COVINGTON, Ga. - On May 5, The Covington News published the first installment of questions with Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston. In these questions, we have opened the floor for reader-submitted questions to help clarify the elected position.
As promised, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org and they could be included in the next publication of the series.
The News: Why feel the need to open up to the newspapers and residents? What misconceptions are you trying to clear?
Johnston: I’ve always prided myself in being a very open mayor. My card has my personal cell phone number on it. You know, I think part of my responsibility of being the mayor – which I see as the representative of all the people in the town – is to be open to that level of communications and this in a way is my attempt to try to start to improve that.
I think it’s important at this point to start a process that allows people – whether they agree with me or not, it’s really not what I’m after – but they need to know where I’m coming from. I think I’ve allowed other people to draw that picture and it’s not always correct, so I thought it would be a good idea to make myself available to the papers from the standpoint of continuing our good relationship to allowing you to honestly know where I’m going and what I’m doing and what really matters to me. It’s those kinds of things.
All this stuff we’re trying to do really ties back to pretty simple things, but they’re pretty profound things. They’re about giving people hope. They’re about giving people opportunity. Some of the ways I believe to do that is you have to have people come invest in the community. You can’t make it up yourself.
We’re moving into a phase now where the next five years are going to be some of the biggest in Covington’s history. There’s going to be stuff happening around here, that people will get excited about and I want to make sure that we as a community are prepared for the opportunities coming our way.
I just wanted to share with you, in an effort to get it out in the community, and in a way educate, but let people know that I’m open.
That is the ultimate goal. It’s to have a conversation. It’s to allow you to pick my brain. It’s my way of putting myself out there and saying if you want to criticize me, at least criticize me on what’s true. Don’t just criticize on stupid stuff or stuff that’s being made up for whatever reason. That is my ultimate goal. It’s really that simple.
The News: You have said that you have a goal of zero unemployment. If that happens, how do you think that will affect incoming industry and businesses?
Johnston: At first people laughed when they heard me say that, but they laughed a little less each year. What I use that phrase for – because I think it’s important in any successful business, like a paper or a city government to effectively brand yourself about what you really are and that’s where that zero came from and to eradicate poverty. Those are my two main objectives. It was about trying to keep those in everybody’s minds.
What I’ll say about the Covington/Newton County Economic Development Office, can you imagine the pressure that’s put on them because growing our local economy and bringing new jobs is their job and they’ve got a mayor that’s funding the source to do that job and I’m going around telling people unemployment will be zero.
It has that kind of effect on people.
The issue of “Are you going to have enough jobs?” … The great thing about the city is that not only do we have what I call “cool jobs” – because one of our goals was to have a diversity of jobs – we’ve got bioscience; we’ve got Facebook; we’ve got movie things, so we’ve got some cool jobs and some very well-paid jobs, but they all require different levels of education. You don’t have to have a doctorate for most of these jobs.
The truth of the matter is, we never had enough people for all these opportunities. If you look, we’ve reversed this transient thing. It used to be everybody lived here and drove to Atlanta to work, or wherever. I used to, the first two years I lived here, I drove to Norcross every day and got back up here and life was great. Right now there are people who live in Buckhead who are commuting to Covington for a job. It’s a big deal if you start thinking about it. To me, it’s actually a little bit better too.
That’s what’s going to happen and it’s already starting to happen. It’s part of our challenge because we want to get everybody a job here, that’s why when I have the opportunity to talk to people I’m direct about now’s the time. It’s here. Get your stuff in order. Get whatever course you need. Get whatever you need to because you’re going to have opportunities. If you don’t take those – even if we don’t have another industry come here, you know how much we have now? If you don’t take those, someone is going to come here to take them and that’s unfortunate, but I can’t control that.