• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Johnson wants Versailles to reach its full potential

Lisa Johnson said it wasn’t until other people told her that she had the organizational skills and energy to lead Versailles as its next mayor that she even considered being a candidate for the city’s highest office.

“It kind of humbled me that they saw those characteristics, and that’s what they wanted to see in a leader,” said Johnson.

Hearing people from different walks of life tell her “you’d be a good mayor. You ought to run for mayor,” began a six month process to making that decision, said Joe Johnson, her husband of 28 years.

From his perspective, “Absolutely, this is the right thing to do,” he said.

Knowing his wife puts everything into anything she has committed to doing made him fully supportive of her decision to run for mayor, he said.

“I’m not a politician. I have never been in politics. And I almost don’t like that term because it has such a negative connotation now,” said Lisa Johnson, 54. “But when I really think about being a public servant – and that is part of that job – that is the job, I feel better about that role.

While she’s not been involved with politics or served on city council, Johnson said she’s gained valuable insight into local matters by being “very involved” on the city’s Downtown Planning Advisory Committee, a board member with the Agency for Substance Abuse Policy (ASAP) for five years, starting and co-chairing a Women in Business committee at the Woodford County Chamber of Commerce, as well as working with churches, businesses and individuals as executive director of Mentors and Meals, a nonprofit.

Johnson said she went back to school to earn her master’s degree in public administration – 30 years after earning an undergraduate degree – because she wanted to learn about managing nonprofit organizations. “But along the way I sat through a lot of classes about managing budgets,” which, coupled with her life experiences, helped prepare her to take on the varied challenges of being mayor, she said.

Johnson views becoming mayor as an opportunity to do more for her community and said she’s “a collaborative leader.”

“We need more collaborative individuals that are willing to listen and embrace the public opinion, and provide the opportunity for the public to speak up,” said Joe Johnson. “That’s a collaborative approach. Your best decisions are made when it’s an open forum, when you have a diverse group of people that are involved in the decision and in the discussion.”

Lisa Johnson said she wants to help guide Versailles with a vision towards the future so the city reaches its full potential.

“I think Versailles could be one of the top-10 prettiest towns in America – I really do. But we need a little more energy downtown,” said Johnson.

She said the Downtown Planning Advisory Committee has identified downtown Versailles as being more than Main Street. The Lexington Road corridor and Frankfort Street are also a part of downtown, she said.

“A very strong goal is to repurpose the shopping centers that have been left empty or are partially empty,” said Johnson. “… It’s easy to say that you can do it… I’ve got to think as mayor, my role would to be a spokesperson, an ambassador, maybe a cheerleader sometimes. And sometimes, that’s what it takes. I would like to see more of that. That’s probably what I haven’t seen in the last six years.” Current mayor, Brian Traugott, has been in office for just over five years.

Two of the biggest issues that voters have shared with her during her mayoral campaign is they’d like to see affordable shopping options and more things for youth to do, she said.

When asked about housing in Versailles, Johnson said, “This is a hard issue. Land is expensive here. And that’s a blessing and a curse.”

She said she’s concerned Versailles doesn’t have accessible housing – not only for low income families, but also for older residents who want to downsize and no longer want to live in two-story homes, and millennials, who don’t want to mow a yard.

“They don’t even want to own a house. They want to rent for awhile and have (life) experiences,” she said.

Johnson said there are 1,200 acres inside the Versailles urban services area that could meet those diverse housing needs.

Joe Johnson pointed out that Versailles has arrived at a critical juncture and needs “good, insightful, objective” leaders “with no personal agenda” so the next generation inherits a vibrant community.

“There needs to be more collaboration between the city and the county,” said Lisa Johnson.

“There’s people doing really good things, but they’re doing them in silos,” she added. “…I see this problem and I want to solve it.

“…If you have a better community, it’s going to be better for our kids.”

Both of their children are grown and no longer live at home so making a commitment to take on the responsibilities of being mayor made sense at this stage of the couple’s life.

Their 24-year-old son, Courtland, has finished his master’s in global economics, but remains in Shanghai, China to do work with a think tank. Their 21-year-old daughter, Kendall, a University of Arizona student, got a scholarship to do intensive language and cultural studies in Amman, Jordan, with plans to serve her country as a second lieutenant in the U. S. Army.

“We’ve always been very globally minded,” said Lisa Johnson. “Both our kids used to wake up to NPR (National Public Radio)… We did mission work with them” through their church and other avenues. She described her husband as being more global, with a desire to do more overseas mission work after they retire.

“I go and do these mission trips, and I say, ‘There are needs right here in our community.’ And that,” Johnson said, “was one of the generators of Mentors and Meals,” a nonprofit academically-focused intergenerational mentoring program that provides after-school meals, homework help and enrichment activities for middle school students.

Launched as a pilot program in March 2011, Mentors and Meals has grown from 40 to 70 students, Johnson said, with high school, college, adult and senior citizen mentors.

Johnson, who started the nonprofit after taking an early retirement from the pharmaceutical industry, said her passions in life were nurtured at an early age by her parents.

“My dad is a lifelong learner. He’s over 80 years old, and he still takes and teaches classes at Carnegie Melon University. And he taught me that education is a great equalizer,” said Johnson. “And my mother is Italian, and she’s a great cook, and what she taught me is ‘when people are sad you feed them. When somebody loses a loved one you feed them.’”

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