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Johnston: Leadership means getting involved

Dean Johnston said a Washington County commissioner should be visible in local communities and active in regional economic development efforts.

Johnston, who is the Lake Elmo mayor, is campaigning for the Washington County Board District 2 seat in part on a platform that more should be done to encourage regional job growth and economic development.

Many politicians claim that if taxes are cut, jobs growth will occur, Johnston said, but that is only part of the solution.

"Tax cuts by themselves are not enough," he said. "They have to be part of a coordinated program."

Johnston said there should be a Twin Cities regional business plan that outlines the area's economic strengths and weaknesses and identifies industries that do well in the region. Private-sector leaders as well as elected officials then should do more marketing to lure new companies to the area, he said.

Johnston pointed to a planned regional economic development project by the Itasca Group involving private businesses and local governments. As commissioner, he said he would want to get involved in that project.

Johnston is trying to unseat three-term Commissioner Bill Pulkrabek and has criticized the incumbent for not providing leadership that voters expect. Pulkrabek defends his performance as a commissioner, but Johnston has highlighted meetings and workshops that the incumbent did not attend last year.

Pulkrabek is not as engaged, or does not participate in, committee meetings that occur off camera, Johnston alleged.

"That's not leadership to me," he said. "It's a much more comprehensive process."

Taxpayers who are paying commissioners each $52,713 annually should get more involvement from them in local and regional issues, Johnston said. He pledged to regularly attend local meetings for cities in the district.

"I would certainly raise the visibility," Johnston said. "A county commissioner needs to be an active part of the community."

The Washington County Board voted in 2008 to collect a quarter-percent sales tax to fund transportation projects.

"I really struggle with that issue," Johnston said when asked whether he supports it. Johnston said that even if the County Board reverses its position, the county still could be "on the hook" to contribute to the repayment of a proposed multi-county transportation borrowing plan.

Johnston said the sales tax decision came before the county completed studies of area transportation needs, but added that he would be "predisposed to support" the tax because of the importance of a good transportation system for economic development and job growth.

Johnston could not point to any votes taken by Pulkrabek on which he disagrees, but said he believes Pulkrabek is not working to address "the lack of good-paying jobs and the decline in home values."

Dean Johnston

Age: 66

Residence: Lake Elmo

Family: Married; four adult children.

Occupation: Retired.

Experience: Elected Lake Elmo mayor in 2004; elected to Lake Elmo City Council in 2002.