Johnson, Clements served city well

By Observer editorial January 25, 2011 01:57 pm
The La Grande City Council begins 2011 under new leadership, with Daniel Pokorney taking over from Colleen Johnson as mayor. Big budget shortfalls loom and difficult fiscal decisions lie ahead.
 We wish Pokorney and the council all the luck in the world dealing with them. At the same time, we salute Johnson and also Councilor Steve Clements  for their many years of devoted
Johnson, an economics professor at Eastern Oregon University, has accomplished much on behalf of the citizens of La Grande through her nearly two decades with the council. She’s left a deep and favorable imprint on the city.

She doesn’t deserve all the credit for the good things that happened on her watch, nor does she claim it. As she has noted herself, during her 16 years on the council — 12 as mayor — she served with 20 councilors and many able staff members and department heads.

For nearly all the time she served, she was sided by Clements, an oft-outspoken but always conscientious mayor pro tem. Clements left the council at the end of his last term in December, deciding not to run again. He gave much of himself during his time in service.

There’s no doubt
La Grande is a better place for Johnson having been mayor. During her tenure we’ve benefited to the tune of an Urban Renewal District, a new fire hall, a new library, an innovative, award-winning wastewater treatment
system, several major street reconstructions.

There’s more. In her last couple of years as mayor, Johnson pushed harder than ever for downtown revitalization. She advocated for the hiring of a community and economic development director, who, after he was hired, was the key to getting the Oregon Main Street program going locally.

In a collaborative effort between the city and the Main Street Program, numerous storefronts have been remodeled and new bike racks and trash cans and other features have been placed along downtown streets. Work continues.

Before Johnson left office the city council was paying far more than lip service to downtown improvements, and creatively using volunteers to make things better.

Like any politician worth her salt, Johnson said and did things during her tenure that weren’t 100 percent popular.
She never stopped wondering, for instance, exactly how city-funded non-profits like the Union County Economic Development Corp. Union County Tourism were benefiting the city.
She asked the question directly, right out loud. It sparked memorable and sometimes bitter debates. Feathers were ruffled, to say the least.

Right or wrong, though, Johnson always fought hard for the things she believed in, and hard against the things she didn’t. She was a strong, articulate leader.

Last year, with her term coming to an end, Johnson decided to step down as mayor. She did run for a council position in November and was defeated by John Bozarth. There’s no shame in that.

For one thing, Bozarth is a well-respected citizen and community leader in his own right. For another, everything, including political eras, comes to an end one day.

But it’s hard to believe Colleen Johnson, and Steve Clements for that matter, will ever give up their habits of volunteerism and community service.
We expect they will continue as forces for positive change, here or elsewhere, one way or another.

Whatever they choose to become involved with, we wish them the best. And we thank them for all they accomplished as members of the council.