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Dan Johnson

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Here's an article from the Lewiston Tribune:

By Joel Mills

Lewiston's state senator wants to become its first strong mayor in generations.

District 6 Sen. Dan Johnson said he supports the citizen initiative on the November ballot to switch the city's form of government from the city manager-city council model to the strong mayor model and plans on officially running for the mayoral position once the filing period opens Aug. 23.

Other Lewiston residents have expressed their intentions to run for the position, but none with the name recognition of Johnson, who served as the city's sanitation manager for several years and as its state senator since his appointment to fill a vacancy in 2011.

Johnson said he favors the switch in form of government because even though a city manager and a mayor both serve as the chief executive of the city and would have similar duties, only a strong mayor is directly elected by the people. In contrast, city managers are appointed by the City Council and serve at its will.

"I think it brings some accountability to the position, and it lifts that veil," Johnson said Friday, adding that the city manager position can be a buffer between residents and the mayor.

Another plus Johnson sees in the strong mayor model is that candidates are residents of the communities they wish to serve and familiar with their people and issues, while city managers are frequently hired from out of the area. And while a city manager only has to keep a majority of the city council happy — four people in Lewiston's case — a strong mayor has to answer to all the voters.

Regarding his current term in the Legislature, which runs through the end of 2022, Johnson said he won't make up his mind until after the election on whether to step down. Idaho law would allow him to serve in both positions, and the state has historical and contemporary examples of legislators who served as mayors or city councilors back home.

"I'm running for a position that doesn't yet exist," he said. "I'm not looking past November right now."

He noted the others who have served in two capacities typically lived closer to Boise, so the distance between Lewiston and the capital city might make it more difficult for him to wear two hats.

If the initiative does pass, and he manages to win a majority of votes (a requirement for election of the mayor the city council passed last week), Johnson said he is excited to work on policies that lower the tax burden on property owners by reining in budgets. He also wants to "roll out the red carpet" for existing businesses and those looking to locate in Lewiston. That welcome would partly consist of reducing the cost of doing business or getting established in the city, he said.

He also touted his experience working with city budgets as the sanitation director, and his more recent experience on the Senate Budget Committee. Overall, Johnson said he's not looking to make big changes, but maybe fine-tune the city's finances to make sure the city has "the right amount of government, not too much."

He commended the city council for setting the mayor's salary at $80,000 in the event voters approve the initiative. The intent of setting it at that level — about half of the current city manager base salary — was to give the next council the budget flexibility to hire a professional city administrator to assist the mayor. Johnson said he believes a strong mayor would require the assistance of some kind of city administrator.

"I'm not worried about the salary," he said, "but to me it confirms what the people have been saying, that we're paying too much for the city manager plan."

Johnson emphasized he has nothing against current City Manager Alan Nygaard, just the form of government itself, which is only used in a few Idaho cities.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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