Longtime Warsaw resident Sara McNeal Strahan-Lenfestey isn’t afraid to challenge 20-year incumbent Jeff Grose for the Warsaw City Council District 1 seat.

“I’m bringing about something different to the table. I don’t plan on doings things the way they’ve been done for years here. They need to be improved,” the 46-year-old Democrat said in an interview Tuesday.

Strahan-Lenfestey doesn’t have any challengers for the Democrat primary in May, and neither does Grose, 52, in the Republican primary. The two will face off in the general election Nov. 5. But Strahan-Lenfestey isn’t sitting on her laurels until then.

“What made me decide to run for this position is I was seeing that there is a need for representation for all who live here. I look at the board, I see one thing, and I’ve seen that for over 20-plus years since I’ve been here, longer. And I’m like, ‘Something needs to change.’ There needs to be inclusiveness in our board. City council needs diversity on the board,” she said.

“All voices in our community are not being heard anyways, so there needs to be all voices, all connectiveness. Everybody needs to be talking and communicating.”

Born in Warsaw to Joshua and Mildred McNeal, Strahan-Lenfestey attended Warsaw Christian elementary school, Lakeland Christian Academy and finished at Warsaw Community High School, graduating in 1990. She was also the 1990 Kosciusko County Fair Miss Congeniality.

Her son, WCHS graduate Robert Strahan, 26, lives in Fort Wayne and recently married Whitney Gully.

Strahan-Lenfestey works at Northeastern Center in Kendallville, dealing with people who have mental health issues.

A Democrat hasn’t served on the Warsaw City Council since before 1995, but Strahan-Lenfestey isn’t letting that hinder her.

“It is changing the image of the Democrats, the overall generalization. I am not what everyone says all Democrats are. So that needs to be very clear. I can understand more with the Democrat way since I work in mental health, since I’m dealing with different health issues, different social service issues. I’m able to look at that and say, ‘Yeah, I kind of lean more toward this ticket than I do toward this other one,’” she said.

As for specific issues, Strahan-Lenfestey pointed out a few.

“There is a sewage tax increase that is different. ... Warsaw city limits are paying different rates than other places. So that was something that was brought to my attention and I said that was strange,” she said.

She asked her family to pull up their sewage bills and show her where their numbers increased.

“Believe it or not, for a person who is on a fixed income, we might shrug our shoulders and say $3 is not a big deal, but for a person on fixed income living on the Social Security current rate, it’s a big deal. To those people who have to buy medication, that is a big deal,” Strahan-Lenfestey said.

Another issue she highlighted was transparency in local government.

“I believe that all citizens’ voices, especially those that are in my district, those voices matter. I want to hear from each and every single one of those people who are in my district. I need to know what their concerns are. I need to know what ways I can bring about the voice and spirit of change to city council,” she said.

While all city meetings are available online, not all councilmen are at every meeting or make themselves available before and after the meetings, she said.

Strahan-Lenfestey said she wants to be able to meet with her district residents one-on-one and have an open dialogues with them, not just via email.

“I feel that if you are able to connect with your people in your area, in your district, then you’ll be able to communicate with them. The difference between me and Mr. Grose is I plan to be available to take those emails, those phone calls. I plan on meeting with them one-on-one. Selecting a date and time where everybody can come meet with me, before a council meeting and listen to the concerns of the residents,” she said.

As for other city issues, she has a “think tank” that she meets with to discuss issues and ideas. It’s made up of people within her district. One idea her think tank has discussed is community gardens. They would help students learn about nutrition, science and agriculture while helping low-income residents have healthy food available. The fruits and vegetables also could be sold at the farmers market.

On city infrastructure – like roads and sewer lines – she said, “I think there’s always room for improvement, lots of improvement.”

Strahan-Lenfestey said her think tank wants to come up with new ideas that aren’t the “same old, same old” of the last 20 years.

One city department that she had praise for was the Parks and Recreation Department. She said it does an excellent job of developing and maintaining its grounds and facilities.

Strahan-Lenfestey said she plans to attend many upcoming meetings and events in the community. She is open to people contacting her via email at [email protected] to share their ideas and concerns, especially in District 1.

“I’m running under this campaign that everybody is equal in this community. Everybody has an equal voice. I’m not worried if you’re a Republican, if you’re a Democrat. I’m running a campaign that is strictly of inclusiveness because everyone’s voice matters in this community. Period. If you live here, if you have an apartment here, if you are here, your voice matters in our community,” she concluded.