Rian C. Barker is a no-nonsense, lead-by-example kind of guy, said those who work with him.
He’s Richland Township’s first executive director. It’s a job that’s been uniquely his over the past three decades. But soon he’ll be retiring.
“I’ve been around the township a long time,” Barker said.
“My favorite part of the job is moving the township forward.”
Richland Township Supervisor Gary Paul said he’s seen Barker wear many hats in the township, starting with road foreman. Paul, with more than 25 years under his belt as a supervisor, is the supervisor with the longest tenure.
“My dad was the township road foreman. And when he retired, the supervisors couldn’t get anybody to take over the job, and Rian stepped up,” Paul said. “Rian stepped down from his supervisor position and took over for my dad. He was there every day. He did grunt work for supervisors. And he moved up from there.”
‘The experience guy’
As Barker prepares to retire, Richland’s board of supervisors Chairman Robert Heffelfinger Jr. compares the township’s loss to the New England Patriots losing Tom Brady.
“Are we going to miss him for years to come? I would say during the transition period, it’s going to be a new experience, but it is something we are going to work on,” he said.
Heffelfinger calls him “the experience guy.”
“That’s how I’d title him. He definitely was the experience guy. There’s a trend in municipal government that you immediately associate a qualification with a title, and that title comes with education, but that may not bear the fruits that the experience does,” he said.
As executive director, Barker acts as the chief administrative officer of the township with an overall annual budget of approximately $6 million and 35 employees.
Barker’s path to the position began with service on the township planning commission for about 10 years followed by election to the board of supervisors in the early 1990s.
Barker became the township’s executive director gradually by accepting responsibility to meet whatever need arose in the township.
“He’s accepted these duties and done them well, so well that they had to give him a title,” township Executive Secretary Kim Stayrook said.
He resigned from the board in 1993 to fill the township’s need for a road foreman and public works director.
Years later, he accepted more responsibilities when the township manager resigned.
And somewhere along the way, he also picked up duties of zoning and building codes officer.
To match his expanding workload, Barker was promoted from public works director to executive director in 1999.
“This has been on-the-job training,” Barker said.
But his plan is to be retired by January. He submitted his letter of retirement to the board of supervisors last April.
“I told them in my letter that I’d help them out until they find someone else,” he said. “I can leave any time, but while I’m here, that’s what I’m doing. I’m not sure if it will be February or March until I’m officially retired.”
The job posting is on the township’s website. Except for the police department, the executive director supervises all municipal departments under the broad policy guidance of the board of supervisors.
“The executive director performs high-level administrative, technical and professional work in directing and supervising the overall administration of the township,” the job posting states.
But Barker is also a “working boss,” Stayrook said.
Barker can be found plowing roads and fixing equipment.
“He is so knowledgeable on everything,” Stayrook said.
Barker, 66, grew up on Frances Street when there was a farm where the bowling alley is. His parents still live there, he said.
“I’ve been a Richland Township boy all my life,” he said.
Barker’s sense of responsibility and community leadership was shaped at a young age through his participation in the Boy Scouts.
Even as a Scout, he exceeded what was required of him, earning Eagle Palms awards for those who earn five or more merit badges beyond the 21 required to become an Eagle Scout.
He joined the Richland Volunteer Fire Department at age 16 and has served as fire chief.
He is a lifetime member.
“He’s a great leader and a positive influence,” Stayrook said.
“He’s supportive and willing to teach you.”
And people know him for his direct and honest communication.
Over the 15 years Heffelfinger Jr. has been a township supervisor, he’s learned a lot about Barker.
“He’s about a direct a fella as you are ever going to meet. If you want a good, solid, honest answer, Rian is the one to go see,” he said. “He has done the township a big favor by sticking around.”
Barker said his successor’s most pressing challenge will be maintaining an efficient budget.
“The biggest challenges for the next person will be holding our expenses because of a lack of revenue from building and development in the township,” he said. “Things have slowed down significantly with building and development in the township.”
Heffelfinger said the township has four applicants so far to succeed Barker.
“It is going to be difficult to replace him,” he said. “The guy has been rock solid. He is passionate about what he does. If you really want to be good at what you are doing, you should be passionate about it, and Rian exemplified that.”