Greensboro Politics

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My Interview with Greensboro City Manager Mitchell Johnson

Posted by ryan on February 12, 2008

The following is an interview with Greensboro City Manager Mitchell Johnson that took place on Monday, February 11, 2008.

Ryan: Do you have any major regrets from the last several years or any successes that you might like to highlight?

Mitchell: “I have some regrets, if I had the experience of the last couple of years on day one to handle some things differently I would. I would probably bring in some sort of retired chief with a substantial background to handle some of the things that I had to handle myself and basically have that person out in front as a spokesperson handling the issues rather than myself.”

Ryan: Mitchell, I am not just asking about the negative, seriously take a moment and share something positive.

“We have managed the budget extremely successfully. We have consolidated many of our field services and that has made some big differences in regards to customer service. I am proud of our overall efforts to developing ways to deal with various events in Greensboro (Special Events). One of the biggest issues recently is the water issue and some of the actions we have taken have helped that situation tremendously and those efforts were recognized in Raleigh. The GPD is something I am also proud of; they are performing extremely well under very tough circumstances in terms of man power and constant criticism.”

Ryan: Your name has been at the center of many controversies, has that hampered your job performance?

Mitchell: “Well, I don’t know about my name being at the center but as city manager you have to deal with many different issues. I have had to be the person delivering messages to the public which is why my name is so attached to news items. Whether people agree with my explanations or not I have always tried to be truthful with the public.”

Ryan: Does the city not have a spokesperson?

Mitchell: “No we don’t.”

Ryan: Is crime a problem in Greensboro?

Mitchell: “I think crime is a problem but I don’t think Greensboro is suffering a lot more than other communities of like size and characteristics. There are a lot of things that need to be brought to the table to address that issue. We certainly need more officers but we also need programs to help prevent our youth from falling into to a life of crime.

Ryan: Does City Hall have a communications problem?

Mitchell: “Um…. Well, Um… I think based on, based on what’s…. I would say yes. We have not been effective getting a message out and communicating the environment in which we have to work. We constantly hear that we could release information but I also hear from attorneys that I respect that without going through the proper process that it could be breaking the law. You have to understand that if I go against clear advice from a lawyer and in fact I end up breaking the law then I become personally liable.”

Ryan: Does the legal department work with public affairs to create plans of action in regards to what information will and will not be released to the public?

Mitchell: “Well, you can’t have plans of action but in each case you have to evaluate each case to see if the info is a public record or not.”

Ryan: But do the departments work together?

Mitchell: “Typically yes, but that doesn’t mean that public affairs will approve a specific message or not. Legal has the final say in terms of what can be put out there… but ultimately I have the final say. If I decide I want something to be public and legal doesn’t, we present the item to council and they vote on the issue.”

Ryan: Does the city have a public relations problem?

Mitchell: “I would say at this point in certain respects yes. How you deal with that moving forward is a question in itself. When parts of the media (N&R) write inaccurate articles then that is going to have an impact for sure.

Ryan: Does the city have a crisis communications plan?

Mitchell: “In terms of tornadoes and things of that nature we have various plans. In terms of issues like the GPD no we do not.”

Ryan: What do you consider to be a crisis?

Mitchell: “Last week turned into one. To start with I knew that no one was lying so I did not see that the situation was a crisis until it became one later in the week.”

Ryan: When did it become a crisis?

Mitchell: “When the N&R interpreted our response as being non truthful basically… that we ‘knew about the document’ and didn’t reveal it until someone forced us to.”

Ryan: When your name comes up it is generally associated with something negative. Is that hard to handle?

Ryan: “Laughter… I love it. I wake up every morning hoping nothing positive happens (said humorously as he laughed at the question). People shake my hand constantly thanking me for the job that I am doing and my leadership. No one likes to come up in negative terms and that is certainly not something I aspire for.

Ryan: What comes to mind when I say “David Wray?”

Mitchell: “(Sincere tone) Disappointment.”

Ryan: Why?

Mitchell: “I was the one that handled the chief search and in many many ways have a tremendous amount of respect for David. At the end of the day I am upset that he didn’t come to me and tell me straight up about the issues that we had to deal with. Instead he took the actions that he took and later resigned. His decision to resign was an assumption on his part was based on what he thought I was going to do. At this point it does appear that he did lie to me.”

Ryan: What will it take to get Greensboro passed David Wray and the GPD scandal?
Mitchell: “I think acceptance on the part of people that keep going over it. There are real concerns over what happened with the chief and the acceptance that the race issue that the media turned the incident into may not be valid.”

Ryan: How much has the city paid in legal fees for the GPD scandal?
Mitchell: “I don’t have any number at this point.”

Ryan: Do you have confidence in your legal department?

Mitchell: “Yes, I have confidence in their capability.”

Ryan: Do you understand why last week’s memo fiasco makes the city look bad?

