Back to the July-August 2023 issue

Reflecting on More Than 11 Years of League Service

By Ron Johnson

Ron JohnsonMy involvement with the League of Minnesota Cities (LMC) Board of Directors spans more than 11 years, beginning in 2012. My original term ran three years, through 2015, but my involvement didn’t end then.

Back to the Board

After leaving the LMC Board of Directors, I became active in the leadership of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC) and eventually became the CGMC president in 2018.

In 2019, I found myself back on the LMC Board as an affiliate member for one year representing the CGMC as past president. It was during that year when I was approached to consider running for second vice president of the LMC Board.

Shortly thereafter, everything changed due to the pandemic. Our meetings were held remotely and the LMC 2020 Annual Conference was canceled. My interview for the second vice president position was held remotely, but that didn’t diminish the excitement of being elected to the position. I served my entire year as second vice president remotely, but by the time I had moved into the first vice president position, we were back to meeting in person.

I became the LMC president in June 2022 at the LMC Annual Conference in Duluth. This was the first time the conference had been held in person since 2019 because of the pandemic.

In September, the Board gathered in Bemidji for a retreat. It was a great opportunity for the new members of the Board to get acquainted, set goals, and for me to show off my hometown. Since Bemidji is “the first city on the Mississippi,” a highlight of the retreat was a visit to Itasca State Park and the source of the Mississippi River.

Representing the League

On Sept. 11, 2022, then LMC Board First Vice President Jenny Max and I had the privilege of representing the League at the Minnesota Twins Armed Forces Appreciation Game at Target Field. As a 10-year veteran of the Army National Guard, I am extremely proud that the League has been recognized for its outstanding support of the National Guard and Reserves. I know firsthand how important that is to employees who are fulfilling their military obligation while working full time.

The fall was very busy as LMC Past President D. Love, First Vice President Jenny Max, Second Vice President Justin Miller, and I each teamed up with LMC staff to visit several cities across the state. These visits continue to be an extremely effective way to build relationships with our member cities and learn about their needs and concerns.

In November, I had the opportunity to represent the League at the National League of Cities Summit in Kansas City. It was a great experience to be able to meet and discuss issues with city leaders from other states.

Opportunities to represent the League continued into the new year, and in February and March, I had the honor of giving opening remarks and participating in a session panel at three LMC Elected Leaders Institutes that took place in Mankato, Plymouth, and Alexandria.

March was also a busy month for connecting with lawmakers at both the state and federal level. On March 9, I had the honor of welcoming more than 200 attendees representing over 100 cities to St. Paul for “City Day on the Hill.” The event is an annual opportunity for local leaders to advocate for their cities, receive updates on the League’s key priorities, and to hear from state policymakers.

Also in March, I had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., for the National League of Cities Congressional City Conference. It was an honor to lead a Minnesota delegation in meetings with our Minnesota members of Congress. A tour of the White House was a special highlight.

LMC executive director search

In January, Executive Director Dave Unmacht announced that he would be retiring in May 2022, and I was charged to lead the Board in the search process to find our next director. I’d been involved in the process once before. In 2015 I was on the Board that selected Dave for the role, following the retirement of longtime Executive Director Jim Miller. Now, I was leading the Board that would select Dave’s successor.

The process continued into April and May, which proved to be extremely busy months. In addition to the traditional year-end work, much time was spent conducting a nationwide search to find the next director.

The decision was made May 3, when the LMC Board named Luke Fischer, who has served as LMC deputy director since 2017, as the League’s new executive director. I am happy for Luke and excited for the future of the League. I look forward to working with him as I complete my final year on the LMC Board serving as past president.

Final reflections

From the moment D. Love turned the presidency over to me in June 2022, to June 2023 when I passed the gavel to First Vice President Jenny Max, my year as president of the League of Minnesota Cities has been the biggest highlight of my 23 years serving on the Bemidji City Council.

Did I LOVE my year as president? You might say, I enjoyed it to the MAX.

Ron Johnson is LMC past president and a Bemidji City Council member.