Johnson served as Richardson’s deputy city manager from 1996 until June 2012, when he was promoted to his current position. Prior to coming to Richardson, Johnson worked in Carrollton and Sherman and with the North Central Texas Council of Governments. He has 45 years of service with municipal governments in total.
Johnson announced his plan to retire in December, and City Council named Deputy City Manager Don Magner as his successor a week later.
Editor's note: Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Talk about the role of a city manager and how that position works with Richardson staff members.
The business analogy would be the chief executive officer–I am the full-time, hired person to manage the city. With the exception of the city attorney, the city secretary and the municipal judge, [all of] which the council appoints, all other employees of the city I hire, appoint, or cause to be hired or appointed. So the roughly 1,000 employees we have, ... those folks are essentially my staff that I promote, hire [and] develop over decades to take care of parts of the responsibility. Then my job is just coordination and orchestrating to deliver on responsibilities, service and missions.
What are some best practices for working with the mayor and City Council members that you can share?
Having just a real active, open and honest engagement is really important. You really have got to honor each council person as an individual, but in fact, it's always a group decision. ... Staff gains the best chance to be effective when it knows the goals and missions [of the city]. One of the things that I've appreciated is that this community and this council, and prior councils, have been very goal and mission oriented. They've been willing to take some time at the beginning of the term and confirm those points with staff.
I think the other thing that's been really important is to serve what I call the full definition of community constituencies. In this town, 60% of the tax base is business, not residential. So it's citizens/residents; it's the business community, but I also submit for this town, it's the visitors—they’re [also] our constituents.
What do you feel has been your biggest accomplishment during your time in Richardson?
I feel, first of all, that it has been to sustain the model of governance that we have–that the system and the method of governance occurred well [and] that the community felt, hopefully, value from our elected officials and from us as staff.
We think we have assisted them, and I’m proud of getting through some tough times. ... but also [having been] a steward of the things that were already here and cause [the community] to be fruitful and multiply.
I'm very proud of having been a part of that. I did not do much of anything. I orchestrated and caused the amazing talents of this city to come together and do it. I really believe that. And I believe that if I've done anything, it's about harnessing and coordinating and connecting and inspiring and certainly communicating and those kinds of things that I'm asked to do in a lead role.
What are some of the biggest challenges you foresee for Richardson in the future?
You can't ignore the dynamics of the COVID phenomena in so many known and emerging impacts. It's something to kind of navigate through. I don't think that is unique [to] Richardson. I think we're part of the global experiment on this.
We’ve got to navigate with that factor. But we've got to be purposeful to still [get] where we're trying to go. This amazing community that will do, as it has had to do over decades, this interesting renewal and refresh to be contemporary for the time and setting they're in. Richardson’s ... bones and its fundamentals are so good, that it has been able to discern and interpret how it needs to be positioned for the next tomorrow.
What you see us doing in the next few years I think is going to be fundamental towards setting the stage for that. Many of our city facilities has been refreshed for the next decade. I think [the challenge] is about continuing our steps of refreshing and renewal to stay contemporary and valid for the future. And I think we're well on that way.
5. Do you have any advice for new City Manager Don Magner that you would like to share?
The advice for Don is [to] continue his good work [that] he's already done these past 25 years. Don is a very amazing talent. Don is fully ready for this next responsibility. Don has tremendous orientation, so the advice is be attentive to constituents, be attentive to good service delivery, and bring value to our citizens and all of our stakeholders.