Issues


Reason for Running

I take pride in the City of Virginia. I was born at the Virginia Regional Medical Center and graduated from Virginia Public Schools. I currently live and work within the city limits of Virginia. Community involvement is very important to me and I want to continue to make a difference for a community that continues to become more diverse.

My grandfather served as an airplane mechanic in Europe during World War II and other family members are currently an active part of the Minnesota National Guard. A representative democracy must communicate with its citizens. This means talking to AND listening to others.

Communication is the future of our city. We need to have people of different backgrounds and of different opinions openly discussing options and representing the citizens. Elected officials need to take time to hear all sides, even if there are differences of opinions. My ideas will help Virginia to move forward into a safer, more cooperative future not only within city limits, but in the Quad Cities, and across the range.


Health and Safety

A property maintenance code is necessary in the city of Virginia. As the current council moves line by line through the proposed code, it is important to see the final outcome as a safer, more vibrant city.

The citizens of Virginia are the key to feeling safe and secure. Our Police and Fire Chiefs are both working very hard to build and maintain the highest of quality employees. The city needs to let the departments acquire and maintain the equipment and training needed to continue to protect and serve our city. They cannot do it alone. Citizens and business owners need to be present in our city. People need to be walking in our parks and working in their yards; strolling on the sidewalks greeting fellow residents, passers by, and guests. Crime happens when people are not paying attention. Bringing life back to our streets and confronting illegal behavior is the responsibility of every citizen.


Financial

A majority of the city budget goes to pay our hard working staff. What is left is cut and divided into tiny portions to run departments. I would like to examine to see if there is room for improvement when it comes to managing the City of Virginia budget. Elected officials need to listen to the people hired to run the city. We need to listen to the administration and the department heads. These are the people who work daily with budgets. They know the ins-and-outs of staffing challenges, maintenance, expenses, and revenue. They are the council’s greatest asset to create a balanced and sustainable budget. Virginia needs to move forward and be able to be balance what we want, what we need, and how we plan for the future.


City Green Space

The City of Virginia needs to be balancing our current green space with the resources available to manage it. As a Parks and Rec commissioner, I have spent many meetings talking about and trying to find solutions to all of our recreation needs. The city’s green space is only green about half of the year. Our Miners’ Memorial Building is in need of serious repair. Most of which has been put off for one reason or another since the mid-80s. The city needs to look at the bigger picture to manage how we better support all of our public recreation resources. We need to start planning for regular maintenance of the streets, buildings, and public spaces before they fall into such disrepair that it is an emergency fix.


Economic Development

The council’s primary job is to support the administration we have hired. Economic development is not a catch phrase to be thrown around at meetings. The city recently hired a top-notch city administrator. She will be able to work with the staff that has made great strides in increasing the tax base in Virginia. It is hard work to bring employers to the area. It is more than making a deal to build a building or finding grants to expand infrastructure; it is creating a business friendly environment supported by great education opportunities, a quality arts and recreation experience, and a community of friendly, welcoming people. Every citizen of Virginia has a part in economic development. We all need to take a part in making Virginia a viable economic destination.

The city council needs to direct, encourage, and support city staff to create long range plans for all departments. We need to have written plans on replacement of capital expenditures for buildings and infrastructure. We need to see how our personnel expenses are going to change as longevity increases or as we hire new staff. We seem to only look at the budget one year at a time and put off the less important needs until the next year. We need to be looking out 5, 10, 20 year for possible building needs. Finally, we need to see how approved expenditures are fitting into the current budget as it is happening. Eventually we will run out of “next years” for our city.


Utilities

Virginia needs to be in the business of running a city, not in the business of Utilities or renting apartments. At one time, municipal utilities were the only way to ensure adequate and reliable services. Today we seem to not be able to meet the growing needs of an old system of pipes, boilers and generators. The city should look into options as we move forward. This should be done with public and professional input. Maybe there is a more efficient and cost effective way to provide services to Virginia.


Open Communication

The city needs to upgrade its communication technology. All city meetings, including committees and commissions should also be streamed live on the city’s web site. Cable reaches a limited number of Virginia Citizens. Live streaming would open up city government to an entire generation of citizens. Several cities have gone to live streaming with reasonable cost. An update to council chamber audio/visual technology would be a great investment in Virginia’s future.

I would go one step further and suggest that all city council committee meetings be scheduled on Tuesday evenings opposite of the regular council meetings. This would create a more welcoming time frame for people who work during the day. City staff can adjust schedules to compensate for the time.

City employees making service calls or investigating concerns could leave a small city business card at the time of visit. Leaving a time, date, and a first name of the employee would go a long way to helping the city communicate that it is working for the people on issues. People want to have the concerns heard. When a city employee responds to a concern with “what do you want me to do about it?” or “There isn’t much I can do.” they lose faith in the city and question public safety. Validating concerns and simple follow-up would do quite a bit to improve customer relations and bring a higher sense of community to Virginia.

I have learned that a part of the communication problem is that city staff do not have the proper tools to communicate effectively. The council must address the lack of appropriate tools within all departments of the city.


Finance

I support diversification of the city tax base. While it is important to support current and future mining operations, mining will not always be here for us. As we saw over the last few years, mining will have its ups and downs. We need to seek and support local investment in other industries. The more diverse our economic base, the stronger will be as a city.

The city needs to look at the big picture when it comes to budgets. We need to look at the income and expenses. We need to listen to our administration and department heads. They know what is best. I cannot say what should be increased or decreased because it will depend on each department's needs and wants at the time of budgeting. Being arbitrary in cutting one budget over another simply because of the department is not good city management. The city council needs to listen to and respect the requests and direction of department heads.

About Steven B. Johnson

Steven Bert Johnson

Lifelong resident of the Virginia Area.

Education

  • Virginia High School 1993
  • Mesabi Community College. Associate of Arts Degree: June 1995
  • University Of Minnesota Duluth. Bachelor of Applied Science, summa cum laude, May 1999
    Major: Elementary Education GPA: 3.97, Collateral Field: Social Science
  • Mesabi Range Community & Technical College: Associate of Science in Business, May 2012

Employment

  • Adult Education Instructor
    AEOA - Arrowhead Equal Opportunity Agency
  • . . .
  • Executive Director of Apple Tree Learning Center
    Responsibilities: financial management, personnel/human resource management, public relations, marketing, fundraising
  • . . .
  • Licensed Minnesota Teacher, Grades 1 – 6

Current community involvement

  • Regular attendance at City Council meetings for the last 6 years
  • Virginia Long Range Comprehensive Planning Advisory Committee
  • City of Virginia, Parks & Recreation Commission-Vice Chair-Appointed by city council
  • Foster Grandparents of Northeast Minnesota & Northwest Wisconsin - Advisory Board Chair
  • Virginia Teen Center: Board Chair, volunteer Staff
  • Laurentian Chamber of Commerce: Board of Directors
  • Lyric Center for the Arts - Board Member

Previous Volunteer Service

  • Northland Volunteer Center/RSVP - Advisory Board Member & Volunteer Presenter
  • East Range Academy of Technology and Science - School Board Member, finance committee, policy committee

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PO Box 568 Virginia, MN 55792

Contact

Email

stevenbforva@gmail.com

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