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Larry Johnson

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County Commissioner
DeKalb County, Ga.

Why are you interested in serving as a NACo officer?

“Our influence has less to do with our position or title than it does with the way we live.  It’s not about position, but production. It is not the education we get, but the empowerment we give, that makes a difference to others.” John C. Maxwell

 Growing up in the inner city of Chicago, many of my influences were individuals committed to helping people and ensuring that everyone, including the underprivileged and underserved, had representation and their needs addressed.  The NACo Second Vice President role will allow me to serve leaders, public servants who build their lives around helping rural Americans fight for e-connectivity, ensuring their voice is heard around Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) and Secure Rural Schools (SRS).  Serving as a NACo officer will give me the opportunity to continue to work with urban counties to eliminate health disparities and build strong economic job centers.  As NACo Second Vice President I will work with rural, urban and suburban counties to build strong global perspectives that maximize trade and cultural tourism.  Serving in this capacity will allow me to work with commissioners, judges, supervisors, freeholders, etc., through our great organization NACo to share information and provide resources and tools to not only make their communities better but build the members to become better public servants.  It is through this lens and more than 16 years of experience in executive government that I am interested in serving as a NACo officer and humbly offer myself as a candidate for NACo 2nd Vice President.  We are only as strong as the members that make up the association.  I would like to be a beacon of hope and bridge builder across rural, urban and suburban lines.

 

What do you consider to have been your most important contribution to the National Association of Counties to date? What do you consider to have been your most important contribution to your state association of counties?

 To date my most important contributions to the National Association of Counties include serving as the inaugural chair for the Health Disparities subcommittee.  Under my leadership, the committee brought attention to the issues facing rural and urban Americans as it relates to the uninsured (access to healthcare), funding of our Federally Qualified Health Centers and the Medicaid funding gap.

The committee was able to make these issues a part of the NACo platform.  

 As chair of the Health steering committee, I had the opportunity to take a group of commissioners to the Capitol to advocate against cuts in Medicaid to medically fragile children.  We brought a parent and medically fragile child in need of care who put a face to the issue.  Bringing the parent and child positively impacted the conversation and allowed us to show the importance of getting everyday citizens involved in advocacy.

During my tenure as Chair of the International Economic Development Taskforce, I started a speed business networking format where I brought in country representatives from Brazil, Germany and Canada at the Legislative Conference to present on how counties can engage in international trade and tourism.  At the NACo Summer Conference in Long Beach, Calif, I arranged a boat tour of the second busiest container port in the Country which served as a learning lab opportunity for participants.  This provided those who attended an opportunity to network and meet with federal officials regarding trade.

What I consider my most important contribution to my state association of counties, ACCG, was working with the association to put on the firststatewide opioid summit.  In May 2017, we brought collaborative partners together including top universities, experts in treatment, local agencies and homeowners associations to plan, strategize and promote promising approaches to dealing with this addiction and disease.  This collaboration was so successful that we are already planning the second conference to be held in May of this year to build on the successes of last year that will pay big dividends and help our state get to and remain on the forefront of combating this crisis as well as provide county leaders with tools to help them deal with this issue locally.

 

What do you consider to be the two or three most important challenges facing NACo in the near future on which the Officers/Executive Committee/Board of Directors should focus? Why?

 The most important challenges facing NACo in the near future on which the Officers/Executive Committee/Board of Directors should focus include (1) helping the membership engage a digitally distracted constituency and (2) engaging Generations Y and Z.

 (1)  Helping the membership engage a digitally distracted constituency.

An article written in the Harvard Business Review by Larry Rosen and Alexandra Samuel looks at the issue.  This is a quote from a study they cited:  For the past few years, psychologists have been examining the recent dramatic changes in humans’ relationship to technology. Consider a  study  that colleagues and I conducted in 2008 and replicated last year. We gave people in three age groups—Baby Boomers, Generation X, and the Net Generation (born in the 1980s)—a list of 66 pairs of activities to find out which ones they typically did in tandem. Questions included, for example, “Do you go online and text simultaneously?” and “Do you e-mail and eat at the same time?” In 2008, Baby Boomers responded yes for 59% of the pairs, on average; the numbers were 67% for Gen Xers and 75% for the Net Gen. In 2014 the percentages were higher—67% for Baby Boomers, 70% for Gen X, and 81% for the Net Gen. Meanwhile, members of the iGeneration (born in the 1990s), whom we added to the second study, were engaging in an astonishing 87% of the paired activities, even when they found one in the pair difficult all by itself.

Addressing this issue is important for NACo Officers/Executive Committee/Board of Directors because young generations will come of age and Baby Boomers will grow older and it will be important to be able to appropriately address their respective generational needs and be able to share relevant information in a techno-savvy manner as well as find innovative ways to get and keep them involved with relevant issues addressed at the national level.  NACo needs to incorporate a segment at each steering committee to update us on how technology can be used to inform, build advocacy and make the information relevant to all generations.

(2) To further engage Generations Y and Z to enhance the resources of NextGen to increase Generations Y and Z’s involvement in public policy decisions and implementation.

There is a prevalent misnomer in our day that the younger generations are not interested in public service or politics.  I think this couldn’t be further from the truth.  I believe that Generations Y and Z are deeply concerned with the wellbeing of the communities they live in.  They might not show it in the traditional ways we’re accustomed to measuring interest (i.e. writing their officials, attending meetings, etc.) but interest is shown through other means (i.e. social media engagement, hashtag activism, etc.).

The key to bringing these younger generations into a more active role in public service is through education.  We cannot accomplish this engagement through traditional means, we will have to work intergenerationally.  During my tenure as a DeKalb County commissioner I have worked to bridge the growing gap we have between generations through the creation of intergenerational centers and experiences.  By fostering the interaction of youth with community elders a transmission of values takes place.  Growth and acceptance occurs and the passing of a mantle of leadership and responsibility takes place.

 

What measures would you recommend to increase and retain NACo membership and to encourage broad participation in NACo by elected officials and employees of NACo member counties? What specific role would you be willing to assume to help build and sustain membership in NACo?

 One measure I would recommend to increase and retain NACo membership and encourage broad participation in NACo is elected officials and employees of NACo member counties using a pop-up marketing strategy.  Basically, the pop-up marketing strategy would take one of our platform issues and whereever the county state association conference is being held in collaboration with the state association director and county leaders from that area will get together and host a town hall meeting on a key platform issue that has been adopted by the association and invite residents to come and learn how to be an advocate for that issue.

Another measure would be to connect with major colleges and universities to establish a program for CEU credits that could eventually lead to a degree in leadership, governance or policy which builds value for NACo and its membership.

 The specific role I would be willing to assume to help build and sustain membership in NACo would be to help convene key stakeholders for each issue to set up goals, timelines and strategies to complete each assignment.  I am currently an ambassador that works with the membership staff at NACo to welcome and assist new commissioners to the NACo experience.  So, I am already walking the talk.

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