Cornelius Johnson Q&A

  1. What is your current employment?

Health Officer/Department Head for Susquehanna Township

  1. Do you own your residence or other property in the City?

No, I do not own property in the City of Harrisburg, yet but I’m currently house shopping and looking to buy soon.

  1. Have you ever been delinquent in paying your real estate taxes at the City, school district, or county level?

No

  1. Have you ever been charged with a crime, including summary offenses (other than a speeding ticket) and what was the disposition?

No

  1. Do you have any outstanding warrants or liens against you?

No

  1. What are your connections to the community?

Born and raised in the city of Harrisburg so I have several connections with the community such as cluster leader with Camp Curtain YMCA, Harrisburg Young Professionals, Martin Luther King Leadership Development Institute, etc.

  1. When did you decide to run for City Council and what inspired you?

I’m running for Harrisburg City Council, because I love this city and its residents. I was born and raised in Harrisburg, and I’m concerned about its future. Harrisburg is currently at a crossroads where our residents are looking for work, quality education for their children, safer streets, and strong leadership. I’m running for City Council to bring those concerns to City Hall and work diligently for viable solutions. I want to use my education and experience in government to put Harrisburg in a better place.

 Why are you running for two offices (the 2-year and the 4-year term) when you can serve in only one position? (if applicable)

N/A

 What is your assessment of the current City Council?

The current city council has been able to make several strides giving the current state of Harrisburg. However, I believe there is more we can do to make Harrisburg an even stronger city.

  1. What are the responsibilities of City Council?

The basic responsibility of City Council is to pass laws/legislation and review, allocate, and pass a budget. City Council is elected to represent the community and provide checks and balances for the administration.

  1. If elected, what Council committees would you be best suited to serve on or chair, and why?

All committees are equally important and with my experience in municipal government I can serve as chair for any committee. If I would force to make a selection it would either be public works, public safety, or budget and finance.

  1. Do you know anything about other candidates other than their names?

Some candidates I know and some candidates I just met.

  1. What strengths will you bring to City Council?

The biggest strength I would be able to bring to council is that I’m an independent thinker with an open mind. Also, I am able to bring direct experience in municipal government if elected to council which I can use to make Harrisburg a stronger city to live, work, and play.

 How would you improve the way City Council operates?

I would improve the way City Council operates by making sure decisions are solely based on merits. I would also work on improving access for citizen engagement by working on a plan to take city council meeting on the road to allow for more community involvement.

  1. What is your assessment so far of the Papenfuse administration? Name one thing you think the Papenfuse administration has done right and wrong.

The Papenfuse administration has been able to make strides in various issues throughout the city of Harrisburg. I believe the investment in public works has been a positive step that the Papenfuse administration has taken. I would like to see a better relationship between the school district and county which is something that I believe the Papenfuse administration should work on improving.

  1. What will you personally do to improve cooperation between City Council and the mayor’s office to benefit the City?

If elected to city council I work on improving cooperation between city council and the mayor’s office by being willing to discuss issues/legislation in order to find solution. It is important that on many issue that city council and the mayor’s office compromise and it is imperative that both sides are willing to do so in order to get things done.

  1. How would you address the problem of trash and litter in the City?

I would make that a focus point of the code enforcement program and push for aggressive enforcement in the most blighted areas. I would also push for a vacant property registry program to create a database to track foreclosed/vacant property to make sure the responsible party is maintaining the property.

  1. What is your plan to clean up the multiple “mini-dumps” throughout the City and gain control?

It’s imperative that we stop the bleeding by having residents submit where the mini-dumps are and make sure they are cleaned. From there it is imperative that we these areas are monitored by the city and its community members to be on guard for illegal dumping.

  1. Do you favor fining violators of City ordinances regarding trash and litter?

Yes

  1. Do you favor using work-release convict labor for litter cleanup in the City?

Yes, could be a beneficial program to allow for community service/work-release programs.

  1. If elected, what will you do to provide more sidewalk trash receptacles so litter disposal becomes a user-friendly activity?

