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- Committee to Elect Bryan Burgess
143 E. College Street #216
Oberlin, OH 44074
Bryan Burgess was born in Oberlin and grew up in the woods and fields of Pittsfield Township. He was raised in a loving and hardworking family, mowed the grass for his grandpa, played outside until dark, sat too close to the TV watching cartoons on Saturday mornings, and couldn’t wait to get his driver’s license. He attended a high school jobs program and got his first job doing yard work and emptying garbage cans for the Lorain County Metro Parks. Later, he was hired to a second job stocking shelves and mopping floors at the local grocery store. In his free time he picked up lawn mowing jobs driving his pickup truck around Oberlin. Working hard was just a normal part of life.
After graduation from Oberlin High School in 1997 he attended New Mexico State University (NMSU) in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The Southwest offered 4×4 trails across the desert, hiking and hunting in the mountains, exploration of ghost towns, a rich local culture of food and music, and friendly welcoming people. Bryan worked part-time through college and graduated from NMSU in 2001 obtaining a Bachelor of Business Administration degree with a focus on Business Computer Systems.
He immediately went to work for the Las Cruces Public Schools helping teachers integrate technology into the classroom. Interacting with hundreds of staff and thousands of students gave Bryan insight into the challenges faced by public education and the positive impacts it can have not only for the students but their families as well. Las Cruces is a border community and Bryan saw firsthand the interdependence of trade and travel between the United States and Mexico. Immigration is a fact of life in a border community. It is both a hiring opportunity for local employers and allows hardworking people the opportunity to create a better life for themselves and their children.
Bryan and his wife Amy have known each other since they were kids. They maintained a long-distance relationship through college and were married in 2002 after Amy graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Amy also was hired by the Las Cruces Public Schools and the couple’s first home was a small rented duplex with a great view of the Organ Mountains and a small alligator lizard that would sun itself on the front sidewalk. It was a very different life and very far removed from growing up outside of Oberlin.
On a Sunday evening in May of 2004, Bryan’s dad Everett called and asked if he would be interested in moving back to Ohio and being a partner in Burgess Electric. Everett had started Burgess Electric as a side business in 1986 after taking night classes at the Lorain County JVS while maintaining a full time job at Ridge Tool Co in Elyria. Bryan and Amy agreed that the time was right to return back to Ohio for family and career. After couch surfing with family and friends for a few months, they bought a small duplex in Oberlin. Amy commuted to Cleveland as a chemist in the northern Ohio automotive paint industry while Bryan ran the family electrical business.
Bryan worked with his dad doing electrical jobs off and on throughout high school and so already had experience in the trades. While in New Mexico, he installed solar panels on his apartment, attended green building seminars, and eventually enrolled in a renewable energy course at Owens College in Toledo, OH with his dad in 2004. By 2005 Burgess Electric branched out from traditional electrical contracting and began installing solar energy systems. One project at Oberlin College in 2006 was the largest solar array in the State of Ohio. It is vastly outclassed today, but those early systems ushered in a new era for clean domestic energy production in Ohio.
In late 2006, Bryan had a chance encounter with the Oberlin City Council President and was recruited to join one of the many local government commissions. Civic engagement is strong in Oberlin and Bryan was soon wrapped into the Resource Conservation and Recovery Committee – essentially an advisory board on issues of garbage, recycling, and composting. The RCRC began delving into issues of conservation and efficiency but it was decided that the topic was better suited to the Public Utilities Commission. So Bryan joined the PUC and was soon after elected to chair that commission. The City had always been charged with providing water and electricity to residents so why not promote policies to help residents save water and electricity? Calling this controversial would be an understatement, entrenched bureaucracy interpreted this effort as a direct threat to the City’s electricity and water sales.
