Mayor Johnson Models Leadership and Advocacy

January 5, 2012

From Lobbying 101 to Regional Leader
When Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson was tapped to chair the executive committee of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable, he knew the task would require him to draw from “everything” he’s learned in life, including from his band directing days and a GMA Lobbying 101 class taken just weeks after winning his first election.

“The lobbying class helped me focus and to not be fearful of dealing with elected officials who are over my head,” Johnson said. “I have no problems talking to the governor or state senators.

“When you lead sometimes you have to be a good follower; sometimes a good listener and you have to think creatively. There are a number of skills you draw on in leadership; sometimes you play different roles and more than one position.”

As the non-voting chairman, Johnson led the 21-member roundtable to a unanimous decision on a 10-year, $6.14 billion regional transportation list.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed called the unanimous project list approval historic and credited Johnson’s leadership, adding that the list approval “shows what can happen when leaders from governments across our region get to know one another.”

Like Reed, Johnson believed relationship building played a key role in the project list approval.

“When people work together, it is so much easier than working against each other,” Johnson said. “We’ve gotten to know each other and set up better long-term relationships.”
Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson’s emergence as an effective lobbyist and regional leader seems like a natural evolution. He spent a career at Georgia Tech teaching music students and directing the school band. He also led the Olympic Band during the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta.

Although Johnson retired from teaching in 2001, his musical expertise is called upon often — like this past November when he spent nine days in Singapore teaching 124 drum majors.

Whether he is leading a band or running a city, Johnson knows it takes strong leadership in both areas to be successful.

“In band, nobody sits on the bench,” he said. “You have to involve everybody. Different people have different skills, strengths and weaknesses. You have to understand what they bring to the table and you have to build on those strengths. Building consensus is always what I have tried to do as a band director and as a teacher. I find that when I help others succeed, I succeed.”

Just weeks after his election, Johnson was in a Lobbying 101 class during the Georgia Municipal Association’s Mayors’ Day Conference.

“After the class I really worked to be intentional about building relationships by going around meeting people,” he said. “Some people I met people organically by going to different meetings and attending Leadership Gwinnett and the Regional Leadership Institute — both are great ways to meet people — and then I started going down to the State Legislature.”
Johnson and Rep. Stacey Abrams Johnson and Gwinnett County Chair Charlotte Nash

Those new relationships soon yielded results, paying off for Norcross and other cities.

“We have gotten tremendous support whenever we asked for consideration,” Johnson said. “Sometimes, we decided not to pursue something after information sharing with elected officials. To get knowledge first hand is sometimes better than reading. Talking through something helps clarify what the issues are and in a lot ways solves problems. Sometimes problems are a lot simpler than they appear, but sometimes they are more complicated.”

Tom Gehl, GMA’s director of Governmental Relations, knows the value of city officials involved in lobbying efforts.

“The old expression, ‘all politics is local’ applies so much to the everyday actions of legislators,” Gehl said. “When a mayor, a council member or city staffer takes the time to develop and nurture relationships with legislators, those state-level officials will think twice before taking any action at the Capitol that hurts his or her hometown.”

After the lobbying class and his first few visits to the Capitol, Johnson relied on the GMA legislative team to help him navigate the gold dome. “It helped me out to be able to ask the legislative team questions,” he said.

Gehl said city officials should consider GMA staff as their city’s “hired guns,” available to assist in making connections between state policy makers and municipal governments during the session and in the interim.

“As one of the team of lobbyists working on behalf of city governments, I can definitely say that the active involvement and enthusiasm of city officials like Mayor Bucky Johnson makes our state and our cities much better places to live,” Gehl said.

Johnson encourages all city officials to engage as many constituencies as possible. “When we understand what their desires and hopes are, we can be proactive in terms of how we build our communities,” Johnson said.