Keep America Beautiful has grants/trashcans they award every year that the City of Harrisburg could take advantage of to allow for more sidewalk trash receptacles. I would also push to require all convenience stores to have an outside receptacle in from of their storefront.

 Would you encourage trash cans along the lower sidewalk by the Susquehanna River?

Yes

  1. Do you have any ideas for managing the goose feces along Front Street and the Susquehanna River?

This would be a hard thing to manage but we should making sure that we have enough employees within the public works department to make sure Riverfront park is being cleaned at a higher frequency. 

  1. Do you have thoughts on what City Council can do to improve the way the City looks?

City council and the administration can begin by looking at ways to attract businesses and development, aggressively attack blight, and making sure that we are investing and improving our infrastructure (potholes, sinkholes, etc.).

  1. What is your opinion on converting Front Street from 3 lanes to 2 and a bike lane?

I believe it is important that we look for ways to decrease speeding on Front Street to make it safer for pedestrians. I think the project has it pros and it cons and I am very interested to look at the traffic studies to make sure that this is the best option for Front Street.

  1. What is your opinion on converting Second Street from one way to two ways?

I believe this would be a good idea if there are certain parameters that will be installed as well to reduce speed as well. Second Street between Foster and Division is primarily a residential area with constant speeding taking place on 2nd street. If through enforcement and lane reduction speeding can be reduced then I am in favor of this initiative.

  1. Considering that Harrisburg is ranked the fifth most dangerous city in Pennsylvania, in which residents have a 1 in 16 chance of being the victim of a crime, what is your plan to make Harrisburg a safer place to live?

I believe in order to effectively fight crime the police force needs to return to sufficient officers. In 2010, the police department lost 50 officers to attrition leaving many platoons short staffed. Currently, the administration proposes adding nine additional officers bringing the total police force to 147. I would advocate continuing this trend for the upcoming fiscal years in order to bring the department to full strength. Having more officers on the beat allows for quicker response times and more personnel available to exercise proactive policing techniques. If elected to council, I would work with the administration to recruit, develop, and retain high quality police officers to keep our communities safe.

  1. What is your opinion of the creation of a Civilian Complaint Review Board consisting of community members to review complaints of alleged police misconduct?

I believe a civilian review board can be a benefit to the city of Harrisburg and should be further analyzed by the administration and city council and deserves further review.

  1. What actions will you take to relight the lights on Front Street?

I believe that we should not only relight the lights on Front Street but relight all areas of the city of Harrisburg. Streetlights provide lighting for residents and can detract criminal activities. Poor lighted areas can attract crime and could lead to robberies and other criminal incidents.

  1. What is your opinion on so-called “nuisance bars,” including the City’s planned actions against Third Street Café, the Taproom, and the Royal Pub?

I believe any type of bar that has several incidents and deemed as a nuisance bar has the right to be closed. We cannot allow residents to suffer and deal with crime for establishments that attractive and promote a criminal environment

  1. What is your opinion about the proposed idea of permitting bars to remain open until 4:00 a.m.?

I believe this initiative in Harrisburg that put more pressure on our police officers if the department is not properly staffed to handle crimes during those hours. I would not be in favor of this if it at all compromises public safety.

  1. What specific ideas will you advocate for economic revitalization?

With over 400 vacant properties spread throughout the city, I believe it is vitally important to rebuild our neighborhoods. I believe that, through a targeted approach, such as LERTA or KOZ, the city can effectively inspire development in the most distressed of its areas in order to restore our communities. This in turn, would allow for the tax burden to be spread out evenly among taxpayers and alleviate further tax increases for our citizens. I believe an effective tax abatement program could benefit both developers and residents.

  1. What is your position on tax abatements: 10-year sliding scale; 10-year complete abatement; no abatement program; or another scheme?

