Madison Needs You, Michael Johnson

Over and over again, Michael Johnson has stepped up for Madison. Now, it’s time for him to step even higher.

Johnson, is the long-time CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County. He’s done remarkable work growing that organization, adding a new facility on Allied Drive, and embedding the Clubs as a force for good outside of the physical buildings. Along the way, he’s made friends in Madison’s business community and earned credibility in its activist community. And he has a knack for saying hard truths without alienating people.

The most recent case in point is the growing violence in Madison schools, particularly at East High School. After two outdoor melees and numerous incidents inside the school, the Madison School Board has responded, not with a sense of urgency, but with… a committee… that will begin meeting in January.

But in a recent statement before the board, Johnson took a balanced approach. He supported both increased mental health services and community outreach, but, importantly, also the return of School Resource Officers. That last part was courageous for Johnson because SRO’s have become a lightening rod. Even though they performed very well for over two decades, the School Board removed them under pressure from the activist group, Freedom, Inc.

Now, we’re left to wonder if those melees could have been prevented had an SRO been in place to catch wind of trouble and diffuse the violence before it happened. Johnson seems to think so. The alternative to SRO’s is to have cops come in cold from other calls, not knowing the students, staff or the building layout. “In my opinion, it is dangerous to have police officers who don’t have relationships with students responding to school-related incidents,” Johnson said.

Michael Johnson

Johnson is a Black community leader, which gives him credibility, but most of his cred comes from literally being on the street. He knows elected leaders, business execs, nonprofit directors and kids on the street. He’s got a grasp of the entire community from the most powerful to the most marginalized.

I’m sure Johnson has been urged to run for office many times, but the times have never been more urgent. There are three school board seats up next spring and Johnson would be a great choice for one of them.

And then, in 2023, there’s a mayoral election. Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway hasn’t said if she’ll seek a second term. If she does, she’ll be formidable. She’s done a pretty good job in the face of daunting challenges. Bus Rapid Transit can only be seen as an historic accomplishment — though I think she spent way too much political capital over a handful of stations on State Street.

On the other hand, she supported removing the SRO’s and she’s been silent on the recent school safety crisis. She has not taken a strong position on the important issue of police body cameras (she should be for them). Overall, the Mayor picks her positions very carefully, perhaps too carefully. I’m not so sure a few BRT stations on State Street was worth the fight, but speaking out on school violence most certainly is.

To be sure, SRO’s can’t be the whole answer, but they must be part of it. Michael Johnson understands that and has the courage to say it and the credibility to be heard when he does. He almost has an obligation to take on an even greater role in his community.

(Note: Last I knew, Johnson lived in Fitchburg. If that’s still the case, moving trucks are available and I’ll help carry boxes.)

And another matter… last week I wrote (Build Back Smaller) that the Democrats’ big social/climate spending plan would only fuel the biggest problem for the party right now: inflation. But last night on the PBS News Hour centrist Democratic economist Larry Summers said that he supported the bill because of the long-term good it would do and because he thought it would have a “negligible” impact on inflation.

Welcome to the 273rd consecutive day of posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading!

Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

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