By Jennifer Kotila
COKATO,MN Bruce Johnson has been the mayor of Cokato for 12 years, and will pass on the responsibility to mayor-elect Gordy Erickson at the end of the year.
Having grown up in Cokato, Johnson and his wife moved back in 1993.
Before moving back to Cokato, Johnson taught school for 40 years, first in Albert Lea and then in Anoka.
Johnson was first elected mayor over incumbent Mel Swendra in 1998.
“The first time I ran, I just thought someone should run; competition is good,” Johnson said.
He, along with two fellow Cokato residents, Tom Keaveny and Jerry Cronin, ran for city office that year against incumbents.
Any one of them could have run for the mayor’s seat, Johnson said, but he’s the one who paid the extra dollar to throw his hat in the ring.
All three were elected to office; Johnson as mayor and Keaveny and Cronin as council members.
At his last city council meeting Dec.13, Johnson reflected on his years of serving Cokato. “I do remember the first time I sat down at a council meeting and thought, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ At the same time, it has been unique in that it’s been enjoyable.”
The second time Johnson ran for mayor, nobody ran against him.
When he ran for a third term, a woman who had only lived in Cokato for a short tine ran against him, but Johnson won.
His last run for mayor was against council member Wayne Murphy in 2008.
Johnson decided not to run again in 2010, noting that many previous mayors had held the office for 12 years, and that seemed like a good number.
When asked what he had wanted to accomplish while in office, Johnson said, “If I had come into office with one thing I wanted to accomplish, and then succeeded in getting that done right away, then what would I have done?”
Always looking to the council for ideas and asking them what needed to be accomplished are how Johnson said he liked to run the city.
There have been many changes in Cokato since Johnson became mayor.
One notable change is the passage of the council’s authority to issue licenses for the sale of intoxicating liquor in 2006.
The question was on the ballot due to a petition signed by 205 voters, spearheaded by Matt Stumpf, according to a past issue of the Enterprise Dispatch.
There were more votes for liquor than for mayor that year, and it resulted in a major change for a town that had historically been dry.
“As a kid growing up, it seemed like we voted on liquor every-other election. Preachers would preach for two weeks solid against liquor before the election,” Johnson said.
Another change was the reconstruction of Highway 12. Although the plans were already laid before Johnson took office, he had to contend with all the turmoil it caused, his first year in office.
Broadway Avenue and Third Street reconstruction, just completed this summer, were more changes taking place under Johnson’s reign.
A good working relationship between the City ofCokato and Wright County helped in the reconstruction.
“In the past, the county told us what to do. Over the last 12 years, we worked more with them,” Johnson noted. “Dick Mattson has been very visible in our city, and we count him as a friend.”
The Wright County Mayor’s Association, which began while Johnson was mayor and meets quarterly, helped in repairing the relationship between county commissioners and mayors.
“It’s nice to look down Broadway and see the new lights and poles,” Johnson said. “Eventually, there will be new lights down Millard Avenue, as well. It’s a safety issue, with many of the poles being rusted out.”
Other changes included a new water tower and the expansion and construction of Centra Sota at the former mill site.
When talking about his successor, Gordy Erickson, Johnson said, “All I can do is wish Gordy the same amount of fun. He keeps looking to me and saying, ‘Yeah, you got me into something.’”
In his retirement, Johnson does not plan on doing things much different than when he was in office.
“I will miss going to city hall the couple of times I went each week,” Johnson noted.
He will continue to meet his buddies for coffee at The Marketplace each morning, as well as thoroughly reading the newspapers.
He and his wife Gloria, who have been married for more than 50 years, enjoy spending time at their cabin on Collinwood Lake.
He plans to fish with his son, Scott, when he comes for a visit, and he may even take up golf.