Mitchell “Yes. If the positioning of the press is that we should have known that the memo was then yes it looks bad. No one in the press has come out and said ‘maybe we could have done a better job at describing the memo.'”

Mitchell: “Let me be clear and state that I do not lie. Sometimes my willingness to tell the truth gets me in trouble but telling a lie is not something that I do.”

Ryan: Why could the memo not be found yet it was suddenly discovered once it was posted online by a local blogger?

Mitchell: “Because the description did not accurately describe the memo.”

Ryan: Do you have any final comments on the city or yourself?

Mitchell: “The bottom line is that there’s a great group of people that work in this organization (City Hall) and I think they do a great job on a day to day basis and we have a very bright future ahead of us. I’m going to work over the next few weeks to restructure my office and deal with many of the issues before us.”

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16 Responses to “My Interview with Greensboro City Manager Mitchell Johnson”

  1. […] over at GreensboroPolitics interviewed the city manager yesterday.  Johnson’s answers and demeanor match those I encountered on […]

  2. Spag said

    “I’m going to work over the next few weeks to restructure my office and deal with many of the issues before us.”

    In other words, “I’m going shuffle around some papers, maybe hire a few new people and figure out a new way to sell bullshit to people in a different package. You see, I’m still so much smarter than everyone else and I’ll figure out a new way to spin my way out of this. The fact that I still have my job proves this. Now if those damn bloggers would quit driving holes through my stories and stop pointing out how often I contradict myself, I might pull it off.”

  3. Roch101 said

    ——–
    Ryan: When did it become a crisis?

    Mitchell: “When the N&R interpreted our response as being non truthful basically… that we ‘knew about the document’ and didn’t reveal it until someone forced us to.”
    ——–

    A great follow-up to this question would have been, “Was last week the first time that you saw the memo in question?”

    I don’t know if Mr. Johnson reads this blog in addition to Hoggard’s… maybe he’ll answer here.

    It was nice to meet you last night, Ryan, however briefly.

  4. […] Politics has posted an interview with Greensboro City Manager Mitch Johnson. One part jumped out at me (emphasis added): Ryan: Does […]

  5. Roch101 said

    ———–
    Ryan: Do you understand why last week’s memo fiasco makes the city look bad?

    Mitchell “Yes. If the positioning of the press is that we should have known that the memo was then yes it looks bad. No one in the press has come out and said ‘maybe we could have done a better job at describing the memo.’”
    ———-

    If Mitch stops by, or if you make an effort to follow up, Ryan, I’d like to know why the memo wasn’t released in response to Sam, Joe and my request of November 6, 2007 and if Mitch thinks that our January 30, 2008 letter that clarified that we are asking for “all supplementary documentation” to the “black book” was an inadequate description?

  6. Typical government employee blaming the media for problems he helped create.

  7. […] Greensboro Police Chief David Wray wasn’t fired, as City Manager Mitchell Johnson reminds us here, but the situation up in Stoneville is eerily familiar: Gary Walker Sr. and the police department […]

  8. wayne said

    Thanks for this interview but Mitch must either be narcicistic or have a personality disorder if he really believes what he says. Damn, has he tried to get a cop lately? I think our GPD is worse than bad and so do a lot of people.

    A think David Wray was as honest as Mitch would allow him to be. I believe Mitch and Linda tried to stop him from investigating the Homestead fiasco. And that was the real problem.

    Trying to blame the N&R is lame. My only fault with them, the N&R, is that its about two years too late.

  9. Alan Kelly said

    In viewing the Greensboropolitics page of the interview with Mitchell Johnson, it’s clear to me that whoever did the transcript did a great job. Congratulations! If you become even more busy, will you require more help to get the same great results more of the time?

  10. ryan said

    Just a reminder when leavnig comments it is best to constructively disagree rather than just making mean comments. Mitch took the time to talk with me and that in itself should be respected. So that being said, comment with facts. If I simply allow comments to pass through that are rude and do not prove to be helpful then public officials and folks at City Hall will be reluctant to speak with me.

    Again, I am not saying you can’t not like someone or disagree… but do it respectfully.

    Thanks for reading.

    Ryan

  11. Spag said

    You’re right, Ryan. I’ll put the sarcasm back in the box and stick to the facts.

  12. Bubba said

    “I’ll put the sarcasm back in the box and stick to the facts.”

    That’s pretty difficult to do when the answers to the questions are…….ummmm, never mind, most of us understand the point all too well.

  13. […] folks, he has done it again.  He told his story to Ryan at Greensboro Politics and made this […]

  14. […] City Manager Mitch Johnson told his story to Ryan at Greensboro Politics and made this […]

  15. […] the same action that was taken against former police Chief David Wray?”  Clarification Note: This interview with M. Johnson reminds everyone that David Wray resigned.  Johnson said he would have likely […]

  16. […] should remind Frank and everyone else that according to Mitchell Johnson the issue was that Wray lied about the existence of the black book.  “His decision to resign […]

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