School board member preparing run for council seat; hopes to bring diverse voices to the town council.
Esther Lemus has been a voice on the Windsor Unified School District board for four years, and she is now taking that experience and setting her sights a bit higher — at the Windsor Town Council.
Lemus was born and raised in Santa Rosa, but during her junior year of high school, her family purchased a home near Los Amigos Road, and Windsor became her new hometown. She ended up commuting to Montgomery High School so she could finish out her career with her peers. (In those days, Windsor didn’t have its own high school, and she would have had to commute to Healdsburg.)
Lemus attended University of California at Berkeley for her undergrad degree and then got her law degree, and started her family, at UCLA.
“I was down there for a number of years developing my career, and I met my husband and had my first daughter and then we realized we wanted to come back to the area,” she said. “Family is very important to us. I have a very large, close-knit family, and we wanted my daughter to experience that very loving family.”
After a brief stay in Santa Rosa, Lemus and her husband were able to purchase her parents’ home, and as she says, “We’ve been back ever since. We’ve been very happy with being back in Windsor. It’s a wonderful place to raise kids, and my children absolutely love it.”
Lemus works as an assistant district attorney for Sonoma County, but says that public office was never on her radar. “It wasn’t something that was part of my grand plan, but sometimes life happens — life experiences happen — that change your direction. (In my) work with the DA’s office, I work with a lot of kids. I do a lot of prevention work in the schools, and I’ve always been so committed to children, speaking to kids and encouraging them to dream big.”
“There was a closure of a school in Santa Rosa, and that was something that I read about in the paper, and I was not happy with how the children were displaced and scattered to different schools,” she said. “Because it has really serious impacts on kids, and that kind of worked me up. Who was there to speak for the kids?”
It was her frustration with that situation that led her to think about wanting to run for school board, though as a Windsor resident she couldn’t run in the district where the school had closed. As luck would have it, a vacancy had just opened up on the Windsor school board; she applied and was chosen. She has since run and been re-elected.
She says her time on the school board gave her a firsthand view of the importance of diversity in local governance and led to her bid for a council seat.
“The thing that has been really eye-opening to me is the importance of having diverse voices in our policy making,” she said. “There have been many instances where … we’ve discussed something in closed session or out in open session and (I realize I’m glad I’m) in this role because if I wasn’t here, who would be speaking for this issue or that issue? So it’s been that realization, that it’s so important to have diverse voices, perspectives and life experiences when making policy, because I believe you get better outcomes.”
“I have realized sometimes that if you want to see something different, and if no one else is stepping up, you’ve go to step up and do it,” she continued. “I do believe there are some critical voices that are missing from the current council, and so I’ve decided to step up.”
Lemus says her husband Doug Parker and her daughters Sydney, 12, and Chloe, 10, have been supportive of her endeavors.
When asked what she brings to the table for the town council, Lemus cites her leadership experience as school board president during two very trying events — the October 2017 firestorm, as well as having to find a new superintendent when Steve Jorgensen announced his retirement.
“I believe I’m a very fair person and keep a very open mind when it comes to decisions,” she said. “I do that with my work as a DA, when deciding how to resolve criminal cases and take into consideration everything, including victim wishes, someone’s criminal history. (Fairness) is very important. We’re making decisions that have big impacts.
“I’m also a very good listener,” she continued. “I think it’s important, when you’re in this role, to listen to the community, listen to their concerns. I believe that I listen to the constituents and the concerns that are impacting residents and families, and I take the steps to solve the problems.”
But most of all, she says she is running because she loves Windsor and wants to make it the best town it can be.
“I think Windsor is a wonderful place. I love living here,” she said. “I think it’s a great city, and I believe, with me on the council, I can make it even better. I bring a lot of skills and background that will be an asset to the residents of Windsor.”