James A. Johnson

James A. Johnson
The Plain Talk asked the five candidates in the upcoming Vermillion city election about their views on several city issues. Vermillion citizens will choose a mayor and one city council member from the Southeast Ward.


James A. Johnson

Family: Wife Carolyn, two sons, Eric and Paul.

1. At the time that I decided to run for Mayor, to the best of my knowledge there was no one running except the incumbent. It was my belief that with no opposition, there would be no or little discussion of the issues that I feel should always be reviewed. For that reason, I took out my petition on the last day to file and circulated it myself during the entire day. I did not ask the people who signed my petition to vote for me just because they signed, but rather requested their signature to permit me to run so that the issues could be discussed. At the end of the day I had collected 62 signatures, two of which were not valid because the persons signing actually did not live within the city limits.

It is my feeling that one should not run for an office if he/she is afraid of losing the election, but also they should not run if they are not willing to "give their best effort to serve as well as their talent and best efforts would permit them to so serve." I know that our mayor is "listening" to us. I just want to make certain that he and the others are listening to all citizens of Vermillion and are also "hearing" what they say. It is possible that "a silent majority" exists in our community; in fact, I am certain that it does, and I wish to give these folks a "voice."

2. I wish to commend our current governing body for not "rushing to imperfect completion" of the Dakota Street primary entrance to downtown when doing so would have ultimately required redoing the work involved instead of doing it correctly in the first place (which it appears all efforts are being made to do). It is unfortunate that downtown businesses are "paying the price" presently, but hopefully they will reap the rewards later. To that end, I would suggest that parking downtown is and will always be a concern. I would suggest that Vermillion consider a downtown parking ramp which would provide adequate parking for the presently existing downtown businesses so those merchants will not have to "pay the price" again for inaccessibility. One problem that is endemic with communities wishing to grow and add new businesses is that they do so at the expense of those which already exist and harm them while in the process of attracting new ones. Many existing businesses would certainly appreciate a "tax break" for having loyally stayed downtown. I am curious as to how much development funding has gone to retain businesses as opposed to attracting new ones. I think that I know the answer to that question without having it answered.

Parking for second floor downtown apartments exists mostly because of "grandfathered" buildings, I expect, but I do not know that for certain. If currently existing businesses were to "fail" because of again being devastated by the lack of accessibility (inadequate parking), it would make their building readily available for a wealthier person to purchase at a bargain price. With the proper influence, that person could perhaps be successful in having the zoning ordinance regarding parking changed. The slogan for the Packard automobile used to be "Ask the man who owns one." The same question should be asked about politicians (senators in South Dakota would be much less expensive to purchase, for example, than elsewhere). By this statement I do not mean to cast aspersions in any direction for as was said in the play Julius Caesar, "they are all honorable men." I expect most if not all are, and hopefully all are! If not, hopefully they will become so or will not be returned to positions of authority.

I do hope that our downtown area is properly developed. This seems to be quite a fine plan with just a few inconsistencies, but they may only appear to be inconsistent depending upon the final implementation. Part of the plan extols uniqueness while another part suggests uniformity of storefronts and signing. Perhaps inconsistent goals, but again, depending on interpretation and implementation, not necessarily so.

Who is hurt when the street is closed for certain gatherings and who would benefit from the closure of the street? Not having attended the "Stakeholders workshops," I am not in a position to adequately answer the question of what would result, for example, for a hardware store having its access for customers no longer available while another business or businesses were being benefited by the street closure? I would expect with proper planning (which has hopefully been done) this has been taken into consideration.

It does appear that the proper planning has taken place in the removal of the building which formerly was a small diner located on Center Street which has conveniently left a space adequate for the proposed "pocket park" which does seem to be a fine suggestion and a good location for such an improvement. I expect that the city has made adequate planning for the ultimate purchase or condemnation of this property.

In reviewing the ultimate downtown goal for changes in existing buildings to "bring them up to historic district standards," I was pleased to note that the structure located at One East Main did not appear to have any suggestions for necessary changes. That structure has been on the Historic Register for over 20 years. The research and paperwork necessary to accomplish that result were performed by Carolyn Johnson, who resides at 419 Park Lane here in Vermillion. I expect that she had in mind over twenty years ago what is now finally beginning to take place. To that end, I am sure that she would applaud the efforts of those who are helping accomplish this goal, which is one she obviously shares and worked toward long ago.

