LIMA — For Autumn Swanson, “Vision of Change” is more than a catchy slogan for a mayoral campaign. It’s a new way of looking at the city she made her adopted hometown 16 years ago.
“One of the things I’m trying to do with my campaign is help people to visualize the change, visualize what Lima can be,” she said. “If I can believe it and visualize it, I know someone else can. All it takes is for me to be excited about it, optimistic about it and talking about it to others and make them feel the same way.”
Swanson has a contagious positive energy, expressing new ideas with ambitious language.
She’s not just looking to improve neighborhoods. She wants to create a “Department of Neighborhood Elevation,” complete with weekly meetings with the mayor to help address neighborhood concerns.
“We do need to bring some cohesiveness to the way we work in the community development department, and just raise it up and really look at what we can do for neighborhoods, because it’s the core of the city,” she said. “We really need to focus on hearing our residents’ voices.”
Swanson is in a four-way primary May 4 to replace retiring Lima Mayor David Berger. The top two vote-getters advance to the November general election.
Swanson, 41, earned her bachelor’s degree in ethnic, cultural minority, gender and group studies from Bowling Green State University in 2002. In 2004, she earned her master’s degree in public administration for non-profit, public and organizational management.
Swanson started working in the public and private non-profit sectors of St. Louis before coming to Lima to be near family. She worked with Crime Victim Services and Girl Scouts of Western Ohio before joining Lima’s city government as a neighborhood specialist. She quit that job to run for mayor.
She envisions a block-by-block movement through the city that starts with basic beautification, such as planting flowers and trees to make existing neighborhoods more liveable. Volunteerism can help make it happen, and then an emphasis on code enforcement can follow. She said there could be noticeable change by 2023, starting with the entryways to the city and moving from there. It could be funded by Community Reinvestment Area and Community Development Block Grant funds, along with investments from the private sector.
Similarly, Swanson proposed creating a “development ombudsman,” someone who can look at the city’s development policies with a fresh set of eyes and help “smooth out some of the processors” for developers bringing projects into the city. She said the person would also guide people through the city’s rules and regulations.
“We’re looking for someone who is unbiased, in terms of not employed necessarily by the city, but looking to help people get things done quicker,” Swanson said. “We want to make doing business very easy for people coming in who are trying to develop or start a new business.”
Swanson advocates for opening a Community Oriented Policing satellite office in all of Lima’s wards, with the same officers working in those areas for two of the three shifts each day so they can better know a particular area. She thinks officers can free up some time by using new technology.
She also wants to introduce mentorship programs to help show children the multitude of careers and activities possible in Lima.
Swanson’s campaign did take a hit earlier this year, when she was charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated Feb. 20. She was found guilty of a lesser charge, physical control, on Friday. Her campaign said she pulled off to the side of the road to use her phone, and the vehicle became stuck in the snow.
Swanson, who was interviewed prior to Friday’s court hearing, spoke generally about the negative tone of the campaign so far. She admitted she’d “shed a couple tears” over comments she’s seen online. True to herself, she wants to be positive.
“The campaign is not about how much dirt can be pulled up on this person, that person or whatever,” she said. “The campaign is about issues. The campaign is about the City of Lima, that’s what it’s about. I just wish we could have focused on that the entire time.”