COVINGTON, Ga. - What does the mayor do? What does the elected position entail? Who is Ronnie Johnston? What’s going on in the city of Covington? The Covington News posed these questions to Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston in an effort to help clarify the position and better understand the man at the head of the community.
Johnston’s answers will be featured in The News as a series. If you have any questions you would like to have answered about the mayor’s office or the city of Covington, please email them to email@example.com and they could be included in the next edition of this series.
The News: What brought Ronnie Johnston to Covington? How did that turn into running for mayor?
Johnston: In the summer of 2008, I believe it was, my wife and I had four kids and we were living in, you know, a nice area – Johns Creek/Alpharetta, it’s a nice area and everything – but we felt like we were missing some things especially when it dealt with the kids and even us. We didn’t really feel connected to the community. It was more of a community of great growth, which you didn’t know your neighbors, they come and go. It was a very transient feel. It was very congested, very expensive. You know, we had four kids in private school for a certain extent.
So, we made a decision that there’s got to be something better and we came upon Covington. What we fell in love with – I don’t know if it’s instantly or not, I guess in a way it should have been – was the history of this community, the people of this community were very welcoming to us and even to the point where we put all of our kids straight into public school. I guess at that time there was probably more people talking about the school system, but we really believed it was an incredibly great decision for our kids because it gave them much more of a rounded education as they say.
What’s interesting at the time, I was commuting back to Atlanta still. I never was here. Then, in 2010, from a business standpoint, someone came and bought our company so I spent the next six months fishing I think and then I tried to figure out what I was going to do next because I’m 48 years old and I never really got involved with the community. I mean, my job was taking care of my family and give them whatever they needed. I was very fortunate and lucky that my wife didn’t have to work, she just raised the kids, but that also meant that I worked about 13 or 14 hours a day every day. So, when that happened, it was kind of a “coming to Jesus” meeting for me because what are we going to do now?
I know there are some rumors of, “He didn’t have to work another day in his life.” Well, no. There was still a need for that.
So, I decided to try to figure out a way to get back involved with the community. I’ve never done anything like that before but then someone mentioned to me “Hey, have you ever been to a council meeting?” so I started going to council meetings and I got hooked.
Part of the thing that I’ve always enjoyed is the challenge to get people to believe in what you’re trying to do and to get them to understand what we can do together and how powerful that can be. With the council, I’ve had a company with a board of directors and was the Chief Operating Officer and it was kind of understood if you don’t do what I told you to do then I’ll get someone else to do it. Well, with the council I can’t fire council people, so it puts you in an unique position because you’ve got to be able to articulate. You’ve got to be able to express your thoughts and visions and be on point to get them to understand that and get their support. For some odd reason, and I’ve yet to figure that out, I enjoy that immensely. For me, I get excited about that. When I have a council meeting that’s a 6-0 vote the entire meeting, I’m like “Yeah, that’s pretty cool!” because I also don’t want to come across like I’m trying to manipulate people or those kind of things.
So, I became mayor and you know the story with all that. It was kind of a miracle in a way but then to me it is kind of a labor of love. I want this to be a great community, but my whole goal is to look back in 10 years and say, “Man, we made a difference in that community. Look what’s happening, people are thriving, people are growing, and people are having opportunities.” That doesn’t mean you’re always going to have your winners and losers. There are going to be some businesses that still fail on the square. It’s part of life, it’s part of the cycle. It’s like my kids do make stupid mistakes sometimes. I do too, we’re all human. To me, it was bigger than that.
The News: What is the most misunderstood thing about Ronnie Johnston?
Johnston: Probably, I guess, some of the rumors I’ve heard that I’m doing everything I’m doing as mayor for my own self-interest. There was a rumor about Three Ring Studios that I have got this personal relationship with Three Ring and its really odd, because actually I do. He’s (Rahim Charania) a great guy and I’ve courted the crap out of the guy to get him to invest here, but we have, naturally it happened, I’ve even gone out to dinner with he and his wife and they’re great people.
People think I’m actually doing things for my personal gain, which bothers me. There was a time when I invested in this city when nobody would and I’m not asking for anything for that because it was a good investment. I’m not complaining. Things have worked out well.
I don’t know how to tell people otherwise because people want to believe what they want to believe. You can’t control it. I have put my heart and soul into this city. You know, I literally get paid $18,000 a year for this job. You can ask my wife about that because she’s like, “How long are you going do this because you’re every year burning up my ability to make more money,” because I can’t figure out a way to do it halfway. To me, it’s kind of a labor of love. I enjoy it. I enjoy what we’re doing with the city.
I am not getting rich doing this job. There are some people, if I had a little part of that, I can be proud of that I guess, but I’d like to think that I’m helping everybody in the community be more successful. I know it’s kind of like who do I think I am? But if we do these things and they improve value, then that’s exactly what I’m doing. That’s cool, I get chill bumps thinking about it.
Even down to the small things. I get to address the Martin Luther King Jr. Day event every year. It’s having those opportunities to speak to different people and try to motivate or inspire. To me, that’s awesome. It’s a privilege to have the opportunity.
For people to try to discount that by saying “Oh, he’s just in it to try to make millions.” Do I own any real estate in the city of Covington? Yes, sir. Am I proud of that? Yes, I am. Anybody that’s got a problem with that, I want to say kiss my butt. I believe in what we’re doing. It would be one thing if I said, nope I’ve got everything in Alpharetta because that place is really good, it stinks down here, but I have bought things here. I have levreged some of those assets. I’ve got a wife that’s opened up two or three different businesses and is getting ready to expand to Marietta and it’s exciting and I’ve got a son involved. So, for somebody to question my commitment to this community, are you kidding me? Are you kidding me? It just blows me away.
I will also admit this, have I been lucky at times and successful? Yeah, I have. Somebody told me the other day, “Everything you touch turns to gold,” and in my mind, you know what I said? “It’s a good thing I’m touching Covington because the whole dang thing is turning to gold.”
Sometimes I take that as a compliment and sometimes people are going to say whatever they want to say but I’m not losing sleep over that because, you know, there’s never been a time that I’ve done anything that would’ve benefitted me personally. Period.
To be honest with you, I have turned down things that I could have done even legally, but I was like this might look kind of bad. My wife has done the same thing. We’ve had businesses come to her and say we want you to provide your coffee in our breakroom or this or that and she’s like well you’re in Covington, it’ll look bad. It’s just really sad, but it’s part of the deal.
The other thing I’ll say too that I think does irritate some people is when I ran the first time we made a conscious decision that we’re not going to take a dime from anybody and I didn’t. The second time I ran, I didn’t take a single donation. Luckily, nobody ran against me. There have been some people that have talked to me about that and its almost like “You need to do this for us because …” Well, there ain’t no because. I ain’t doing it unless its good for the community. I don’t care who you are and that includes even the old-timers.
I’m not really beholden to anybody. I’m really committed to trying to do what I think is the best thing for the Covington. Now, take into account, that doesn’t mean its always a no and that’s one of the reasons we’re doing what I’m doing with you today. Hopefully it’ll inspire some people to call me or when we go on the Listening Tour, show up and talk to me about your struggles.
There’s nothing that I have done that has taken advantage of anything to try to better myself or my family or any of that kind of stuff. It hurts because some of the things I’m being accuse of, its unethical. It means I’m really a slimy guy. You know? I hate to have people say things or have bad feelings, but you can’t control all of that.