As an outspoken critic, John Johnson wants to bring more transparency to the Lodi City Council. He has spent years analyzing the city’s books on the Lodi Budget and Finance Committee. During that time, he has criticized the council for some of its spending habits and management of the utilities.
He believes he will bring the frugality that he has learned over the years as the owner of a business-appraisal firm.
“Being a business owner and being responsible for putting beans on the table and making sure you don’t overstep your means; we need more of that, not less,” he said.
One decision he has disagreed with is the purchase of water from Woodbridge Irrigation District back in 2003. He said the council should have had a concrete plan on how to use the water and how to pay for either groundwater recharge or a new treatment plant.
He also gets upset when the council pays for studies on projects that are not funded, like drafting the plans for an indoor sports center.
“I’m just not going to make a decision where I do not know what the end game might be or where the end game is open,” Johnson said.
While sitting on his front porch, he often points across the street when talking about council decisions and asks how it will affect his neighbors. One of those times is when he talks about the water treatment plant.
The council approved funding to draw up plans for a $36.5 million water treatment plant that will use the WID water the city purchased. At Wednesday’s meeting, the council will decide whether to issue bond financing for the plant.
He believes the council could have done a better job letting the public know how much the plant is going to cost, and how it will affect the city’s water rates.
“The city council has to do that type of analysis to be honest with the people, because maybe the people are going to say, “To heck with the water treatment plant,’” Johnson said. “It’s too expensive.”
The biggest task during the next four years will be balancing the budget, Johnson said. Even though revenues are going to be tight, he hopes the council will come up with a plan to start working on deferred maintenance.
He uses Fire Station 2, which has needed repairs for years, as an example.
“Nobody addressed it because it’s always the same thing: ‘We don’t have the money,’” Johnson said. “You’ll never have the money if you don’t identify the problem and come up with a way to fix it.”
When it comes to increasing revenue, he believes the council needs to be more friendly toward prospective businesses that are thinking about locating to Lodi.
“(The city should say,) ‘We would love you to come to town, what can we do to help you?’ As opposed to, ‘Give me half a million bucks and we’ll connect your sewer pipe.’”
He hopes his knowledge of how the city works will benefit him in the campaign. He gets frustrated when he hears council members say it took them years to learn all the ins and outs of the city.
Because he has been on the Budget and Finance Committee since its inception in 2005, Johnson said he will be familiar with the issues on day one.
“There’s not going to be a learning curve for (me),” he said.
Based on his experience, he would like to reform the committee and put it in charge of overseeing the Electric Utility and the water and wastewater utilities. Any issues involving the utilities could start at the committee, and most of the public vetting could be done at that level.
“The EUD went into financial free fall and the thing was broke. It got there because it had no oversight,” he said.
Some of the national anti-incumbent sentiment might carry over into the local election, Johnson said, because many of the issues are the same.
He said at the national level, people are upset about debt, too much spending and high unemployment. He believes those same issues are happening at the local level.
“All the factors they would be upset with the people in Washington and Sacramento, they oughta be upset with them here in town too,” he said.
He hopes his local connections will also help in the race. He has coached sports for years in the community and has always felt comfortable calling people at City Hall because he knows many of them.
Throughout the years, he has watched Lodi grow from 20,000 to 60,000 and still manage to keep its unique identity, he said.
“It’s part of having those relationships and having the knowledge and history of where Lodi was and what it has evolved into that I think is important for someone to know,” he said.