BRIDGEPORT — After a working career primarily spent as a probation officer based out of Gering, Charlie Browne decided it was time for a change when he retired in 2014.
Having a territory that for many years covered Morrill and Garden counties, Browne enjoyed the area and decided to find a home in Bridgeport, not knowing he would become mayor in a few short years. Soon after the move, the 2016 election season came up, and an opportunity to serve the public presented itself in the form of an open city council seat.
“It was getting down to the last week, and nobody had applied, nobody put their hat in the ring, so to speak,” Browne said. “So I figured, you know, nobody wants this. I don’t feel like I’m crowding out one of the local folks. They’ve had plenty of time to say so.”
Putting his name on the ballot secured the council seat, then the 2018 election neared and Bridgeport mayor Jack Berg was not running for re-election.
“I wanted to see things go in the same direction that they had been going,” Browne said. “The only way that was going to happen was if I had some control over it.”
Browne said people often ask why he got into politics. He sees it as an opportunity to give back to the community, and he’s been able to see the other side of government.
“Getting into politics here is a whole lot easier than getting into politics in Lincoln or Omaha,” Browne said. “I knew an awful lot of the folks here, and the folks that I didn’t know I got to meet when I was campaigning. The more I campaigned, the better I felt about the way it was going. It was different in that I worked for the government all of my working career, but was never part of it, so to speak. This way, I was part of the government, but where we spent money, it made a difference to me where it was going. As opposed to when I was working, if something needed to be done, you did your best to see that it got done, and somebody else had to balance the books at the end of the day.”
The future looks to be solid for Bridgeport, and Browne said he’s not going anywhere.
“As for the town, if we can hold our own through the current agricultural uncertainty, I think our future is bright,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the strong agricultural community around us, we wouldn’t be here. That’s just a fact. And it’s a very active, positive farming community that’s around us. ... We have four banks here in Bridgeport. Four banks in this community, all of them apparently holding their own. They’re here. They have given no indication of leaving, which tells me that things are holding their own, and maybe stronger than a lot of other little communities.”
While he sees the community as strong already, there is always room for improvement.
“I personally would like to see more affordable housing and to attract other employers,” Browne said. “What that would be, who knows? If, 30 years ago, somebody said, ‘You’re going to have an ethanol plant in Bridgeport,’ first of all, what’s ethanol? So, you just don’t know.”
To sell Bridgeport to those potential employers or potential residents, Browne points to the small-town atmosphere, quality schools and a good, versatile hospital as drawing cards. Accessibility to larger cities such as Denver and Rapid City are further selling points.
“We’re at a great junction,” Browne said. “If you want to go someplace, you can get there from here pretty easy. If you want to spend a quiet weekend at home in the back yard, you can do that here, too. ... What supports the community the most is its access. It’s just far enough away, yet it’s close enough to get to where you want to go pretty quick. And a great place to raise kids.”