Longtime Athens resident, Ohio University alumnus and public servant, Kent Butler is set to retire from City Council at the end of his current term.
Butler, D-1st Ward, has served the needs of Athens’ west side since he was elected in 2008. It was those residents in his ward — his neighbors — who persuaded him to run for office.
“I appreciate that it wasn’t my idea and there was a movement from the community,” Butler said. “I did not run on a platform — I ran on the idea of serving the community.”
The nearly 12-year public servant takes pride in his efforts to be fair and equitable, sincerely listening to his constituents’ concerns and keeping an open mind.
Butler’s community-conscious work on the city council showed when he supported the engineering changes and legislation in favor of the Richland Avenue roundabout. The changes saved the citizens of Athens over $1 million and preserved the old bridge’s infrastructure. The current concrete decking was also installed to make the bridge pedestrian and bicycle-friendly.
Butler has worked over a decade of his life in the formal service of his neighbors, and he has enjoyed making connections with the community over that time.
"I'm departing with mixed emotions because I really enjoy serving the community, and I really value the relationships that take time to build and develop rapport with within a community, within a city,” Butler said.
Butler, who has a BFA degree in art and photography, believes it is an art form to disagree in a civil and respectful manner, specifically with the executive branch. He said it requires patience and candid conversations, which help build relationships and earn vital trust.
While Butler will miss the opportunity to continue the dialogue from his seat on city council, he feels a sense of responsibility in stepping down.
“I think those of us who are elected officials have a responsibility to also vacate the seat,” Butler said.
During Butler’s time at OU, he met his wife Lori Marie and was also involved in ultimate frisbee. Years after graduation, he went back to school in 2000 to earn an M.Ed. in counseling. He applied that knowledge through working at the Bassett House, a residential treatment center specializing in addiction treatment for adolescents. He also taught as an adjunct professor-instructor of Addictions Studies at Hocking College.
Butler has also served as the wedding officiator in multiple friends’ weddings. He said those experiences are humbling and amazing to be apart of.
“It can be overwhelming and exhilarating too, with the excitement and nervousness associated with an event of prominence and meaningfulness,” he said.
When Butler passes the baton to his 1st-Ward successor, he will be able to devote even more time to his full-time job, which he currently balances with his city council duties.
Butler serves as the Executive Director of Hocking Valley Community Residential Center, or HVCRC, in Nelsonville. HVCRC is a state-funded community corrections facility for adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 who have committed a felony. The center provides access to social services for the youth, including dental, vision and other basic medical needs.
The average length of stay at the center is 6 months. Butler said his coworkers at the center are not in it for the money and face many challenges in their quest to empower and help to heal others.
“We work with youth in a therapeutic setting offering counseling, social services, and rehabilitation,” Butler said. “The youth are able to earn school credits as well to help empower them as they reimagine or consider a different future for themselves... We have witnessed and provided youth the opportunity to do activities for the first time of their lives.”
Those activities have included kayaking, mountain biking, high diving at the aquatic center and attending games at The Convo, among others.
“When I see the teenagers I work with helping one another in a supportive way, it can be awe-inspiring,” Butler said.
Along with the young people that he engages with, Butler said he has many other resilient role models in his life from whom he draws inspiration.
Both his parents are cancer survivors, and his sister works with rescue animals and foster dogs.
“We can find grace and courage in the small and mundane, as well as more obvious examples,” Butler said.
He describes many of his colleagues over his dozen years on city council as “bright and capable.” The pay, he said, is not commensurate with the time and energy invested by his associates.
“I have seen many examples on council of community members and colleagues that have immersed themselves into a topic or issue worthwhile needing to be addressed,” Butler said. “Whether it be a social need and social justice or safety and wellness or fiduciary mindfulness of the public dollar.”
Upon retirement, Butler plans to remain in Athens and continue community-based work. He said some of the time freed up from city council will permit him to participate in other activities that are important to him.
Specifically, he is hopeful to spend more time in the studio creating art, and he is looking forward to focusing more on the work he does with HVCRC.
“I'm also expecting myself to jump into exercise and healthy eating,” Butler said. “You know, continue that as I duke it out with Father Time."