BY TOM BUSSELBERG
BOUNTIFUL – Joe Johnson never wanted to be mayor of Bountiful.
He’d never even attended a city council meeting.
But it was a barbed wire-topped fence and the attendant raccoons and other rodents that got him into city politics, now more than a dozen years ago.
The stars aligned this way: John Cushing, who Johnson knew in part because he’d jog by his house on Davis Boulevard, decided not to run again. After former city manager Tom Hardy came to investigate Johnson’s concerns, he challenged him to run for mayor.
“I blew it away. I thought he was joking,” Johnson said of Hardy’s challenge. “During the next couple of weeks I started getting phone calls.”
People were asking if the rumor that he was going to run for mayor was true, he recalled.
“La Von (his wife, now of 46 years) put a little pressure on me when she said, ‘You only live once. Why not go for it?”
Now Johnson looks back at what became three, four-year terms in office, with fondness.
“I have memory after memory,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of them are really wonderful. What a privilege it has been,” he said, clearing out his office at city hall earlier this month.
As mayor, Johnson said he got involved in so many things, things that he could never have imagined, prior to being elected to office.
One was playing a small part in nominating the late LDS president Gordon B. Hinckley as “Citizen of the Century” by the Utah League of Cities and Towns. At the time, Johnson was vice-president of that group.
Michael Watson of Bountiful was Hinckley’s personal secretary, and Bountiful’s Mac Christensen was then president of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and also held some influence.
“There were a lot of little things” that added up to making it a great experience, Johnson said. The highlights include:
Ґ The huge response from residents, businesses and neighboring communities to the Dec. 1, 2011 windstorm.
“I’ve never seen more chain saws. It was such a thrill to see it happen,” he said of the whole process, where, even on a Sunday, hundreds of volunteers converged to clear debris.
“It’s those kinds of things where you see people do the right thing Р not because they’re getting paid, but because it’s the right thing to do,” he said.
Ґ City employees making him look good, but more importantly, maintaining a high standard for Bountiful city services and operations.
“Gary Blowers (street department director) was there within an hour filling a pothole” that one of Johnson’s neighbors had complained about.
Ґ Working together, bringing increased efficiencies, services.
Mayors from south Davis started meeting together, and some of the results include the South Davis Recreation Center, South Davis Metro Fire Agency and the CenterPoint Legacy Theatre.
Ґ A new playground and shelter at an ever-busier Bountiful 4th North Park, plus still unknown possibilities for a new Mill Street park.
Ґ The purchase of new natural gas-powered turbines for the power department.
“Those have already paid back about $3 million on the $20 million bond,” he said. Added to that is a more energy-efficient, virtually non-polluting source that helps make the city more power independent.
“La Von has always been the stable one,” Johnson said half-seriously, emphasizing her strong support. They are the parents of six children and 21 grandchildren.
“I can’t wait to see what they do,” he said of future city councils, adding that “I’ll still do something to help out.”
That won’t include running for any office, Johnson emphasized.
He’s cutting back a bit on his work as an insurance broker and wants to spend more time with family.