Around the same time, American Municipal Power (AMP) was ordered by the EPA to shutdown an old dirty coal-fired power plant that had supplied Oberlin with the bulk of its electricity for decades. AMP proposed to build a new “cleaner” coal plant and asked cities to sign a 50-year agreement. Horrified by the environmental and financial implications of this proposal, Burgess and the Public Utilities Commission pressed for time to identify alternatives. Consultants were hired and requests for proposals submitted to find low-cost, reliable, and environmentally friendly alternatives to fossil fuels. When Oberlin ultimately voted to reject the new coal plant, protesters railed that Oberlin would either freeze in the dark or else suffer with sky-high electricity bills. Neither happened.
In 2007, friends encouraged Bryan to run for a seat on Oberlin’s City Council. But with the birth of his first child that Spring, he decided his family came first. Two years later Bryan was elected to City Council and took office in January 2010. The primary question of his first term was, “If not coal, then what?” Bryan wrote an energy plan that called for a diversified electricity portfolio and a transformation of the City’s Electric Utility into an Energy Services Company (ESCO) to lower costs for rate-payers and still meet the City’s clean energy goals. This was an exciting time! Private industry rose to the challenge with the realization that this was not only achievable but also profitable. AMP saw the demand and offered additional joint venture opportunities with other cities. Local residents formed a solar co-op to assist home owners with their energy independence. In a few short years, Oberlin’s electricity was supplied 85% from clean sources and had the lowest cost rates in Northern Ohio.
But supplying low-cost clean energy is not enough. Burgess believed that energy efficiency had even greater potential to drive down costs. He was a lead author of Oberlin’s Climate Action Plan and proposed new revenue by trading the City’s renewable energy certificates. When established, this new Sustainable Reserve Fund raised $2.8 million for energy efficiency improvements to City facilities, insulation and weather-proofing of homes, improved lighting and HVAC systems for commercial customers, and solar electric systems for non-profits and schools. The Office of Sustainability was established in City Hall and providing energy services is now a crucial aspect of Oberlin government.
Another defining event for Bryan occurred in 2013 when the Ohio legislature stripped cities of their Home Rule authority and nullified all local gun laws in Ohio. Oberlin’s ordinances, like most other Ohio cities, mirror the Ohio Revised Code and included a prohibition against carrying guns in City parks. A very popular playground in Oberlin was the scene of an armed demonstration by Ohioans for Concealed Carry who protested the ban on guns in parks. Several contentious meetings followed where Burgess and others argued that the state law should be challenged in Court. It soon became apparent that state government was in the pocket of the radical gun lobby and that the courts would be of little help. Bryan testified to state legislative committees for sensible regulations, authored and passed resolutions through Oberlin City Council, and joined Mom’s Demand Action in lobbying our state legislators on gun safety. Bryan is a gun owner and avid collector, shooter, and hunter. He believes that it is impossible to talk about gun rights without also talking about responsibilities. And that the devastating gun violence in society today is a consequence of inadequate background checks and proliferation of weapons of war that have no place in unregulated civilian life. There must be a balance between gun rights and gun regulations – no law is absolute.
Bryan’s philosophy on budgeting is simple – spend less than you make. When the 2008 Recession caused a serious decline in Oberlin’s tax revenue, Bryan advocated for reducing the City’s spending. That worked for a short time – until the Ohio legislature continued collecting sales tax while cutting the cities’ Local Government Fund share in half. And until the Estate Tax was eliminated to provide a tax cut for the wealthiest Ohioans. The insatiable appetite for State tax cuts jeopardized public safety by robbing from from police and fire departments in cities across Ohio. Cities were left with no choice but to ask voters for an increase in local income tax to compensate. Responsible budgeting is about more than keeping spending in check, it also means prioritizing our first responders over ideological tax cuts.
Bryan served as the Oberlin City Council President and Mayor in his final 2018 term before retiring due to 10-year term limits in 2020. That chapter of his life was complete and he was prepared to move on. But as the world emerged from Covid and the regular 2-year election cycle required candidates to run for office, friends and former colleagues asked him to return and help restore a sense of normality to the local government. He was elected to a 6th term of Council and, following the unexpected departure of the Council President, Bryan was again chosen to serve as President. Bryan currently serves as the Oberlin City Council President and Mayor while he campaigns to represent the 54th Ohio House District covering portions of Erie, Huron, and Lorain Counties.