By David Hotle, The JOURNAL
Shortly after it became known Washington City Council mayor pro tem Sandra Johnson was going to take over as mayor of Washington, someone asked what her plans were in the position. She said she hoped to remind the people of Washington the meaning of the word ?neighbors.?
After close to 18 years in public service on the council, Johnson announced that she would not seek re-election during the city elections in October. Tuesday will be the last regular meeting she will serve as mayor before passing the gavel on to new Mayor Jaron Rosien during the first council meeting in January. Having been the first woman mayor of Washington, she feels she has left a good legacy for people to follow.
An open house will be held in the Washington Public Library from 4:30 to 5:45 p.m. Tuesday for Johnson and outgoing council member Kathryn Salazar.
After being sworn onto the council Jan. 1, 2000, Johnson became mayor in 2008 after former mayor Rick Cicalo died suddenly. She has since run for office in 2009 and 2013. She said the Friday before the election in 1999, Sen. Mark Shearer recruited her for the at-large position in which no one had taken out papers to run. Johnson said when approached she had initially said that she didn?t feel she had the background to go on the council.
?I didn?t feel I had stayed abreast of the issues other than reading the paper,? she said. ?I had never been to a council meeting. I had never been to any committee meetings. I didn?t feel I had the knowledge base to do the jobe adequately.?
Johnson had said that she did not choose to run, but if elected she would not turn down the position. She was written in to the at-large seat. She quickly began going to every meeting she possibly could before being sworn in.
Previously, Johnson said she had become interested in politics. She credits former President Bill Clinton for getting her interested in politics. Previously she had been an independent and said the Clinton campaign caused her to re-examine her core beliefs. The re-examination drew her to a Tom Harkin steak fry.
?It was inspiring to see people involved in governance,? she said.
That led to her campaigning for Harkin, which in turn led him to recommend her for the position.
She said once she was on council, the first role of business was selecting a candidate to fill the new role of city administrator. She said many strides forward had been made by the time she was appointed mayor.
Citing reasons of hoping to achieve ?better work-life balance,? Johnson said she won?t seek her third term as mayor. She said she has several projects she hopes to complete that she has had to leave unattended due to her role as mayor. She also said she has four grandchildren she wants to spend more time with.
During her time on the council, Johnson said ?considerable strides? had been made to improving the city?s infrastructure. She said one of the biggest lessons she had learned is that strategic planning is very labor-intensive and helps prioritize city projects. She said the city staff has taught her how difficult it is to deliver all the services citizens have grown to expect.
In the coming term, she hopes a few more business park lots will be sold, and the grid from Highway 1 to Iowa Avenue will be complete. She also hopes to see public safety addressed with a sidewalk improvement program. She also hopes to see the empty spaces in the downtown filled.