Long time real estate attorney Philip A. Johnson is running as a Democrat for the District 5 seat on the Newton County Board of Commissioners seat because he wants to bring more civility to local government.
Johnson, 62, has been practicing law in Newton County for 38 years but said he wants to return to politics to get Newton County back on track.
"One of the most important issues we've got to tackle is the lack of civility in politics. We have got to reach the point where we can have consensus decisions again; every vote doesn't have to be 3-2," Johnson said.
Johnson said he served as county attorney in 1976 when Roy Varner was county chairman, and he remembered how much Varner was able to accomplish because he was able to build a consensus among the board, including Lake Varner, the creation of the Covington Bypass Road and the widening of Washington Street.
"I think what we have gotten into is where the two political parties exert far too much influence in the process, as opposed to the individual elected officials and the people exerting the influence," Johnson said. "I'm old. I've been around a lot of really sharp people in my life, and I think I can bring to the board civility and a sense of trying to find the best compromise to deal with the problems we have."
Another point on Johnson's platform is making Newton County more friendly to commercial businesses by reducing administrative and regulatory hurdles. He said he'd also like to see the county plan for commercial nodes in the southeast and southwest portions of the county.
He'd also like to see an increased focus on infrastructure, particularly roads. While the budget is constrained, Johnson would like to emphasize future planning so the county knows where to spend money when the economy improves.
Finally, Johnson said he would like to see an improved and meaningful relationship between the county and its cities, particularly Covington.
He referenced the Washington Street widening project, which Varner and former Covington Mayor Bill Dobbs worked together to make a reality. Johnson said the two men went to the Georgia Department of Transportation, where officials told them it couldn't widen the road because it would cost $2 million. Dobbs then agreed to move all of the utilities from the roadway for free, while Varner said the county would contribute the other $1 million.
"We've lost some of that cooperation over the past few years, and we have to bring some of it back. The city has expertise in administration and some areas, such as erosion control, where they may be a little more up to date in their processes," said Johnson, noting that as the county expands its services it will need the help of the city.
Johnson has practiced law for 38 years, specializing in commercial real estate law, including transactions, banking and taxes. He has recently begun working in foreclosures and bank-owned properties, as that's where the majority of the legal real estate work is in this market.
He was previously county attorney for a few years in the late 1970s, while he was practicing with current County Attorney Tommy Craig. Craig then took over and has been county attorney since.
Johnson said he has also owned several side ventures, including a chain of day cares for 19 years, which he and his wife eventually sold off. The couple also ran Covington Athletic Club and Flaunt Boutique and Spa for several years, but both of the businesses closed during the economic recession. The buildings were eventually foreclosed on.
As a real estate lawyer, Johnson was also actively involved in residential and commercial development, developing around 5,000 single-family residential lots and 500 commercial lots from the early 1980s to 2005, including convenience stores, office buildings and small shopping centers. Johnson developed the strip of land along the Covington Bypass Road, where United Community Bank, Zaxby's and El Charro now sit.
Johnson has also served as chairman of the board and CEO for First National Bank of Newton County, which is now Bank of North Georgia.
He also served two terms in the Georgia House of Representatives from 1976 to 1980.
Johnson was born and raised in Newton County and graduated from Newton County High School.
He earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from Georgia State University and graduated from the University of Georgia School of Law in 1975.
Civic involvement and family
Johnson is a member of the Mansfield Masonic Lodge, Scottish Rite, York Rite and High Point Baptist Church. He and his wife Rita, have four adopted children Michael, Braden, Dylan and Mia.