July 18, 2024

Johnson reflects on the journey to becoming Ashby’s Mayor

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Liberty Johnson and Reed Anfinson
Grant County Herald

Little did Amy Johnson know that a chance trip to visit family in Ashby would lead to her meeting her future husband, or that 17 years later she would become the town’s mayor.

Johnson grew up in Andover, a small town north of the Twin Cities, but she would often visit family in Ashby. She would eventually go to work in the Twin Cities after earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Human Resource Management from Concordia State University in St. Paul.

Then one weekend in 2005 while visiting Ashby she met Brian Johnson at the Ashby Legion club. He grew up in the Evansville area and was home on leave from the U.S. Army.

At the time, he was in the process of transitioning to Fort Campbell, Kentucky. “My only way to be with him and get to know him was by moving to Fort Campbell,” she said. The couple lived in nearby Clarksville, which sits on the Kentucky-Tennessee border. Not quite two months later, they were married.

Five years later, Brian Johnson began the transition from active duty to the reserves and they were transferred to Fort Snelling in St. Paul. Both got jobs in the Twin Cities, but only stayed for a year before moving to Fergus Falls where both worked for the next five years. “We chose a rural life,” she said of their move. 

Amy Johnson went to work for Lake Region Healthcare and Brian Johnson was with Ziegler CAT. Four years later, they moved to Ashby. Her husband now does logistics for a manufacturing firm. Amy Johnson is the founder of Cardinal Consulting Solutions, a business focused on workforce development and helping businesses with the workforce shortages. 

As the Johnson’s became established in the Ashby community, Amy Johnson got to know people in the community who had faith in her abilities as a leader and encouraged her to run for mayor. 

For two years leading up to the November 2022 city elections, Johnson was approached by people in the community asking her to consider running for mayor. “I laughed at them the first year and then I started taking it seriously the second year,” she said. 

Before long, she began to take the idea of seeking elected office more seriously. Johnson got involved with organizations that promote women running for office – 100 Rural Women and VoteRunLead. 

“I felt like those were people I connected with and those were my people. I really felt comfortable in those rooms that collected these women who were running for office. That empowered me to run, and the community has been behind me ever since,” she said.

Johnson said she continues to be involved with those organizations that promote women running for public office.

Running for mayor would be a daunting challenge, one that meant taking on then Mayor Tom Grover who had been in office for 20 years. Johnson won the election last November with nearly 63% of the vote, 131 to 78.

While many people like to stick with what they know, Johnson believes that she won because the majority of people wanted change. 

Though Johnson didn’t have a political background, she has served as a member and officer on numerous boards of directors. Her experience on those boards taught her how to run meetings. 

With a background in human resources, Johnson felt like she was somewhat prepared for public office.  “My background is in human resource management and what I am doing is managing projects and just really empowering people,” she said. “That is very in line with my professional background.”

“It is all the spirit of collaboration with council members, community partners, and organizations,” Johnson said.

In her first year of a four-year term as the mayor of Ashby, Amy Johnson is learning a lot about the challenges the community faces. Solving some of these challenges will help the community grow while keeping its aging residents in town. 

Johnson would love to see new housing for seniors who need more manageable homes so they can continue living in Ashby. Many older couples who can live on their own are still in family-sized houses that could be filled by newer families moving to the community. 

Another challenge Ashby faces is upgrading its infrastructure, but more specifically, wastewater management. Ashby continues to grow, which means that there is an increase in the volume of flow at its wastewater plant. Wastewater from the city is moved to a holding pond outside of town. However, with the increasing population there’s not enough storage room in the current pond. 

Johnson and the City of Ashby are looking into solutions, but it is likely to take several years to accomplish all she would like to see happen for the community.  Funding for the improvements will have to be addressed before work can start.

A major issue, especially for the safety of the community, is the condition of the streets and sidewalks. Many streets, like Iverson Avenue and Country View Estates, do not have sidewalks, but have children living in the homes along those streets.

Without sidewalks, any route to school, or any other part of town, is not safe as people are forced to walk in the street. The challenge with getting the roads and sidewalks installed, and old ones fixed, is that it costs money and takes time. 

Planning for the needed community infrastructure improvements and figuring out where the funding will come from are the duty of the council. As mayor, Johnson works with fellow council members Heather Rossum, Ronnie Jaenisch, Scott Ellingson, and Wayne Stierlen in addressing the challenges and finding opportunities for the city.

As mayor, Johnson says she relies on and appreciates the input she gets from City Clerk Mike Thormodson. A fulltime employee working out of Ashby’s city hall, he is a gateway for information about the community.

People go to Thormodson with issues facing the city and he relays the messages on to Johnson, who can than talk to the person if necessary.

Johnson enjoys having her business and running it out of Ashby because it makes her more available and more accessible to continue while also working through her mayor duties. 

Johnson plans on meeting with business owners, school board members, the Ashby Legacy Fund, and other leaders of the community quarterly to ensure everyone is working together and not duplicating efforts.

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