One of Creighton University’s own, the new mayor of the small town of Sidney, Iowa, doesn’t have small plans.
Peter Johnson, a current Creighton School of Law student scheduled to graduate in 2021, won the election for mayor with 150 write-in votes in Fremont County on Nov. 6, according to reporting from KMA Land Radio.
Succeeding Paul Hutt, the former Sidney mayor, Johnson is familiar with the lay of the land, having grown up in the town of a little more than 1,000 and graduating from Sidney High School in 2010 and the University of Iowa in 2014.
“Since I returned to my hometown after graduating from the University of Iowa, I have been actively involved in efforts to improve the community,” Johnson said. “I decided to run for mayor after realizing that if Sidney and rural towns like Sidney are to survive, it depends on their ability to attract young people like me back to the community.”
He said that this leadership position provides an opportunity for him to introduce “bold ideas” and innovation to keep the town thriving.
Citing academic excellence and community cooperation on beautification, Johnson said Sidney “has a lot of things going for it.”
However, he sees room for improvement in other areas, such as housing.
“Sidney’s housing market is robust following the flooding on the Missouri River, but the local government needs to work with local bank and other local stakeholders to find a collaborative solution to fill vacant lots and address blighted properties,” Johnson said.
He also envisions technological advancements in data and marketing.
“We need to master the fundamentals of the digital age, things like updating the city website, making it easier for residents to communicate with local government through digital means, and also increase the amount of information available to the public to increase transparency,” Johnson said. “It is also important to acquire and use data to analyze the services the city delivers and see if there are ways to make service delivery more efficient.”
Creighton School of Law, Johnson said, has prepared him well for this new endeavor.
“My education has emphasized service to others and a conscientious awareness of one’s effect on others,” he said. “The coursework at Creighton has given me skills and knowledge of the law and has also given context for me to effectively identify opportunities to use my education to serve others as the mayor of Sidney.”
Johnson founded an organization at the law school called Rural Law Association, which he said aims to encourage law students to serve rural areas.
“The pride [Johnson] has for his hometown and his desire to do well by it are evident within seconds of meeting him,” said Evyn Perry, a classmate of Johnson’s and the Student Bar Association vice president. “If his conduct as mayor is a fraction of how he conducts himself as a Creighton student, Sidney, Iowa is in great hands.”
Perry was not alone in his praise of Johnson and his devotion to his works.
Paul McGreal, a professor at the law school, said he has heard of Johnson’s passion for Sidney and his desire to serve.
“It was no surprise that when an opportunity arose to serve his community as mayor, Peter stepped up to offer his time and talent,” McGreal said. “I am confident that his servant leadership will live the Jesuit commitment to being contemplatives in action.”
Another law professor, David Weber, echoed this support.
“Prior to any of his political aspirations, Peter was dedicated to returning to his hometown and doing as much good in as many ways as possible,” Weber said. “Peter has a deep sense of duty and commitment to society, and joining the ranks of elected officials makes perfect sense for who he is and what he believes. I think he will be an excellent mayor, and I have no doubt that this is just the first of many good things we will hear about his career.”
The chaplain for the Graduate School, Heider College of Business and Law School, Gladyce Janky, also acclaimed Johnson and his concern for his neighbors and future of his community.
“Peter is one of those individuals that always seems upbeat and ready to take on anything,” Janky said. “As a [2L] student, he is well on his way toward achieving his dreams of ‘setting the world on fire,’ for his hometown.”
Johnson’s drive and loyalty is derived from his deep roots in both Sidney and Creighton as a second generation Creighton School of Law student. His father, Jon Johnson, graduated from the law school in 1977 and set up his law practice in Sidney. Johnson worked under his father as a legal assistant after his undergraduate education.
“Often, products of small town, rural communities in America look to larger metropolitan areas for career opportunity and entertainment,” said Richard McFayden, the associate dean of the law school. “Peter, however, has consistently demonstrated a loyalty to his community of Sidney and a commitment to finding solutions to insure the maintenance of the rural way of life. He understands that creative economic development and infrastructure improvement are essential to ensuring that rural communities thrive. His resolve to serve that community as mayor while juggling his considerable workload as student and community volunteer provide our Creighton community with an example of service above self.”