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LETTERS: Johnson builds consensus across party lines

— Kindly allow me the opportunity to provide you with a firsthand perspective of town councilor candidate, Russ Johnson. I ordinarily would not chime in on a political race outside of my home county but have made an exception in this instance. Why? Please let me explain.

I have known Russ since high school – he was one year ahead of me. Although we knew each other back then, we weren’t close friends. Years later we served together for 10 years on the Oswego county legislature, where we then became very close friends. Russ is a Republican and I am Democrat. One would think that two friends from different parties couldn’t possibly see eye-to-eye on many issues politics and government related, but that was not the case.

Back in 2004, Russ took over as the legislature chairman. He began his first of four consecutive years as the county’s leader and chief elected official coming off the heels of an over 30 percent rise in property taxes from the previous two years. County finances severely dwindled to the extent that we had less than 1 percent of our annual budget of “rainy day funds” to carry over to the next year. The New York State Comptroller recommends up to 10 percent. A state takeover seemed eminent, while Democrats and Republicans were shamelessly and literally throwing things at each other on the legislature floor. As you could imagine, public perception of our county government back then had never been lower. And if that wasn’t enough, there were about 20 Republicans to five Democrats, so we (Democrats) had been completely shut out of debates like a steamroller smoothing out a rough road, even though we represented tens of thousands of Democrats in the my county.

What happened over the next four years is something you very seldom see in any form or level of government. From day one of Russ’s chairmanship, he opened the door for our Democrats to become part of the repair solution by, among many other things, appointing us to key committees. He even appointed some of us to committee chairmanship and vice chairmanship posts. We were included in all of the debates – big or small, and on all issues. For once in probably the history of the county, the minority had an influential voice in county government. And it worked. We found much more common ground with the Republican majority than dissent. Did we agree on all issues? No. But we always agreed to disagree, and would then get back to resolving the major issues that were crippling the county through compromise and realistic solutions to bring the county above water.

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