Barb Dempsey reflects on time in local government

By: Alex Szwarc | Mount Clemens - Clinton - Harrison Journal | Published January 2, 2020

 What Barb Dempsey is most proud of from her time as mayor was that Mount Clemens didn’t have to bring on an emergency manager during the Great Recession, from 2007-2009. Dempsey is seen here in December with Mount Clemens City Commissioner Ron Campbell.

What Barb Dempsey is most proud of from her time as mayor was that Mount Clemens didn’t have to bring on an emergency manager during the Great Recession, from 2007-2009. Dempsey is seen here in December with Mount Clemens City Commissioner Ron Campbell.

Photo provided by Barb Dempsey

Advertisement

MOUNT CLEMENS — As 2020 began, Barb Dempsey, a longtime Mount Clemens government official, took a look back on her time in office.

In November, the 71-year-old Dempsey was unseated in the mayor’s race by Laura Kropp.

Between her time as mayor and on the City Commission, Dempsey worked for Mount Clemens for 30 years. She served as mayor for seven consecutive terms, from 2005 to 2019, and was a commissioner for 16 years, from 1989 to 2005. At the time she was first elected mayor, Dempsey was only the city’s third female mayor since it was incorporated in 1879. The other two female mayors were Ada Eisenfeld and Jeanne Nelson.  

“In addition to her elected service, Barb’s love for Mount Clemens has extended to several causes close to her heart,” Mount Clemens Commissioner Ron Campbell said at the Dec. 16 City Commission meeting, where Dempsey was honored.

Those causes include chairing Mount Clemens Presents the Macomb County Santa Parade, and serving on the Macomb County Historical Society board, the Mount Clemens Foundation and the Selfridge Base Community Council, to name a few.

Born in Germany and moving to America at age 8, Dempsey said what she is most proud of in her time as mayor is that the city didn’t have to bring on an emergency manager during the Great Recession.

“When the recession hit, it hit Mount Clemens hard, and that was during most of my mayoral (term), and our goal at that time was to keep Mount Clemens fiscally sound,” Dempsey said. “And that’s what we did. It meant a lot of sacrifices, but we averted an emergency manager from coming in.”   

In her time as mayor, Dempsey was awarded the Girl Scouts of Macomb County Otsikita Council 2007 Women of Disctinction, the National Council of Negro Women 2006 Certificate of Appreciation, and the 2013 Ted Wahby Elected Official of the Year.

Campbell worked with Dempsey for 12 years on the commission.

“It was during some very rough times from 2007 to 2011 when we were teetering on the brink of bankruptcy,” he said. “We didn’t always agree on everything, but in the end, we were able to put our differences behind (us).”

Dempsey acknowledged that during the recession, the city was worse off than other communities.

“Being the county seat, about 45% of our property is nontaxable, and that put us at a disadvantage,” she said. “We’re not getting taxes on that property, and the recession hits and foreclosures came about.”

When asked what her legacy as a Mount Clemens government official is, Dempsey jokingly said, “I’m thinking five years from now, they’re going to say ‘Barb Dempsey who?’ That’s just the way life is.”

She called her time with the city rewarding.

“It was nice to see the things we had been able to accomplish and what we maintained — the growth of the city, the diversity — I think I kept the city stable,” Dempsey said.

Prior to serving as mayor, Dempsey worked for 25 years at St. Joseph Hospital in Detroit, retiring in 2004.  

What she will miss most about being mayor is being accessible on a daily basis to residents.

“I had a lot of contact with residents, trying to help them with issues they had,” she said.

Dempsey shared a message of thanks, saying, “I want to thank them for 30 years of support. I appreciate the fact that I grew up in this town ... and became mayor. I don’t feel like I wasted 30 years of my life.”  

Dempsey also noted that she is quite proud of the Mount Clemens Santa Parade being saved in 2005. The group that was responsible for the parade canceled six weeks before it was supposed to happen.

“I was able to rally the community by launching a ‘Save Our Parade’ campaign,” she said. “Several groups stepped up to sponsor the parade.”

A Mount Clemens High School graduate, Dempsey has two sons and three grandchildren. Her husband, Neil, died in 2016.   

Advertisement