Mapleview elects mayor with drug conviction
By Tim Ruzek
It’s not just the voters whom Mapleview’s mayor-elect, Arnie Johnson, will have to answer to.
Unlike most mayors, Johnson — when he starts a two-year term in January as mayor — also must answer to the probation officer supervising his drug sentence from September.
With his sentencing for fifth-degree drug crime — possessing under 2 grams of cocaine — Johnson doesn’t have a felony conviction, unless he violates probation.
That led to the unusual scenario Nov. 4 when the 48-year-old Johnson defeated longtime Mapleview mayor Larry Naatz, who has led the city for more than a decade.
Johnson won the election by a vote of 46-33 to become mayor of Mapleview, population 189. The city is adjacent to northwest Austin.
Some say it’s not right for Johnson — whom authorities accused of selling cocaine — to be elected mayor.
Others, however, say Johnson is passionate about his town and will lead well.
In a brief interview earlier this week, Johnson said of his criminal case that not everything you read is true.
"Things don’t always pan out," Johnson said, adding that his case should’ve been taken care of long ago.
Johnson also said he had cancer surgery in August and recently started chemotherapy treatment.
Numerous attempts to contact Johnson later in the week were unsuccessful.
Charges stem from search
Johnson’s legal trouble stems from authorities searching his Mapleview home during a drug investigation in July 2006. Officers seized 1.8 grams of cocaine, a .22-caliber pistol, and a cover for a scale.
At the time, Johnson allegedly told police he was getting cocaine from an Austin man, who was arrested in the same investigation and sent to prison, court documents say.
A criminal complaint says Johnson admitted he had sold cocaine to people and used the drug himself.
A few months after the search, Johnson finished fourth out of six candidates for two city council seats.
Naatz, the current mayor, mostly declined to comment this week except to say that he’s moving forward and will "do what I can do for our city." His wife, Pat, serves on the city council.
Mower County’s sheriff and county attorney both described the election of Johnson as "unfortunate."
Sheriff Terese Amazi said that more time should have passed from his drug case.
County Attorney Kristen Nelsen emphasized that Johnson admitted to police that he was selling drugs.
Some residents, due to Johnson’s drug case, have been "very negative and vocal" about him being elected, said Kris Finley, who was elected this month to her first term on Mapleview’s city council.
There also have been many positive comments about Johnson, Finley said.
Johnson’s ‘very friendly’
Johnson is "very visible, he’s very friendly and he’s very helpful," Finley said. Johnson, who has a disability, often goes around town in an electric wheelchair to talk with people, she said.
Finley and Jody Mens, who also was elected Nov. 4 to Mapleview’s council, both said they think most Mapleview residents knew about Johnson’s drug case, mainly because local media reported it.
Mens said he supported Johnson for mayor because he’s a decent guy, and because Naatz has been mayor for too long.
It seems most residents, Finley said, know Johnson had the drug incident but is on probation and trying hard to make things better.
Austin Mayor Tom Stiehm, a retired Austin drug detective, said he’s hopeful Johnson has changed.
"I guess I’d look at it as a success story," Stiehm said, "instead of looking at it as Mapleview electing a doper as a mayor."