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Columbia County administrator Scott Johnson backs Magnolia Trace

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Columbia County Administrator Scott Johnson says expanding broadband access should increase competition among Internet providers and attract businesses.  ZACH BOYDEN-HOLMES/STAFF
ZACH BOYDEN-HOLMES/STAFF
Columbia County Administrator Scott Johnson says expanding broadband access should increase competition among Internet providers and attract businesses.

Today, Columbia County Administrator Scott Johnson discusses Magnolia Trace, economic development, finances and growth.

BACKGROUND

Scott Johnson started his career in Columbia County government as assistant to the administrator in February 2008 after a 21-year career in law enforcement.

After graduating Harlem High School, Johnson became a deputy at the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office. Six years later, he went to work for the Georgia State Patrol.

Johnson quickly rose through the ranks of the state patrol, becoming one of the youngest troopers ever to command a post. At the rank of lieutenant, he took early retirement while serving as the state patrol’s deputy director of training.

While still a trooper, Johnson went to school, eventually earning a master’s degree in public administration from Columbus State University.

Though he wore a badge and a gun, Johnson said his duties primarily were administrative, which prepared him well for his current job.

The transition to the government career wasn’t easy, Johnson said.

“I was stepping out of a role of leadership … to sitting in an office staring at the four walls, not knowing what to do,” he said.

Johnson said he took steps to change that by looking at how to restructure the government and improve efficiency. Then-county administrator Steve Szablewski took those suggestions seriously. Within a year, Johnson’s title changed to deputy administrator.

When Szablewski announced his retirement last year, Johnson was chosen to replace him and took over Sept. 1.

MAGNOLIA TRACE

In his interview with a panel of Augusta Chronicle editors, Johnson vehemently defended Magnolia Trace, an “affordable housing” development planned for a 15-acre parcel in Martinez on Old Ferry Road.

“I wish people got that excited about the budget process,” Johnson said of the Magnolia Trace hoopla, which included more than 200 residents near the property showing up at a December commission meeting to protest its construction.

The Magnolia Trace project wasn’t part of some government effort to create a Cherry Tree Crossing in Martinez, Johnson said.

“I guess we could have been a little more transparent, but there is no smoking gun,” he said of such conspiracy theories.

Though Columbia County can boast one of the highest-median incomes in Georgia, Johnson said the county still is home to many working poor. Johnson said he knows people living in homes with dirt floors.

Magnolia Trace provides an alternative to such living conditions for those who meet the income requirements and pass the background checks to qualify as residents of subdivision, he said.

“We want to be inviting to everybody,” Johnson said.

BROADBAND

During his time as deputy administrator, Johnson launched an $18 million project to expand broadband access.

In March 2010, Columbia County won a $13.5 million federal stimulus grant from the Broadband Technology Opportunity Program.

County officials agreed to match at least 20 percent of the grant, and work began on installing more than 200 miles of fiber cable and 60 free Wi-Fi hotspots. The Broadband Utility Department also was established.

Once complete the project is complete – possibly by December – the county can lease the use of fiber optic lines to Internet service providers.

The immediate benefit to Columbia County residents, Johnson said, will be increased competition for their dollars.

As an example, Johnson noted that Grovetown has one Internet service provider. But with infrastructure already in place, thanks to the Broadband Utility, it becomes much cheaper for other Internet providers to build onto the county’s network and also offer services. Thus, the Internet monopoly in Grovetown is busted.

More significantly, Johnson said, is that the Broadband Utility will become an economic tool.

Johnson said Columbia County could become the “Silicon Valley of the South.”

He helped facilitate a deal to change the county’s Internet service provider to U.S. Carrier, which gives the county access to Atlanta’s 56 Marietta, a “broadband hotel” with connections to fiber optic lines throughout the country.

With the Broadband Utility and access to 56 Marietta, Johnson said Columbia County becomes and ideal location for any technology firm wishing to expand or relocate.

FINANCES

With the potential to attract high-paying technology jobs, the county could offer tax relief to residents as its tax base expands.

Currently planning the budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year, Johnson said it likely will include a property tax cut for the fifth consecutive year.

By treating government like a business, Johnson said, the commission has created “a very lean government offering a lot of services.”

Just 870 employees, about half of which work for the sheriff’s office, provide services to about 124,000 residents, he said.

Early in his career, Johnson said he took an active role in cutting wasteful spending with the establishment of a panel to review any open government position.

Every vacated position is examined, and many are eliminated.

Instead of filling a position, Johnson said he often recommends that duties be shared by others, with each getting raises for the added responsibilities.

Johnson said he and his staff have eliminated $3 million from the county payroll in the past four years.

Johnson called it a “common sense” approach that manages to “avoid multiple layers of government.”

Comments (36) Add comment
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Many Arrows
-1
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Many Arrows 01/21/12 - 09:29 pm
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0
Agreed on the "silicon

Agreed on the "silicon valley" assessment. That is an exciting aspect about Columbia County that has been enhanced.