The last item that I wish to address is that of "fixed canopies." It appears to be that they only appear to exist on the north side of downtown businesses. I have always envied them because they not only shaded from the sun, but also protected from the wind and snow. In some buildings the canopy might appear to be a handy fire exit. This is likely so, but only if adequately supported. I expect that it would be helpful for a community or city fund to exist which would assist building owners required or requested to make changes to conform to the ultimate downtown streetscape plan. I regret that I am unaware whether such a fund has been thought of or included in the study. (If it is there, I have either overlooked it or forgotten it, my apology.)

To conclude, I think we should have adequate parking before "required beauty" so as to properly assist and thank those existing businesses for helping downtown remain as a viable business district as well as an office location housing the financial district. Other than the small Wells Fargo location and the Vermillion Federal Credit Union, all other financial institutions are located downtown which is both good and bad. We are exceedingly fortunate to have the Post Office located downtown and must always consider access to it as essential, not only during the hours that window service is offered, but for 24 hours a day since the public has access to the lobby at any time to allow box holders to check their mail and to provide for the purchase of stamps from the automatic vending machine located in the lobby.

3. If memory serves me correctly, I was a member of the Vermillion City Council at the time the initial cable company negotiations began. The council was assured that with an exclusive contract, costs would be less for our Vermillion residents since the cable company would not have to spend money needlessly in order to solicit business from Vermillion residents. There would be no competition. It is my recollection that a Mr. Roger Zylstra was at that time the manager and contact person representing the cable company. Mr. Zylstra, a truly fine man so far as I am aware, unfortunately died soon after that at a very young age. After his untimely death, the company's legal counsel, one James Abbott, ultimately became the president of what is now Mediacom and perhaps a stockholder as well. This is knowledge that I do not have. I can only assume that a commitment made by Mr. Zylstra may not have been carried on by his successors either because they were unable to do so or were unaware of said commitment. Mr. Abbott ultimately became the president of The University of South Dakota where he continues to serve.

I do feel that Mediacom has "used" Vermillion to solve some of its immediate problems regarding "cash-flow" concerns because of the rising cost of employee benefits. I share their concern about that "expense" and commend them for providing the benefits to their employees who not only most likely "deserve" them but "need" them as well. The rising cost of health care causes concerns and financial problems throughout our entire nation. Health care insurance is something that one cannot afford to have but at the same time cannot afford to be without. I do feel that Mediacom will find that its "short-term" fix for the problem will cause them a "long-term" problem because many households have now "switched" to other suppliers � Dish Network or whatever is available. I know that my family has done so. Hopefully in the future Mediacom will become competitive with other providers and offer the city some changed "options" which are affordable. The employees of Mediacom have always been helpful and courteous, and I expect they need their jobs. It is too bad that "management" has endangered them by making a poor choice of balancing the budget on the backs of Vermillion subscribers. Except for the rising costs, Mediacom has always served Vermillion well. Vermillion residents deserve the same choices available throughout our immediate region (Yankton, Sioux Falls, Sioux City, Omaha).

4. I feel that the existing problem regarding Crawford Road has developed into an unfortunate and most likely unnecessary situation. Hopefully it is a situation that can be resolved before an unnecessary election regarding the same is held. It is my feeling that the city plan for Crawford Road would carry the election because the benefit to be gained would be community wide and the detriment is so very limited. If I were one of the home owners in the area whose property would be impacted, so to speak, I would much rather work with the city in planning what was inevitably going to happen so that I could minimize any unpleasant results so far as my property would be concerned.

Once again, I feel that perhaps "hearing" needs to take place as well as "listening" If I were Mayor, I would do my best to enlist the support of Mr. Joe Gillen who designed that road for the least harm to the "concerned landowners with homes above as well as adjacent to the proposed road." It would be my intention to suggest that all meet and attempt to allay concerns which may be so much less than assumed.

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