Thursday, July 16, 2009

Not your typical mayoral candidate

Rae Johnson announced in February that she would be a candidate for Mayor this year, and has qualified to appear on the ballot in November. I sat down with Johnson at Javapalooza early this month to learn more about what prompted her run for Mayor of Middletown.

Johnson said her study of the city budget was the major force that motivated her to run for office, "I was really, really annoyed with the spending in our town." She expressed her disappointment that politicians do not lead the city by example. She cited the mayor's salary as a prime example, saying that if elected, she would immediately cut the mayor's salary by $35,000 per year. [Note: when I first published this, I incorrectly said it would be cut to $35k]

She had not carefully analyzed the budget for the fiscal year which started July 1st of this year, but mentioned several areas in last year's budget that she felt could have been cut. In so doing, she weighed in on some of the controversial issues that Mayor and the Common Council have grappled with this year. She felt that the city's transportation costs were excessive, saying that the decision about providing cars to city employees should be based on who needs a car, and not based on who wants a car. Johnson also questioned spending $42,000 on city cell phones, and $1.35M on overtime.

Johnson feels that the Council was premature in spending money from the sale of the Remington Rand property last year and Cucia Park this year, in both cases before the money was received, "I was always raised that you don't count your chickens before they hatched, to me it's not good business sense."

Johnson returned again and again to the theme that city government needed to get more, and more varied, input from residents. She expressed her admiration for the surveys that Planning and Zoning Commissioners are doing, saying these surveys provided a constant flow of information into government. She also lauded the newsletters that the Water department includes with their billing statements, "Other departments [at City Hall] should do that." She called on City Hall to provide more varied hours of operation, trading day-time hours of operation for occasional night or weekend hours to make it easier for people working odd shifts to participate in governance.

Johnson's vision for the city is to draw more variety in businesses. She pointed out that seniors have no place to shop, and that there are minimal opportunities to buy such things as clothing on Main Street. She pointed to Newfield Street as a potential location where car lots could be replaced by big businesses such as Borders Books. She decried the lack of planning that has gone into recent decisions, "How many drug stores do we need in a 3 mile vicinity, were there any other options?"

Johnson's platform includes numerous initiatives for the environment, including taking City Hall and all the schools off of the electric grid, improving Mass Transit (including a trolley line to Hartford), and building more bicycle routes. She has not provided any figures on the costs and benefits of her proposals, but seems convinced that they would not only make environmental but also economic sense.

Johnson is new to Middletown politics, having spent no time on any boards or commissions, and with no close connections to the long-time elected officials in the City. Her response to my questions about her lack of background in municipal governance was a question, "Define experience." She wants people with a different background in political office, "We need common sense."

Although she initially sought to run as an independent, she is now running as a member of a new political party known as the Realistic Balance Party. She gave no consideration to going through one of the major political parties, saying, "I don't like being pigeonholed into one philosophy. We can't continue to stick to parties."

Note: Rae Johnson will be a guest on this week's Eye on the Air show, Friday from 1-2 on WESU, 88.1 FM.


Anonymous said...

My concern with this candidate is the same as all others - you need EXECUTIVE EXPERIENCE to run a municipality. The types of decisions made are very similar to being the CEO of a company.

That said, I don't know any CEO who will work for $35,000. Keep in mind the Mayor is on call 24/7, 365 days a year. That's an insult to pay them less than most secretaries in a private business make. Frankly, it's not a livable salary, even in Middletown.

Anonymous said...

Common sense is good.

Anonymous said...

1.When are people going to understand most of the bad decisions made in middletown are result of the council voting down good ideas by the mayor? ie his idea of cutting 60k worth of fireworks- money which could have been used for a variety of youth programs where funding was cut?

2.Ms. Johnson- the city does only provide cars to those who NEED them. there is no such program as free cars to city employees. Most city autos are used by employees transporting equipment which would not fall under city insurance if lost or damaged while being transported in a personal car. Unless you do not care about being able to reach manager 24/7 then a cell phone is necessary. It is unreasonable for the public to not expect round the clock service, however also unreasonable to make employees who provide this to also provide the cell phone.
Believe it or not employees do not even get free coffee- there is a little can next to a pot in the lunch room to collect money in. I am sorry tax payers must pay for toilet paper.