I believe that, through a targeted approach, the city can effectively inspire development in the most distressed of its areas in order to restore our communities. This in turn, would allow for the tax burden to be spread out evenly among taxpayers and alleviate further tax increases for our citizens. I believe an effective tax abatement program could benefit both developers and residents. I believe a 10 year 100% tax abatement for commercial entitles would be fair as long as they comply with the criteria of adding a certain amount of permanent jobs, hiring minority subcontractors, etc. For residential properties a sliding scale would work best to make sure the tax abatement program does not hurt current homeowners.

  1. What are your plans to encourage residential revitalization in Harrisburg?

I believe that, through a targeted approach, the city can effectively inspire development in the most distressed of its areas in order to restore our communities. This in turn, would allow for the tax burden to be spread out evenly among taxpayers and alleviate further tax increases for our citizens.

  1. How would you propose to incentivize City development of green and sustainable infrastructure?

I believe this could be done through a tax abatement program and also looking to see if we can state or federal assistance to allow for tax breaks or grant money for developers who build a green and sustainable buildings within the city of Harrisburg.

  1. What policies would you advocate to encourage developers to build on empty lots where buildings once stood?

With over 400 vacant properties spread throughout the city, I believe it is vitally important to rebuild our neighborhoods. I believe that, through a targeted approach, the city can effectively inspire development in the most distressed of its areas in order to restore our communities. This in turn, would allow for the tax burden to be spread out evenly among taxpayers and alleviate further tax increases for our citizens. I believe an effective tax abatement program could benefit both developers and residents. However, I believe that the comprehensive plan for the City of Harrisburg must be completed first in order to assess the long-term needs of the community. Furthermore, I believe that by developing Harrisburg’s land bank program, blight can be counteracted by redeveloping vacant, abandoned, and tax-delinquent properties. This returns the property into a productive use which leads to the beautification of communities, economic growth and stimulation of the Harrisburg housing and job markets.

  1. Until empty lots are developed, what temporary use would you advocate?

Community gardens are very popular and can be a great benefit to an urban environment so I would advocate for more community gardens within the city of Harrisburg.

  1. If the Harrisburg Redevelopment Authority contracted to build and landscape and neighborhood and the types trees planted damaged those properties and reduced property values, what kind of assistance would you propose the City offer these homeowners?

Currently the City of Harrisburg has set aside funds from the tipping fees to assist senior citizens for tree removal services for those types of scenarios. I believe the city explore other avenues such as this one to assist property owners as best as possible.

  1. What do you think of reducing parking rates to $1.00 per hour from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, and can such a proposal be made and succeed?

A proposal such as the one above would be hard to achieve at this time due to already pre-established contract with SP parking.

  1. Do you support a commuter tax?

I believe this could be an effective tax to collect but I believe in order to issue a commuter tax it would cause certain taxes in the city to rise which would be unfair to current residents.

  1. What impact will Governor Wolf’s proposed increase in the Commonwealth’s income and sales taxes providing a reduction in school property taxes have on the City?

If Governor Wolf budget passes as is it could have a positive effect for city residents in regards to their property taxes. Many residents will see a reduction in their school taxes which occupies a huge percentage of taxes paid by homeowners. If this is reduced it could inspire more homeownership within the city of Harrisburg and help alleviate the tax burden on seniors on a fixed income.

  1. Will you support the right of entrepreneurs to open marijuana shops in the City when Pennsylvania legalizes recreational marijuana?

Yes, if it is approved by the state then it would be something I would support in the proper zoning districts.

  1. If elected, what will you do to encourage businesses to come to Midtown and Harrisburg to encourage the development of vacant and blighted properties, like the Carpet and Draperies building near Third and Reily streets?

With over 400 vacant properties spread throughout the city, I believe it is vitally important to rebuild our neighborhoods. I believe that, through a targeted approach, the city can effectively inspire development in the most distressed of its areas in order to restore our communities. This in turn, would allow for the tax burden to be spread out evenly among taxpayers and alleviate further tax increases for our citizens. I believe an effective tax abatement program could benefit both developers and residents. However, I believe that the comprehensive plan for the City of Harrisburg must be completed first in order to assess the long-term needs of the community. Furthermore, I believe that by developing Harrisburg’s land bank program, blight can be counteracted by redeveloping vacant, abandoned, and tax-delinquent properties. This returns the property into a productive use which leads to the beautification of communities, economic growth and stimulation of the Harrisburg housing and job markets.

