New Public Services Director Lisa Shaffer is no stranger to hard work
In the small, sugar-beet farming community of Garland, Utah, Lisa Shaffer grew up pushing a broom and mopping up messes on job sites of her dad’s construction company.
“I loved it. It’s where I’ve always felt most comfortable. Anything about hard labor, I still adore and appreciate,” Lisa says, while sitting at a conference table in the basement of the City and County Building.
Decades later, her early immersion in good, hard work was worth every push of that broom. Lisa is the newest member of Mayor Biskupski’s cabinet, having recently been appointed Director of Public Services on September 8. She now oversees 13 divisions, and a budget this fiscal year of $67 million. Her department delivers some of the city’s most visible services, including street repair, park maintenance, snow removal, open space management, golf course operations, tree maintenance, street signs and signals maintenance, and the Youth City program.
Lisa had been serving as interim director since early April. Prior to that she was the department’s administrative services director for two years. In total, she is an 11-year veteran of Salt Lake City, including seven years doing development review work for Community and Economic Development.
In announcing the appointment, Mayor Biskupski praised Lisa’s wide-ranging skills in project, personnel, and budget management.
“Lisa is highly respected by her team and will ensure this highly visible department responds in a timely and efficient way in delivering services to the public,” the Mayor said.
Lisa’s priorities include establishing stronger professional development programs for Public Services employees, many of whom are skilled tradespersons. Maintaining parks, public lands, and open spaces adequately for a population that loves its green spaces is another challenge, she says.
It is the people – her team members and city residents – that keep Lisa moving and motivated. She is often seen talking with lawn mowing crews, parks and street repair employees, and others who roll up their sleeves and do the city’s jobs in the stifling heat and freezing cold.
“My grandpa was a farmer, and with my dad’s construction business, it’s the kind of work I know best,” she says.
Before joining the city, Lisa did drafting for a private engineering firm and spent three years at Alliant Techsystems (ATK) in Clearfield, Utah, as a project manager and designer.
She spent much of her time overseeing work stations where employees refurbished parts for reuse in refurbished Minuteman Missiles. She tracked billing and spending on the $1.65 million military contract, and appreciated the technical work, but the job took a toll on her psyche.
“One day I had to face the fact about what I was doing,” she says. “I was helping to build missiles. Missiles kill people. I couldn’t do it anymore.”
About the same time, Salt Lake City had adopted a policy of providing insurance benefits for same-sex partners. This was vital for her at the time in her personal life. In 2013, Lisa married Holly Simonsen, a poet and English instructor at Westminster College. They were part of a wave of couples that descended on the Salt Lake County Clerk’s Office on the heels of U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby’s December 20 decision to overturn Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage.
They waited in line for eight hours that day. And in an instance of sheer coincidence, Lisa and Holly were eventually married by Jackie Biskupski.
“I didn’t know Jackie. I knew all about her, but didn’t know her yet. We had no idea that one day I’d be working for her as Salt Lake mayor. It’s ended well for all of us.”
Lisa and Holly live in the Sugar House neighborhood with their 13-year-old daughter, McKenzie, and an aging Alaskan husky named Briscoe.