A Longtime Leader
Plainfield Town Council President Robin Brandgard Talks 28 Years of Giving Back
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photography Provided by Town of Plainfield
The year was 1979, and Robin Brandgard mentioned, off the cuff, to a member of the Plainfield town council that he might like to someday get involved. The council member immediately pounced on the statement and the next thing he knew, Brandgard was part of the five-member team. Now, 39 years later, he’s still going strong. In fact, he’s been the town council president for 28 years.
“Every year we collectively elect the officers, but back in 1990 they decided we needed to have continuity so they kept electing me president,” says Brandgard with a smile. He’s quick to point out that although he runs the meetings, he’s always in consult with others.
“I get to deal with everything, but I am sure to gather plenty of input,” he says. The Council meets on the second and fourth Monday of the month to discuss a wide variety of topics, including personnel, public works, the fire department and the police department. They also are in charge of the Hendricks County Communications Center, which is 911 dispatch and transportation for the county.
Born in 1943 in Cleveland, Ohio, Brandgard moved to Plainfield in 1955 and graduated from Plainfield High School (PHS) in 1961. He went to work for Allison Transmission as a machine operator and worked his way up to supervisor. When he retired 45 years later, he was Manager of Strategic Planning & Military Operations and Supervisor of the Government Property Group.
“My title made for a lot of words on a business card,” he says with a chuckle.
Once he retired, he could devote more time to the town council, which he was happy to do. Years ago, a running joke developed when Brandgard told someone that should anyone call his house between the hours of 7 and 9 a.m., his wife Ginny would tell the caller that they could find him at his “office.” By that he meant the Starbucks in Plainfield.
The notion caught on and soon community members began showing up at the coffee house to chat with Brandgard about whatever issues were on their minds. Call them “office hours,” if you will. Not only does he extend an open-door policy for anyone who wants to chat, but he is adamant about collaborating with members of the community. Say, for example, that someone approaches Brandgard with the notion of building a garage in their backyard, an idea that doesn’t fit within current regulations. Brandgard won’t just tell them no and send them off. Instead, he’ll sit them down and talk it out to see if they can find a way to make it work.
“This gives everyone a good feeling because it becomes more of a partnership than a ‘me vs. you’ mentality,” says Brandgard, who has never liked the word “I.” Not surprisingly, he much prefers “we.” And for good reason. During his time with the council, he’s noticed that everyone involved is intent on doing what’s best for the town. They don’t have their own personal agendas but rather are focused on making Plainfield a better place. And it really has improved in a number of ways.
“In 1988, Plainfield was about three square miles. Now we’re seven times that size at 21 square miles,” Brandgard says. The population has soared to accompany that growth, having grown from 8,000 to over 30,000. A big reason for that is the erection of the industrial park, which has made the town’s value grow to over $2 billion dollars. Plainfield is home to Walmart, two giant Amazon facilities, and a state-of-the-art Kohls center.
The town also helped fund the Ivy Tech logistics program. Now Brandgard and his team are working with PHS to fund a new building that will support the educational needs of both young and adult learners.
“There’s a need for educating folks who don’t want to go to college so that they can learn a skill that they can use beyond high school,” Brandgard says. “Planning for this program is still in the infancy stage as we’re talking to various schools to assess their needs so that we can work on providing a building.”
Since they conceived of this idea, representatives from both Ivy Tech and Vincennes University have joined the discussion.
“It’s grown bigger than we had envisioned, which means it was sorely needed,” says Brandgard, who also takes great pride in the fact that the town has kept taxes and utility rates low while providing more services than most other communities. He cites trash pick-up, street lights, police, fire and parks. Then there’s the road system.
“When it snows, you can move around Plainfield because we are out there with our equipment,” Brandgard says. “You might not get out of town, but you can move around in town.”
Though in the past, the town has been adept at doing a lot with few employees, Brandgard and his team have realized the need to increase administrative employees in order to keep up with the growth. Two years ago, they brought on board a new town manager and asked him to assess how they do business and come up with a plan that will take the town into the next quarter century.
“The community is going to grow whether you want it to or not,” Brandgard says. “Therefore, we try and guide it in a direction that’s good for the community.” For instance, the downtown area will be going through a redevelopment and revitalization plan that’s going to be developer-driven. They have plans to expand Town Hall, which is bursting at the seams and hope to include a performing arts center. Through it all, they want to hear from Plainfield residents.
“We want the community to have a say in what’s going to happen,” Brandgard says.
The Town Council recently launched a new Plainfield app that enables residents to search all that’s going on around town.
“There’s a town calendar on there and a calendar for the Rec Center built into it,” says Brandgard, noting that residents will also be able to pay their water bill online.
“We’re always discussing ways to make life better and easier for our residents,” Brandgard adds.
When he’s not at Starbucks, Brandgard likes to read, tinker with his 1964 Coupe Corvette and travel with his wife of 53 years. The couple frequently vacation in Mexico during the winter to relax for a couple weeks on the beach. They’ve also been to Europe as part of a family reunion in Denmark and to Australia to satiate his grandson’s desire to see the kangaroos. Two years ago, they jetted off to Maui with their whole family to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. This year they’re headed to Alaska.
How long Brandgard will remain in this position is anyone’s guess. He definitely wants to keep traveling with his family, but those “office hours” at Starbucks have also become part of the fabric of his life.
“Working with the Town Council has been enjoyable. If it wasn’t, I’d have left long ago,” Brandgard says. “Every time I mention leaving, somebody talks me out of it. But hey, it keeps me young. It gives me a purpose.”