COVINGTON -- Lawyer Philip A. Johnson is running for the District 5 Board of Commissioners seat.
Johnson is running as a Democrat, but he said he'd rather all races that don't cross county lines be non-partisan.
"It is as though the parties seem to be so partisan and bickering at each other that elected officials themselves try to get out of the equation of trying to solve problems. We've got to bring some stability back to politics, and I mean that at every level."
Johnson said he's been disappointed to witness the number of 3 to 2 votes by commissioners of late.
"That tells me that part of the BOC is not buying into whatever plans we're making for our growth and that's not healthy over a long time, so I think we will be better at governing if we can try to reach a consensus," he said. Concerns about the dissension and partisanship on the board are why Johnson said he decided to run.
Johnson served as county attorney from 1976 to 1980, and said he witnessed great leaders like the late former BOC Chairman Roy Varner and former Covington Mayor Bill Dobbs build consensus among governing bodies and pool their resources to work together for the common good. In the past the governments partnered together to construct Lake Varner, build the Covington Bypass and widen Washington Street.
"We did a lot of things people didn't think we could do because we worked together," he said.
"Over the years I've seen that partnership fade away and now they are almost totally separate entities that are not as cooperative with each other as they could be," Johnson said, adding that he would like to foster a better relationship between the county and all the municipalities.
Another top priority for Johnson would be the creation of a comprehensive, long-term plan to attract commercial growth to Newton.
"When I was a young boy you could buy a suit in Covington. There was a movie theater and two bowling alleys. We are in sad shape in terms of providing goods and services to our residents, and we've got to make attracting commercial (development) as important as attracting industry," he said.
Johnson said the board could improve the process that businesses have to go through to obtain permits and meet regulations. He said currently there are too many departments to deal with and "time is money to these people."
He would recommend a more "user friendly" approach, such as having an ombudsman who could coordinate the process or following Gwinnett County's lead and having certain days when representatives from all departments involved in permitting and inspections for businesses are on hand for applicants.
"Worse than unemployment, our people are underemployed. They're making less today than they were in 2005 and 2006. The county government needs to be more sensitive to the needs of potential customers, to help them get through the regulatory hurdles," he said.
Johnson said Newton was hit particularly hard during the recession because of its dependence on the housing market. But given the current housing inventory with the number of foreclosures, there won't be a demand in that area for quite some time, he said.
"We've gone from one of the fastest growing counties in the nation to one of the bottom rungs in the state as far as bankruptcies, foreclosures and unemployment," he said.
"This is a life-changing event we've come through and it's going to take a long time to get out of it. We can no longer look to the housing market to pull us out. We have got to come up with a plan."
Johnson said he is also a proponent of a transparent government.
"I cannot conceive how someone can run for office and not believe the constituents of the county don't have the right to know what's going on," he said. "You'll never get the people to back your decisions if they don't understand them ... this idea that people can't handle knowing what's going on is absolutely absurd."
Johnson, 62, served in the Georgia House of Representatives from 1976 to 1980. He has practiced law for 38 years, and currently is managing director with Birdsey Preservation Partners. His practice is concentrated on real estate, both residential and commercial, along with business law and banking.
He is the former chairman and CEO of First National Bank of Newton County and previously ran a day care chain. He is the former owner of Covington Athletic Club and Flaunt Boutique and Spa, businesses that he said closed due to the economy.
He is a Newton native and graduate of Newton County High School. He has a journalism degree from Georgia State University and a law degree from the University of Georgia, where he graduated first in his class. He is a member of High Point Baptist Church.
Johnson has a wife, Rita, and four children, Michael, Braden, Dylan and Mia, along with eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
District 5 Commissioner Tim Fleming has announced he will not seek re-election. Qualifying for the July primary takes place May 23-25.