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Johnson and Swatman win

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Neil Johnson promises a positive change and a new beginning for city

By Dennis Box

The Courier-Herald

After two debates, numerous face-to-face meetings and plenty of kitchen-table guessing, the numbers are in - and so is Neil Johnson, the new mayor of Bonney Lake.

Johnson emerged from the Nov. 8 general election with a 58.13 percent showing, earning 1,658 votes to defeat Councilman Jim Rackley who picked up 41.16 percent 1,174 votes, as of Thursday. The election will be certified Nov. 29.

After serving one term as an At-Large City Council member, Johnson made a strong showing in the Sept. 20 primary with about 42 percent of the vote, while Rackley took 26 percent. That sent incumbent mayor Bob Young, who was seeking a third term, to the sidelines.

Johnson and Rackley watched the returns roll in together at Papa's Italian Restaurant, on the Sumner-Buckley Highway, showing the congenial atmosphere between the two candidates.

The first numbers showed up shortly after 8 p.m. and the trend was quickly set for the evening with Johnson ahead by about 18 percent.

“I was honored and humbled,” Johnson said “I looked over at my daughter and I couldn't believe it. On the rough days I will have to remember looking at that screen, seeing those numbers.”

Rackley said he as happy with his showing.

“I got over 1,000 votes,” Rackley said. “I appreciated all the voters that voted.”

The hard work of taking the reins in rapidly-expanding Bonney Lake starts officially with the New Year's Day for the new mayor, and he promised a change in both attitude and attention by the administration and staff.

“The No. 1 change on Jan. 1 will be attitude,” Johnson said. “I want a fresh start with the new year. This is the people's city. If the people show up and need something, they will get it. I want the city to be open and service oriented. Change is good and change is positive, but it takes everyone. I'm city first, not developer first, and we have to keep focused on that.”

Deputy Mayor Dan Swatman won the At-Large 1 seat Johnson vacated and, after victory was assured, he was all smiles at the prospect of a new approach to the issues facing the city and the council.

“With Neil as mayor we know we will be getting information,” Swatman said. “The staff won't have to fear being fired if they talk to us. Bob (Young) did not encourage the staff to communicate with council members.”

Johnson said he intends to schedule one or two town hall meetings shortly after taking office to gather citizen input on the direction Bonney Lake should be taking.

The mayor-elect said he hopes to set a “vision for the city” in the first couple of months that can be followed, which will include the Downtown, Midtown and Eastown plans.

Johnson said another change will come with department heads. Young was criticized during the campaign by Johnson, other candidates and council members for a high turnover of department heads and not allowing his directors to manage their departments.

“I want to make sure the department heads can manage,” Johnson said. “If they make a decision, great. They won't always make the right one, but they have to have the freedom to fail and move on.”

Other changes on the drawing board include a restructuring of the finance department. Johnson said he intends to base part of the restructuring on the financial review that was recently completed by Financial Consultation Solutions Group from Redmond.

“I'm looking at how Issaquah provides it services with less staff,” Johnson said. “The bottom line is the best service at the best cost.”

Council members and Johnson stated an early agenda item will be to secure a city administrator.

“I plan on using (Administrative Services Coordinator) Don Morrison with the transition,” Johnson said. “Then I will work with the City Council to see if we want a city administrator. I would like to get Don to be my administrator.”

After eight years with Young at the city's helm, Johnson said he does not want the staff to think he will come in with changes from the rugs to the roof.

“I don't want to make too many changes,” Johnson said. “I'm telling everyone I'm not making any changes unless I talk to people first. We have to look at this as a process of improvement.”

Young said he had sent an e-mail congratulating Johnson on his victory.

“Now he starts learning what being a mayor is really like,” Young said. “There is a lot to learn.”

Johnson noted with the election over he could “hardly wait” to get started.

“To me, this is a great opportunity for a new Bonney Lake,” Johnson said. “I want it to be a representative government where everyone's ideas are good ideas”

Dennis Box can be reached at dbox@courierherald.com.

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