Legislative experience informs county role

Meet Commissioner Jeff Johnson

Meet Commissioner Jeff Johnson

District 7 Commissioner Jeff Johnson's three terms as a state legislator have been helpful in unexpected ways.

“Counties are on the ground administering programs and laws the legislature is passing," Johnson said. As a county commissioner, he draws on that knowledge as board members and county staff shape programs and policies to work for residents.

And, he's found the chance to serve even more rewarding.

“The ability at the county level—especially the large county level—to affect people's lives is greater than in the legislature," Johnson said, adding that's something he has found particularly rewarding as commissioner.

Strengths and challenges

“I think we have an amazing workforce," Johnson said, adding the best ideas to improve government often come from staff. He's most proud of the work he has done with employees to understand how to take programs with potential and get optimal results, particularly in Human Services.

“I think we are doing a much better job of focusing within that area and demanding results from the programs we fund," Johnson said. “When I came here, we didn't do a particularly good job of measuring those programs or demanding results. We still have a ways to go. I think that's something that someone anywhere on the political spectrum ought to be able to agree on: We want to spend money on programs that work."

Johnson said innovate partnerships will become increasingly important in addressing residents' needs. He pointed to working with social investors to improve existing affordable housing instead of constructing new apartments as an example.

Hennepin County faces challenges because of demographics, such as its aging population.

“Sometimes as a board we have trouble focusing," Johnson said, adding he wishes the board would concentrate on priorities such as providing a safety net for the most vulnerable, public safety and transportation.

Johnson said he is impressed by the strong partnership between the board, county attorney, sheriff and staff to address addiction and mental health issues among jail inmates.

“No one's going to get better in jail if they're mentally ill" and doesn't receive care they need to get better.

What's next?

Johnson will complete his third term as commissioner in 2020, and said he will not seek a fourth term.

“I think 8-10 years is enough for someone to be in a position to do what they need to do," Johnson said. “It's time to give someone else a shot."

Johnson hopes this is not the end of his public service: He hopes to work for a large non-profit or foundation with a mission to serve people who are vulnerable, whether they are poor, recovering from addiction or living with disabilities.

“That's where I think nonprofits do some of their best work," Johnson said.

Learn more about Commissioner Johnson at