With respect to Magnolia Trace, it was a debacle and it is not over by a long shot.

raul
4868
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raul 01/21/12 - 10:38 pm
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With respect to Magnolia

With respect to Magnolia Trace, that was not a very politically astute position.

Many Arrows
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Many Arrows 01/21/12 - 10:57 pm
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Scott is newly minted as top

Scott is newly minted as top man in the administration and feels compelled to polish apples with the pols, most of whom won't be around 4 years from now.

Many Arrows
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Many Arrows 01/21/12 - 11:01 pm
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0
Szablewski knew to give the

Szablewski knew to give the pols plenty of power and survive. He was the master at it. Administrators don't last long most places. Scott is pretty good, but he is gonna have to learn very, very fast. I think he is up to the task.

Riverman1
83896
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Riverman1 01/21/12 - 11:12 pm
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What caught my eye is the

What caught my eye is the antagonism Johnson displayed concerning the current Grovetown Internet service provider.

He said, "...it becomes much cheaper for other Internet providers to build onto the county’s network and also offer services. Thus, the Internet monopoly in Grovetown is busted."

Nevermind the present providers spent all their own money for things the government will now pay for a competitor. That doesn't seem fair.

Willow Bailey
20580
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Willow Bailey 01/21/12 - 11:13 pm
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0
The "hoopla" and concern

The "hoopla" and concern carries much further than the 200 people of Magnolia Trace. His comments were tackless and clueless, making him a perfect fit for this group.

Riverman1
83896
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Riverman1 01/21/12 - 11:19 pm
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Willow, you know his comments

Willow, you know his comments were kind of strange. Ha..hit me, too.

I'll also call BS on his remark that he knows people living in houses with dirt floors in Columbia County. But if it's true they probably have pyschological problems. He implies these people will be helped by Mag. Trace. That should really make the people living around there feel better about the coming neighbors.

Riverman1
83896
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Riverman1 01/21/12 - 11:22 pm
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Heck, I thought they said the

Heck, I thought they said the residents of Mag Trace would be police officers and teachers who didn't quite make $40 thousand a year. Now we're being told they're coming from huts with dirt floors. Sounds like Obama's relatives in Kenya.

Cynical old woman
1102
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Cynical old woman 01/21/12 - 11:23 pm
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Another one in the Columbia

Another one in the Columbia County regime that is a legend in his own mind.

Riverman1
83896
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Riverman1 01/21/12 - 11:36 pm
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Ah, plus the theme has now

Ah, plus the theme has now changed. It's no longer we couldn't do anything to keep them out, it's now Magnolia Trace is a good thing. “We want to be inviting to everybody,” Johnson said.

I guess we're in store for more projects for poor people.

raul
4868
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raul 01/21/12 - 11:43 pm
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I would say, in general, if

I would say, in general, if you are living in a hut with dirt floors, you probably made a lot of poor choices in life.

Riverman1
83896
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Riverman1 01/21/12 - 11:46 pm
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0
I wonder if this is going to

I wonder if this is going to be like the Bedouins in Saudi Arabia? The government builds them houses and they put up a tent in the yard. Maybe they should leave one room in the Mag Trace houses without a floor?

Little Lamb
46009
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Little Lamb 01/21/12 - 11:50 pm
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0
From the article above, I

From the article above, I guess this says it all:

“We want to be inviting to everybody,” Johnson said.

wildman
1121
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wildman 01/21/12 - 11:51 pm
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Johnson, Cross and Sleeper is

Johnson, Cross and Sleeper is enough stink in one county and I'm sure I left more than one or two out.

wildman
1121
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wildman 01/22/12 - 07:04 am
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0
Johnson, Cross and Sleeper is

Johnson, Cross and Sleeper is enough stink in one county and I'm sure I left more than one or two out.

reba530
65
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reba530 01/22/12 - 07:46 am
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Lets put this in his backyard
Unpublished

Lets put this in his backyard and see how he backs that up. Along with the other lousy comissioners that voted for it. I bet if it was even a thought fo their neighborhood they would have stopped it before it even started

overburdened_taxpayer
117
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overburdened_taxpayer 01/22/12 - 08:18 am
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“We want to be inviting to

“We want to be inviting to everybody,” Johnson said.

That's just it Scott, you and the commission just don't get it. We DON'T want to be inviting to EVERYONE. There are some elements we just want to keep out. We don't want to end up like South Augusta.

Apparently you and our commissioners are just way out of touch with the middle class in the county. Most of us actual taxpayers (working citizens)picked Columbia County for a reason and you all are beginning to make it just like the places we fled.

It's just like all these storefronts that are being approved. Half the buildings don't get filled or close very quickly (see Food Lion). But hey, it's OK because the builder commissioners are probably making out big at the county's expense.

Come on CC residents....chant with me "NO MORE BUILDERS" as Commissioners.