3.Taking city hall & schools off the grid? i know the concept of "green" has taken off but not all buildings can be strapped with a wind turbine to generate electricity, nor can each use solar panels- there is alot more to this science that just throwing our something you saw in a magazine or heard on HGTV. Nice idea, but there who have to be an expansive energy study by QUALIFIED independent individuals to assess the reality of such an undertaking.

4. she has not read the budget? Ms. Johnson the budget is quite long and complex and you have 4 months to go to read it and investigate things that need clarification- i suggest you get on that-

More hours for employees at city hall yet you wish to cut spending, salaries and overtime? so what they are to work weekends for free? and some folks working weekends and some not doesn't make since since not all positions will be covered then.

BTW during tax collection time- there are extended hours-
Other city departments such as Water, & Public Works have individuals available for off hour emergencies.

5. YES we all want more business in Middletown- Ms. Johnson- i think we are all looking for the HOW?

6. The majority of shops on main street are clothing and restaurants- maybe Ms. Johnson you have not been to that part of town.

It seems that this candidate also believes the stereotype that all city employees are evil moochers like so many citizens do who go to public council meetings. We all share the same goals for Middletown but we need someone to lead us who has a plan to execute them- not just more brainstorming without results!

Anonymous said...

On her website, it states, "As mayor, my first 'sacrifice' would be to reduce my salary by $35,000.00 per year."

Note that it says reduce BY $35k, not TO $35k as reported here, and commented upon.

Anonymous said...

In reference to Anonymous #3:

1. Yes, that is partially true. Government needs to work together in the best interest of the citizens - "Representation by the people, for the people." - rather than for their own best interests.

2. I can't speak to the car issue myself, but I fully agree with Mrs. Johnson's desire to 'reduce' this expense - note that she does not mention eliminating it.

3. It is exactly your attitude that has prevented our city from moving toward alternate energy sources. Solar is a much more viable opportunity than it has previously been. I didn't notice where she said that she would be solely responsible for making cost comparisons. I applaud her initiative on exploring greener alternatives.

4. Read more carefully. She could not have reviewed the new budget until recently. It is obvious, even from this article, that she has taken time to examine the budget that has been in place. She did not say 'more hours at city hall' but rather changing the hours to make city hall more accessible.

5. Agreed, but there is little evidence to seeking variety with the recent sprining up of drugstores on route 66. Personally, I understand a retailer's desire to be within a certain radius of their competition but do we really need another pharmacy in town?

6. Restaurants, yes. Clothing? Not so much. We need a good bookstore in town. Broad Street Books only goes so far...

I don't see the 'evil moocher' attitude in any of her information (website, articles, etc.) I applaud her decision to take the lead in cutting what would be her own salary by $35,000 should she be elected.

fishmuscle (Stephen H. Devoto) said...

Johnson sent me a correction on the salary issue. Anonymous at 3:11 is correct, she is proposing to cut $35,000 off of the mayor's salary.

Anonymous said...

Sounds great! But please don't let Main Street succumb to big business in your effort to diversify it. Adding some used bookstores or clothing boutiques would be nice, but let's not stick a J.C. Penney's on Mainstreet, please!!
I do think that Middletown is becoming known in the area for its restaurants, and this niche should be encouraged to develop, instead of trying too hard to diversify the business. Just a balancing act.

Anonymous said...

Finally, a breath of fresh air. At last we have a mayoral candidate who knows ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about running a city. Our prayers are answered!
Cut $35K from the Mayor's salary? Get real.Take City Hall off the power grid? Maybe erect one of those windmills that are so VERY popular now.Maybe all City employees can bring a candle to work.
This person has absolutely NO grasp of reality. Please, just click your heels three times.....

Anonymous said...

"She felt that the city's transportation costs were excessive, saying that the decision about providing cars to city employees should be based on who needs a car, and not based on who wants a car."

She actually believes that any ANY city employee simply must request a car then is given one!!


Also there are MANY clothing stores on main Street what is she talking about?

argos said...

She sounds good to me. By the way, how much does the mayor receive in salary from the taxpayers?