Question 8: In February 1998
, a 2-1 vote by city officials directed the closure of Vicksburg Municipal Airport effective March 31 of that year. If, after taking office, the new city board is called on to vote again on closing Vicksburg Municipal, how will you vote? Why?
Johnson: I always weigh the costs versus the benefits of any monumental change in critical facilities such as Vicksburg Municipal Airport. I would rather see a merger of the new with the old, if possible. Otherwise, I would have to see a major need for such a critical decision for change. I would have no problem if it turns out to be of great benefit to the greatest number of people within the municipality.
Question 9: What would you do that’s not being done now to improve the appearance of the City of Vicksburg?
Johnson: One of my major goals would be to see that Clay Street, as the gateway to the city, is festooned with the most beautiful array of flowers possible. I would do the same for Washington Street wherever possible. I would also insist that vacant buildings be cleaned up and renovated by their owners. There is no sense in the downtown area being as ugly as it is. A clean and beautiful appearance would symbolize a clean and honest government at City Hall.
Question 10: In 2000, water, sewer, and garbage collection rates were increased drastically to bring them more in line with the city’s actual costs for these services. These increases offset a multimillion-dollar supplement being paid from the general fund. Should consumers pay the actual costs of city utilities or should there be cost sharing, as was practiced previously, to limit bills of those less able to pay?
Johnson: A core function of any government is the redistribution of its key resources, namely capital goods and social services. Tax revenues are designed to require that those who benefit most from public facilities (roads, lights, clean water, fresh air) should offset the shortfall of the less fortunate. City government should use taxes rather than higher billing.
Question 11: Vicksburg has about 600 employees and a $15.8 million payroll, putting the cost per employee at about $26,300. Have you compared these numbers with other American municipalities about the same size? Do you have an idea of how many people should be on the city payroll? Are you satisfied with compensation levels? Too high? Too low?
Johnson: The city payroll is a deceptive tool for comparison with other municipalities. When we consider the outlandish amounts paid to former city employees now working as consultants and professional experts outside government, that’s where our money is wasted. We are still stuck with the excessive billings of our former city attorney, the million dollar-plus engineering bill, former city planners getting a cut of needed block grants, etc. Put an end to the unseen greed of the “consultants” and we would be right in line with the best-run municipalities. The salaries of those city employees who work out in the field and sewers of the city should definitely be given consideration for better treatment. Their pay is really too low. Cut out the consultants and give the money to the workers.
Question 12: Please summarize your views about the Vicksburg Convention Center, its use, management and funding.
Johnson: It is evident that the once unwanted convention center is currently failing to live up to what was promised via programs and revenue therefrom. I would love to bring to Vicksburg and the convention center in particular some of the major talents that I have established either a professional or personal relationship with over the years. Why doesn’t the city sponsor the top-notch comedians, actors, music personalities, speakers, etc., for the edification of the local citizenry? Since I have contacts with such people already, I don’t see any problem in persuading them to come. We could use a good contemporary Broadway drama or a Shakespearian revival every now and then. I would like to provide such programs. And I definitely intend to take the convention center to a higher level of service than it has ever been before.
Question 13. What do you consider Vicksburg’s most important asset? What plans do you have to use or support this asset more effectively?
Johnson: Vicksburg’s most important asset is the collective talents of the people living and working in the city. We have the highest proportion of engineers than any other city in the country. After the Corps of Engineers and the Experiment Station come the national park and cemetery as a longstanding tourist attraction with a worldwide recognition factor. Although it has shrunk somewhat over the last three decades, our industrial base (Cooper’s, LeTourneau’s, VicksMetal, etc.) also adds important benefits to the local economy. Throw into that mix the recently arrived casinos and we have a good business mix to draw from. I will do all that I can to let these businesses know their worth to the city and I will encourage them to expand or attract other businesses on a regular basis.
Question 14. Who are your personal heroes in public life? Why?
Johnson: As a deeply religious person, I hold God above all other role players in the world around me. Next to the Good Lord, I hold my father in high esteem. He is a strong man who has set a positive example for me during the 35 years of my life. He has also taught me how to be strong and to give a purpose to my life. He just recently retired after 35 years of work at Cooper Lighting. He taught me never to bow down to anyone and to always stand up for what is right. He has also taught me that if I cannot help another person in some way, then something is seriously wrong. Oprah Winfrey has become a good friend and role model for me also. She has taught me to reach for the moon and to grab it when it comes within grasping range.
Question 15: Looking back four years from now, what do you hope to be able to say that you and your fellow city board members accomplished?
Johnson: After four years as Vicksburg alderwoman, I hope to say that I brought beauty to the city, that I helped the elderly and the suffering people among us. Young people will know that I fought hard and successfully to provide for their needs in terms of recreation and economic assistance. I will point to the streets and roads inside the city that I was instrumental in getting paved. I hope that I will be able to point to a vast number of new businesses that I either encouraged or attracted to set up in Vicksburg. I hope to be able to refer to the rodeos, great stage plays, concerts and even locally produced films all of which I had a part in setting in motion and seeing in a completed stage.