  1. How would you address the racial divide prevalent in the City?

It’s about coming together as a community to do what’s right for Harrisburg no matter what racial or ethnicity background.  I would work on bridging that divide by providing an example to community and continue to work and support anyone who is looking to make Harrisburg a better place to live, work, and play.  Throughout the country there is a deep history of racial divide from the past that continues to hinder our future. It is important that people are willing to be open minded enough to work together to move past it.

  1. How would you address the socioeconomic divide prevalent in the City?

It’s about coming together as a community to do what’s right for Harrisburg no matter how much money you make. I would work on bringing jobs and providing opportunities to those in lower socioeconomic class to bridge the gap to make sure there are able to make a living wage. It’s about that economic development is prevalent throughout the city to allow for this to happen.

  1. How would you address the geographic divide prevalent in the City?

It’s about coming together as a community to do what’s right for Harrisburg no matter how where you live in the city. I would work on bridging that divide by providing an example to community and continue to work and support anyone who is looking to make Harrisburg a better place to live, work, and play.

  1. How would you address the prevalent divide between lifelong residents and new residents of the City?

It’s about coming together as a community to do what’s right for Harrisburg no matter how long someone has been here. I would work on bridging that divide by providing an example to community and continue to work and support anyone who is looking to make Harrisburg a better place to live work and play.

  1. What can City Council do for issues affecting the Hispanic community?

The city could work closely with Hispanic community to analyze their issues and work in cooperation with non-profits who target the Hispanic community. There are great non-profits throughout the City of Harrisburg that work well with the Hispanic community, so it’s imperative the city continues to support their efforts.

  1. If you acquired a pre-owned genie with only one wish, how would you use that wish to improve Harrisburg, regardless of cost or authority of the City over that issue? What steps could actually you take from City Council to make that wish a reality?

I would wish for the spirit of community to rise where it creates an environment that everyone worked together towards common goals. Every other thing I could wish for over time Harrisburg could achieve through smart financial decision but being able to work as community is priceless.

  1. Considering issues over which City Council has substantial authority, what is the biggest issue facing the City and how will you work to fix it?

I believe that it is extremely important for Harrisburg to become fiscally stronger to avoid hindering any progress that has been made since the ratification of the “Harrisburg Strong Plan.” This can be done by analyzing revenue projections, and making sure that expenditures are within budget.  The City of Harrisburg government should be effective and efficient; therefore I would be a supporter of a performance measurement form of budgeting. In order to ensure programs are effective, I believe departments should be managing for results by setting yearly goals with measureable outputs to be included within the budget. This allows for more transparency as well as making sure that every dollar spent is being used to benefit the taxpayer.

  1. Name one priority you would focus on if elected to City Council, and why is that important to the City?

In light of recent events across the nation, I believe that community policing is an effective way to improve the relationship between officers and citizens. Harrisburg currently has one Community Police Coordinator that is solely responsible for engaging citizens, which has proved to be effective. However, I believe this model should be expanded. He believes that working with the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS)—a federal component of the U.S. Department of Justice—the administration and council can apply for grants to make this happen. Having more police officers and non-uniform officials interacting with residents creates a circle of trust that will help restore community relations.

  1. What practical things do you suggest residents can do each day to make the City better? How would you motivate residents to do these things?

I believe residents can work hard each day to make the City better by just doing their part by maintaining their property and by helping out their fellow neighbor if they’re in need.  I believe if we concentrate on doing all we can by working together I believe the city can begin to move forward.

  1. What is your opinion on regionalization of services, such as police, fire, schools, or even governance?

I think it would be a good thing for the region because it could allow for more shared resources amongst local municipalities.  This could allow for overall better services in police, fire, and schools. Many other states operate in this manner and could provide a great example for Dauphin County.