Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Municipal Elections 2023: John Johnson seeks a seat on the Burgaw board of commissioners

John Johnson is running for a seat on the Burgaw Board of Commissioners. (Courtesy photo)

BURGAW — John Johnson is running for election to the Town of Burgaw’s board of commissioners. A retired AT&T employee, Johnson ran as a North Carolina representative, district 16, in 2018 but ultimately lost to Carson Smith.

Johnson, a registered Democrat, has an MBA, a project management institute certification, a Six Sigma Green Belt and Kaizen professional certifications obtained during his 30-year career with a Fortune 10 company.

“These were often challenging,” Johnson said. “All are important for this position.

He is running against two incumbents and three newcomers for three open positions.

PCD asked candidates to address issues pertinent to their municipalities, covering issues such as balancing growth and infrastructure, beach nourishment, development and climate change impacts.

Johnson’s answers are included in full; responses are edited only for grammar, spelling and clarity.

The paywall has been dropped on candidate questionnaires to help voters make informed decisions ahead of Election Day.

To prepare, here are a few dates for readers to keep in mind:

  • Absentee ballots can be requested through Oct. 31 and must be returned Nov. 7 (or post-marked as such).
  • Registration to vote will be open until Oct. 13; afterward, according to the state board of elections, same-day registration will be available only during one-stop early voting.
  • Early voting begins Oct. 19 and remains open through Nov. 4 (3 p.m.). 
  • Election Day polls open Nov. 7, 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

One-stop voting in Pender County will be held at the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, 801 S. Walker St. in Burgaw from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Once early voting closes, voters will need to go to the location listed on their voter registration card or verified here.

To see a sample ballot for the upcoming election, fill in voter registration info here.

A photo ID uis required to cast a ballot in 2021; more information can be found on the state board of elections website.

The candidate’s opinions and statements are not a reflection of Port City Daily.

Port City Daily (PCD): what makes you qualified for a commissioner position?

John Johnson (JJ): The town commission is the representative voice of the community. Therefore, it is incumbent to provide a convenient and respectful forum where all citizens can voice their concerns, observe debate, and participate in the decisions affecting them.

Success requires unbiased critical thinking, clear communication, honest assessment, and respect among all stakeholders. Throughout my career I carefully observed and learned from many excellent civic leaders. I appreciate the sacrifice of their time and the skills they brought to their respective roles. l will draw upon the best of my experience and interactions. I will strive to be an effective advocate of our community and a responsible team member among our commissioners. 

Objectively, I possess the more applicable professional, practical and “real world” experience related to this important administrative job. I am an active learner. I am at ease as an attentive listener and as a public speaker. Additionally, I own residential, multi-family and commercial property here. I pay taxes. I am invested in our community in many ways and optimistic about our common future. I look forward to teaming with our existing board, talented new mayor, professional staff, and town employees. I hope to serve our town commission by making well-reasoned decisions based upon citizen’s input to ensure our future success.

PCD: Why run for commissioner now?

JJ: The entire three-county area is on the cusp of unprecedented growth and change. As stated below, now is the time for a fresh approach to thoughtfully guide the upcoming development.

PCD: Name three issues you think are most affecting the city currently and describe how you would work toward tackling them.

JJ: (1) Work within the constraints of the current budget to avoid future tax increase.

(2) Parking: Our local businesses are vital to our community. Thriving local businesses fill and utilize otherwise empty storefronts. Thriving local businesses provide needed services and goods along with providing employment opportunities. Thriving businesses attract other thriving businesses. Conversely if parking is unavailable, our local businesses lose opportunities to serve patrons. Some lesser successful businesses may close and create empty storefronts. Therefore, I believe it is a municipal responsibility to better manage public parking and thereby benefit our citizens, businesses, and community image. 

(3) Both our largest opportunity and largest threat facing the town ultimately involves our greatest local asset. It is Pender Memorial Hospital, now Novant Hospital. While it is outside the scope of this position, and while the property now is owned by Novant, I believe it is important our local government use all available influence to ensure it remains open in the long run.

Here is why: on Aug 03, 2023, Martin General Hospital in Williamston, NC closed. According to UNC School of Public Health, since 2005, North Carolina lost 13 rural hospitals to either closure or conversion. Although the federal government offers a lifeline to rural hospitals through Medicaid expansion, our General Assembly have yet to act upon it. We are proud of our hospital in Burgaw. It provides a superb advantage over communities without a hospital. It provides close and convenient emergency services and treatment to all Burgaw residents as well as those in surrounding communities. Unfortunately, even with the recent agreement with Novant, its long-term picture is unclear.

PCD: Burgaw is updating its park and recreation master plan. What do you think should be included to expand recreational opportunities for residents and visitors?

JJ: As a candidate, this is a frequent question. Young families are looking at Burgaw as a potential affordable new address. We have a beautiful children’s playground now at Harrell Park. However, a second playground may be appropriate due to our projected growth throughout the town.

Secondly, we may consider creating a safe and attractive open-air space dedicated to family picnics, similar to a New England Town Green.

Third, at some point, we may consider an outdoor amphitheater providing a venue for music, theater, other artistic events, and graduations. I am open to consider other ideas as well from our citizens.

Items 1 & 2 could potentially be placed on the old railway path, provided easement rights can be resolved. The railroad path is clear, flat, and level. It is perfectly convenient as it is in the center of town. Also, it is near supermarkets, restaurants, and parking. Equally important, it and can be inexpensively prepared. There are several potential locations around town for an amphitheater site if the parcel can be
reasonably obtained.

PCD: Pender County is growing at a rate of nearly 1.3% annually. How do you plan to keep pace in terms of jobs and housing, while also balancing quality of life for residents, especially with the small town feel of Burgaw? Are there ideas that haven’t yet been considered?

JJ: We have all visited towns that exemplify either good or lesser examples. We should strive to emulate good examples. Well-reasoned planning can address growth while maintaining a desirable small-town feel. We should work within the existing UDC (planning / zoning plan) to focus on single family and low-density multi-family developments.

The aim should not be to cram as many homes per acre as possible. Instead, we should endeavor to guide a more pleasant community for all residents – with gentrification effects in mind. Growth can be accommodated through less density, less stress on neighbors, and while optimizing utilities and public safety considerations.

PCD: An increase in inquiries related to short-term rentals (ex. Airbnb / VRBO) in Burgaw has the planning department looking into the possibility of allowing them within town limits. Do you think Burgaw should consider allowing short-term rentals, why or why not? Should they be regulated?

JJ: We have only a few B&B properties along with one motel. Demand exists and will likely grow. I would like to see additional overnight options for our visitors. Perhaps short-term rentals through Airbnb / VRBO may help fill that gap. Or, perhaps a new hotel may find its way to Burgaw as we are so close to the beaches and on I-40.

PCD: The Burgaw Fire Department has requested additional funds from commissioners over the years and most recently asked for a 2-cent hike on the fire tax, last increased 10 years ago. While it was not included in this year’s budget, do you support increasing the fire tax to replace aging vehicles and hire more personnel?

JJ: Yes. We are very fortunate to have an excellent and responsive fire department. The same applies for our police department and rescue squad. If it can be demonstrated the need exists, I am absolutely on board with providing for their needs.

Additionally, as with all our professional, administrative, and public safety employees, we should strive to attract and maintain the best personnel possible.
Providing a comfortable, family friendly small-town environment with attractive housing options is key to achieving this desirable goal. We are in the enviable position of being at the start of this process. We have all the right decisions ahead of us. This is tremendously better than recovering from prior poor execution.

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