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By Marisa Helms
The 2013 C.C. Ludwig and Leadership Awards were presented on June 20 during the League of Minnesota ]Cities (LMC) Annual Conference in St. Paul. The winners were Independence Mayor Marvin Johnson and Shoreview Finance Director Jeanne Haapala. The Ludwig Award for elected officials and Leadership Award for appointed officials honor individuals who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to improve the quality of city government and all cities throughout the state.
Above: Marvin Johnson and Jeanne Haapala receive their awards at the 2013 LMC Annual Conference. They are congratulated by LMC Executive Director Jim Miller (left) and LMC 2012-13 President Betsy Hodges (right). Photo by Paul Lundquist
2013 C.C. Ludwig Award Winner
One early morning in 1976, Marvin Johnson, the man who would become the mayor of Independence, found his calling. Literally.
As Johnson milked cows on his family farm, the phone rang at 7 a.m. It was the city clerk and treasurer. “You were appointed to the City Council last night,” the clerk said. By 7:45 a.m., the clerk was standing in Johnson’s milk house, and Johnson’s career in politics took off. At the time, he was on the Independence Planning Commission, but Johnson says he had no desire to get deeper into local politics.
In fact, he says today that he’s honestly not sure he would have accepted the appointment had he known what he was getting into.
At the time, the council meetings were very contentious, just “awful,” Johnson says.
But he stuck with it, and in 1979 filed to become mayor when the sitting mayor of two years announced he would not be running for re-election.
“Everyone pointed a finger at me and said, ‘You’re going to be the next mayor,’” explains Johnson, who was vice mayor at the time. Little did Johnson know when he was sworn in among the cows that fateful day, that he would eventually become the mayor of Independence for 34 consecutive years. That’s right, 34 years.
Above: At a city celebration of the Ludwig Award and his 34-year tenure as Independence mayor, Marvin Johnson receives congratulations from Plymouth City Manager Dave Callister (left) and Delano Mayor Dale Graunke (center). Photo by Matt Johnson
Johnson’s political longevity is no fluke in this small farming community.
According to citizens and council colleagues alike, Johnson is highly respected in his community of 3,600 residents, and is known around town as a “people person,” a caring, patient, and dedicated public servant who is a lively participant in just about every public event in Independence.
Johnson’s accomplishments early on as mayor include successfully fighting a landfill proposed for his area during the 1980s. He, local citizens, and a coalition of area cities found a different solution—recycling—and helped lawmakers in St. Paul create the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center plant in downtown Minneapolis, which burns solid waste to generate energy.
Johnson has also been instrumental to the creation of an 800 MHz radio system. The new system has been fully operational in the metro area since about 2003, and most of the state’s communities are staged to come online in the coming years.
“It has been my passion to get good radio communication for our police and fire departments,” says Johnson, adding that being involved in the creation of the radio system has been “one of those things you love to work on. We did a good job at getting things done and police and fire love it.”
Over the decades, Johnson has also directed dozens of volunteer boards for many municipal and nonprofit organizations. A former president of the League of Minnesota Cities, Johnson is currently the president of the Hennepin County Farm Bureau as well as an active member of the National League of Cities’ Small Cities Steering Council, and Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
Johnson’s organizational duties regularly take him to Washington, D.C., and to other national conferences and meetings across the country.
But the 78-year-old bachelor doesn’t stay away from Independence for too long. He is still a farmer, after all, and there’s plenty of work to do on the farm, including raising 45 beef cows and tending to alfalfa and grass hay crops on nearly 800 acres.
Johnson says he has been considering cutting back on the number of cows he keeps over the winter, which might afford him some more personal time. But as long as his health remains good, he has no plans to retire from farming.
And, as for local politics, it’s much too early to say if he will run in the next mayoral election in 2015. As he says, “Sorry, no early announcement!”
2013 Leadership Award Winner
Jeanne Haapala likes things that last.
Indeed, for Haapala, the long term is a running theme in her career as finance director for the City of Shoreview (population 25,000), a position she has held for 25 years. Since becoming Shoreview’s top financial officer in 1988, Haapala has successfully prepared the city for the long haul when it comes to ongoing expenditures. At the core of Haapala’s success and Shoreview’s financial strength and stability, is a guiding document with a sunny acronym, “CHIRP.” The Comprehensive Infrastructure Replacement Plan is a financial management tool that empowers city officials to pay for the replacement of city assets without special assessments.
Thanks to CHIRP, all of the city’s assets—from water lines, sewer systems, and street renewal to municipal buildings, fire trucks, and computers—are paid for through discrete funding sources that have been budgeted out to reflect the city’s needs a minimum of 40 years into the future.
Reviewed biennially, Haapala says CHIRP helps city officials make short-term financial decisions based on long-term impact. “If our decisions were only based on the current situation, then we’re not setting the city up for financial strength, flexibility, and stability,” says Haapala.
Though Haapala says she can’t take credit for coming up with the idea for CHIRP, it was up to her to implement the plan and make it work. And she has done just that.
Shortly after Haapala rolled out CHIRP in the early 1990s, the unique policy drew national attention, receiving the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) award in 1993 for Excellence in Budgeting and Finance Planning.
Since the strategy requires maintaining ongoing funding sources for future capital replacement expenditures, Haapala says she’s grateful for the public and political support that has made CHIRP such a success in Shoreview. “We’ve had an incredible Council over the years,” says Haapala. “They’re an extraordinary group who knows how to put the community first. There have been voices during tough economic times that might say, ‘Cut that levy,’ but the Council knows that the long-term impact of not sticking to our strategy is more painful than staying the course.”
In 2009, Haapala further enhanced Shoreview’s financial stability by developing a five-year operating plan, which includes a three-year history of expenses as well as operating projections for the next five years.
Haapala’s approach and smart decisions proved indispensable to weathering the recent recession, which was all about “staying on track, hunkering down, and sticking with our financial goals and strategies,” she says.
Above: Jeanne Haapala looks over a plan for an upcoming city project with Shoreview City Manager Terry Schwerm. Photo by Matt Johnson
During the recession, Shoreview was able to maintain its employee base of 80 full-time staff. And Shoreview recently received not one, but two upgrades to its bond rating by Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services. In 2009, Shoreview received an AA+ rating, and in 2011, Shoreview received the highest bond rating of AAA.
“That’s a ringing endorsement for how we came through the challenging economic times,” says Haapala.
A few years ago, Haapala set her sights on improving the way Shoreview communicates its financial information to residents. She developed booklets containing a budget summary and a community benchmark survey. Both publications have been praised by peers and residents alike for their simple presentation of complex information.
“I’m trying to boil it down for people who have busy lives and don’t need or want to be plugged into city business day-to-day,” says Haapala. “Residents want the confidence that their city is being managed properly. Our obligation is to try to explain what we’re doing and why. We shouldn’t be secretive about it. Transparency is really important.”
Haapala says being a finance director has been a great career and a “natural fit.” She loves numbers and finding creative ways to continue improving systems and processes. She gladly shares her expertise with anyone who asks, and has been a leader among the state’s financial officers, having served as president of the Minnesota Chapter of the Government Finance Officers Association and on national GFOA committees.
But, at 59 years old, Haapala says retirement is up next in her personal five-year plan. Always projecting into the future, Haapala and her family are already budgeting and planning for some long-term relaxation in Hawaii.
Marisa Helms is a freelance writer based in Minneapolis.
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