Riverman1
83896
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Riverman1 01/22/12 - 08:48 am
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Scott Johnson says we have to

Scott Johnson says we have to provide government money to compete against private enterprise and we have to help the poor people of the county with dirt floor houses by giving them low rent housing such as Magnolia Trace. The county could be in a rough ride with him being the administrator. Watch him carefully.

Riverman1
83896
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Riverman1 01/22/12 - 09:01 am
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0
I'm willing to get together

I'm willing to get together some folks and build floors in houses without floors in Columbia Cty that Scott Johnson is worried about. Just show us where they are, Scott. Anything is better than giving them new houses and apartments. The only stipulation is that those with dirt floors not have psychiatric issues and actually like the way their houses are. Scott, where are they?

boredinaug
97
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boredinaug 01/22/12 - 12:00 pm
0
0
Wow...this man sounds like a

Wow...this man sounds like a used car salesman or a television evangelist!!! Good to know we are all just "misinformed" and everything will work out fine;)

kjohnson17
0
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kjohnson17 01/22/12 - 12:32 pm
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Let me start off by saying

Let me start off by saying this, Scott Johnson is my dad and although I do not always agree with his decisions or remarks, the comments some of you are making are absurd. I am 19 years old and have more respect for someone than this. I would like to touch on the "dirt floor" comments, although my family was not raised on a "dirt floor," we had very little and my dad worked very hard for EVERYTHING we had. My dad has once been in the low income situation and realizes how much help Magnolia Trace would be to the community. I do not look at any of this from a government stand point, because I have very little knowledge of that, but I do have my opinion. Thank you to those that make MATURE comments, and for those that don't maybe you should get off the computer and take your concerns somewhere else where they REALLY matter.

gagentleman
103
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gagentleman 01/22/12 - 12:38 pm
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0
OH PLEASE SAY IT AINT

OH PLEASE SAY IT AINT SO,common low to medium income folks coming to columbia co. why we will not tolerate such madness.how do you possibly think you can fit in when you cant even afford a BMW.

Riverman1
83896
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Riverman1 01/22/12 - 12:39 pm
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KJohnson17, there's nothing

KJohnson17, there's nothing wrong with taking up for your dad. Nice post actually.

boredinaug
97
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boredinaug 01/22/12 - 01:15 pm
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0
Take up for your dad all day

Take up for your dad all day long, I would do the same for mine, Kjohnson. However, don't do it and not expect a backlash. People are fired up about this new housing project...because it affects THEIR dads, kids, wives, etc. Many people are AFRAID for what this type of housing will bring to their community and their backdoor. Why is it so hard for some to understand that? The people of Petersburg Station are not wealthy...they are the WORKING class people. They are trying as hard as they can to provide for their families and protect their investments in their homes. Who in the world would not be upset by something that threatens that?? My husband and I have struggled also (like your dad) WITHOUT HELP, to provide a good life for our children and ourselves. It's our God given right to be upset when something or someone threatens our progress. Kjohnson, if ANYONE is being disrespected in this whole deal, its the people who live in and around Petersburg.

InMyOpinion
1
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InMyOpinion 01/22/12 - 01:22 pm
0
0
No need to worry about that

No need to worry about that gagentleman. The "givamint" will subsidize the BMW for them. This way all the other people living in the surrounding neighborhoods who EARNED theirs get to see their tax money at work.

overburdened_taxpayer
117
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overburdened_taxpayer 01/22/12 - 02:50 pm
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0
“We want to be inviting to

“We want to be inviting to everybody,” Johnson said.

NO we don't want to be inviting to EVERYBODY. We sure don't want our area to end up like South Augusta.

It is time we put a stop to these builder commissioners who only care about what they can do for themselves.

Stop The Censorship
0
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Stop The Censorship 01/22/12 - 03:17 pm
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In one of the most self
Unpublished

In one of the most self professed predominately Christian areas low income housing is being obstructed? How Christian is that? Sorry but not everyone is born with the silver spoon in their mouths. I'm disgusted at how some of you so called "Christians" act holier than thou and as if low income housing is beneath you and your neighborhood.

WWJD?

augusta citizen
9330
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augusta citizen 01/22/12 - 03:37 pm
0
0
I think it's admirable for

I think it's admirable for Mr. Johnson's son to take up for him too, I do have a question though, how many people does he know that live in houses with dirt floors? Riverman, let me know when you get those volunteer groups together. I will help put in floors for these people myself.

Many Arrows
-1
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Many Arrows 01/22/12 - 03:46 pm
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Good going Kjohnson17. Your

Good going Kjohnson17. Your dad is going to be a lot busier man that Szablewski was. Old Steve got out before a lot of issues got settled and before Mag Trace blew up (not before it was suspected to go nuclear is my guess). There are other issues that will be even hotter, in my opinion. Good luck to Scott and to you too.

Cynical old woman
1102
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Cynical old woman 01/22/12 - 04:59 pm
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0
Johnson's son needs to

Johnson's son needs to understand Columbia County citizens are strictly trying to look out for their safety, crime rate, and their financial investments. Get used to it...it's probably gonna get worse before it gets better.

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