Triple J heads Lawrenceville
By Randy Cox
Triple J sounds like the name of a popular singer, but in Lawrenceville… she’s the mayor of the city. Judy Jordan Johnson, the first lady mayor of Lawrenceville.
Medallions like this one held by Mayor Johnson will be placed on the Heritage Trail in Lawrenceville honoring those people who have made an impact on the city and its surrounding community. Residents can submit their choices to the city’s Downtown Development Authority.
Mayor Johnson, a native of Lawrenceville, grew up on Culver Street with her late parents, Hilliard Rhodes and Willela Allison Jordan. Her mother was a social worker/homemaker, and her attorney father served as a member of the State House of Representatives, and mayor of Lawrenceville for 16 years, making Judy the second generation to serve in that post.
And, in addition, Judy is the fourth generation to serve in Lawrenceville city government, since both her grandfather and great-grandfather were members of the City Council.
A member of the City Council from 2003-08, she was elected mayor in November 2010, taking the oath of office Jan. 1, 2011.
“I didn’t aspire to be mayor, but the late former Mayor Bartow Jenkins and four city council members asked me to run for city council at four different venues,” Judy said.
“I said no four times…I wasn’t committed to running a campaign, but they finally convinced me to run,” she said.
The first time she ran for mayor in 2008, she lost by 24 votes, but was elected two years later by a 75-vote margin.
“It was so close the first time, the question was whether I could have won the next time,” she said.
Having retired from teaching in 2006, she presides over the county seat which features an annual budget of $84 million, one of the highest in the county, if not THE highest.
Because she’s retired, Judy spends a lot of time working in her office, and also attends various events in this city of 30,000.
“I think I’m here working so much because I AM retired,” she said. “I try to have an open office, and people are always welcome to come here.”
As for being head of a city with 358 workers, Judy works “to have a positive and energetic attitude with city employees.”
“I also do my best to return my own phone calls and e-mails,” she added.
Graduated from Central Gwinnett High School in 1970, she obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree from LaGrange College in 1974, a Master of Art in Teaching from the State University of New York at Binghamton in 1976, and a Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction from Argosy University in 2003.
Judy taught Mathematics at Central Gwinnett for 30 years, where she coached basketball and softball, and was named Teacher of the Year in 1990.
Married to Allan Johnson, a retired teacher, she has two step-daughters: Melissa is married to Jeff Tresidder, and they live in Minneapolis, Minn.; Becky passed away in 2009.
The Lawrenceville mayor was named the Georgia Business and Professional Woman of the Year (2006) by the Lawrenceville Business and Professional Women’s Club.
Unlike many cities, Lawrenceville provides all four utilities: gas, electricity, street sanitation (garbage pickup), and water, plus a 76-officer police department headed by Chief Randy Johnson.
In Gwinnett County’s two recent snow and ice storms which forced many motorists to abandon their vehicles amid treacherous driving conditions, the city’s Street Sanitation Department made their presence known, Judy said.
“Our Street Department was out with many others working three straight nights putting salt and sand on our roads,” she said. Since the city has both state and county roads, these employees worked in conjunction with Gwinnett County and Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) crews, helping to ease traffic snarls.
When Judy came into office, her number one goal for the 13-square-mile city was to work with members of the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) to clear up inherited violations by the city’s Gas Department.
“We needed to work with the PSC to come into compliance or face paying a $3.5 million fine,” she said. “We successfully made all the necessary changes in our infrastructure, including the reporting of gas violations.”
“We received official word this January that we were in compliance.” She said that the process “strengthened the Gas Department.”
As for beautification, the city is close to opening up a premiere greenspace.
“I’m excited about Lawrenceville Lawn (city’s new park),” Judy said. “It’s being developed now and we hope to open it by mid-summer.” Landscaping and concrete work continues on the project.
Plans are in the works for the seven-acre area to attract cultural events, such as the Moonlight Concert Series in September. Movie nights, a farmers’ market, and other concerts are being considered.
The new area is located about a quarter ways into the Heritage Trail walk that starts at the Fallen Heroes Memorial and winds to Rhodes Jordan Park.
“We’re excited about the trail and the Lawrenceville Lawn. It’s a nice little walk,” she said.
When completed, the trail will feature medallions along the route honoring city and community members who have made an impact on the area. The Downtown Development Association votes on the names and biographies submitted to them by residents. Eight original honorees have been chosen.
Lawrenceville also is the home of three major entities, according to the mayor.
“Lawrenceville has a great triangle: Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC), Gwinnett Medical Center (GMC) and the Aurora Theater,” she stated.
“We’re fortunate to have a good working relationship with the college, and the new corridor there will connect it to downtown.”
Opened in 2006, GGC now has over 10,000 students.
“The college is growing faster than anticipated,” Judy said, and work is continuing to enable students better access to the area.
The Medical Center also serves as a major component of the community, she said.
Students can go to Gwinnett Technical School in Lawrenceville for two years, then transfer to GGC, some majoring in nursing. “Some graduates even do their residency or internship at Gwinnett Medical Center.
“We also are blessed to have the Aurora Theater in the downtown area,” she said, helping to bring in more visitors with its stage and other productions.
Judy commented that she’s fortunate to have an experienced staff, including City Manager Robert Baroni, who has 40 years of service. “His knowledge is invaluable,” she said. Assistant city manager is Steve North and director of economic development is Lisa Sherman.
As for her role in the community: “I believe that neighborhoods, schools, and businesses all have a vital role in the success of a community,” she said. “I see my role as a public servant as bringing a positive relationship to all aspects of Lawrenceville.”
Mayor Johnson discusses city business with Councilman Keith Roche (right), and City Manager Robert Baroni. Johnson was a city council member before being elected mayor in 2010.