted with alacrity the sacrifices and criticism along with the successes. Those are the attributes of a man who recognized what it meant to start from humble beginnings and become County Mayor. Barnett recognized what it meant to truly serve the public, and this county profited from his leadership.
He died at the Johnson City Medical Center after undergoing triple bypass surgery last Thursday.
Our sympathies are with his family, friends, and the community.