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December 31, 2015 • Headline News
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Terms end for long-time council members

Meisberger, Holzer share insight about public role

Mary Mattingly
Sue Meisberger and John Holzer
Pictured left, Sue Meisberger and John Holzer joke and fight over the gavel at the last meeting!

Editor’s Note: Sue Meisberger and John Holzer’s terms are up as Versailles Town Council members as of Dec. 31. Collectively, they’ve served the community as elected officials for 32 years. In their tenure, they have seen many accomplishments, from a new fire station and a new water source for the town to a new employee hiring process. Steve Mathes, council president, commented at their last council meeting on Dec. 17, “I know it’s not easy and I want to thank you both for your years of service and dedication…I appreciate your patience with me. You’ve both been a pleasure to work with and truly care about Versailles and its citizens.”  A special dinner was held Dec. 30 and the two were presented with a plaque. Ripley Publishing caught up with both elected officials and discussed their accomplishments and what they’d like to see for the future of the town.

Sue Meisberger
“People think you get to do whatever you want to do,” Sue Meisberger says of being a town council member. It doesn’t work that way, she adds, far from it. She would know. Meisberger has been on the Versailles Town Council for 20 years. She put her name in when Margaret Wilson asked her if she wanted to run for her precinct. “It’s been good. I have enjoyed it,” the retired bank teller and mother of five said.

Thursday, Dec. 17 was her last meeting as a council member. She had decided earlier to not run again for the four year term. She has worked alongside several Versailles community-driven folks, recalling her terms with the late George Stenger, and more recent, with John Holzer, who is also stepping down, and Steve Mathes, now president of the council. They’ve gotten along well, and it’s rare when they don’t vote unanimously. “You need to get along, but vote for what you feel is right,” she commented. Meisberger is proud of their work in the past two decades, mentioning the Versailles Sports Complex as a big accomplishment. “Really, the credit goes to the Tyson Fund, which provided the majority of the funds,” she added. It was a learning experience to find someone to run the center, and is happy with how the Tyson Activity Center now rents it from the town, and operates it. “They’re doing a fantastic job!”’ she said.

Council also worked on the town’s water supply, and after several studies and analysis of dredging the lake, it was decided they needed to go elsewhere for a water source. Also, the new fire station was built during her tenure, the old one being renovated and now available for community meetings.
The next big project she foresees is repairing the town’s storm drain system, a million dollar plus project. Meisberger likes the idea and momentum behind the Versailles Main Street Committee, of bringing people downtown to a gathering spot. Of course, she remembers when the square and downtown were the hub of the town, when taverns, restaurants, shops and a bank filled what are now mostly empty buildings around the historic courthouse.

Meisberger, who runs Colonial Manor in her retirement, says she was not stopped on the street often nor called at home much concerning city matters. That’s not to say things never got contentious. There were several standing room only crowds at the monthly meetings, particularly when the new sports complex and replacement of the ponds for the sewer plant were being considered. Nonetheless, the New Marion graduate who likes to work with her hands outside (she likes car detailing!), plans to stay active and keep busy. People will still see her at the local festivals and events, always lending a hand with a big smile on her face. The spry 78 year old’s motto these days is “to get up and get out,” she says and laughs. “It’s been a pleasure to work in the community. “

John Holzer
When the filings for election came up four years ago, John Holzer had completed eight years of service on the town council, but he had not completed one of the town’s biggest projects which he had taken on, a new water source. “That was my reason for the last term. I had put a lot of time into it,” he said. He figured he went to 34 meetings all over Indy and southeast Indiana, about finding the right water source.

The Versailles High School graduate finished what he had started in July 2013, when the new water source became operational. The businessman didn’t feel the town had much choice as the old source, the Versailles lake, was filling up and requiring costly chemicals to treat to make it suitable to drink. “It was a big deal,” he said of the town’s water contract. He believes the new source, Hoosier Hills Regional Water District, is better and will be around for another hundred years. Not all have been pleased with the new source, but few if any have complained personally to him. “It was as my 92 year old mother told me, ‘When you try to please everyone, you please no one.’ ”

Holzer advises the upcoming council members to keep that message in mind, along with “having open ears to listen.” The father of three and married to Carol, a former teacher, he decided to run for election to serve the community he grew up in and where he had chosen to return to retire. This also came after working with Danny Jackson and the Versailles Historic Preservation, the group responsible for planting 500 cherry trees, decorative lamplights, and street and stop signs, all through a $400,000 grant. “I was 52 and retired and I wanted to do community service,” Holzer says. “Funny thing is I did not know there was compensation for city council. I thought it was volunteer. I really did. When Ted Spurlock, the clerk- treasurer handed me a check a few months after, I didn’t know what it was for!” (The position pays about $4,000 a year.)

He learned later from state government leaders the compensation is necessary in order to attract people to the position. It bothers him that this past fall there was no election because there was no opposition. It is rewarding to serve and give back, he and Meisberger both attest to. Besides the water project, Holzer was also involved in other town projects. He initiated establishing background checks for new employees, and revamped the police department, making policy changes that saved thousands of fuel dollars. “We hired honest and loyal people.” He’s proud they were the first town in the county to partner with the schools for a school resource officer.

Another policy change was made to keep employees from taking home city equipment. Several ordinances were updated (the books were so old that it had an ordinance about tying a horse at the west side of the courthouse), and other ordinances passed to keep the town clean during both he and Meisberger’s terms. During their tenure, the sports complex was built, and the sewer plant revamped. “That was a major deal,” and had some residents upset with the drained sewer ponds. But he thinks people very much enjoy it now, and he is anxious to see the walking trails paved by springtime.
While Holzer was council president for eight years, he heard his share of criticism, and said he got lots of calls at home when he was council president. He won’t miss that, nor the commitment.

“I won’t miss having to do something,” he admitted. Holzer wants to spend time with his 17 grandchildren, to travel, go to daily mass, or work on his farm in Switzerland County. Yet he will miss the interaction with the town employees and the board. “I feel like it is the perfect time to step away,” he said, and pauses. “I think and I hope I left the town a better place than it was.”

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