HOUSTON – Chickasaw Development Foundation (CDF) Director Sean Johnson announced that he would be leaving in September, last week via social media.
Johnson has been the CDF Director since May of 2018, making it three and a half years that he has been in Chickasaw County.
“My rationale for leaving now is because I do feel like we've turned a corner and I think that we've got a lot of things in place where I can afford to take a break and maybe it's a good time for somebody to come in to expand on those things that I have not been able to focus on,” said Johnson. “During my time here, I've been pretty much hyper-focused on Houston, but just this year, we've started working more with Houlka in particular, and we're going to be working with Woodland. These banner holders that we have around the city, we're putting one in Houlka and one in Woodland and so Woodland events will be on the banners here and Houston events will be there, and if we can grow our relationship with Okolona, we'll put one over in Okolona too, and so, everybody will be more on the same page. The biggest problem Chickasaw County has is that it is not united. So, the focus should be, and it was going to be my focus for the year before all this happened, was figuring out a way that we can bridge that gap.”
Johnson received two offers, one in Cleveland, Miss. and one in Oregon, however, he choose Cleveland. He said that he had considered the options and felt that it was time for him to step away for a bit.
“Both offers were very good offers. I had been kind of open to it once the door got opened to other possibilities, I started thinking about it and I had been kind of frustrated with some things anyway, and I thought maybe it would be time to step back for a minute.”
However, he made it a point to say that he was not abandoning Houston, far from it actually.
“I'm not going to retire from Cleveland, and they know that, and I'm not going to let go of Houston either. So, I am keeping my house here and I'll be back and I'm going to be involved with whoever takes my place and of course my board and the Arts Council in particular and the Merchants Association, through whoever takes my place. Cleveland's in a situation where they're more mature, if you go to Cleveland, they're actually where I think that we could be in a while. It's going to take some time and they've overcome some challenges. So, getting over there and being able to learn how they overcame those challenges, and sharing that information with my colleagues in Houston, I think would be very beneficial for Houston.”
Houston now holds a special place in his heart, and that is one of the many reasons he is not ready to let go completely.
“I've lived in a bunch of places, in different regions, and all over, and I have never lived in a more loving community than Houston. When I first got here, the first year that I was here, a young man died, a student, on the football field. They needed help with the funeral, or we thought that they may need help with the funeral, and so we called the florists and said would you do ribbons, and then the proceeds from the ribbons would go to help this family, and this town got covered up with ribbons and I had never seen anything like that. Usually it would be friends of the family or people he went to church with that did that, but there was not a place to put a ribbon by the time that it was done, there were so many ribbons out there, and I had never seen that before and it told me a lot about this community, just that. It impressed me and I fell in love with Houston and I continued to fall in love with it. I told my brother, I knew we grew up in Mississippi, but I don't feel like I've lived in Mississippi before, now that I live in Houston, I see more of what that idea of Mississippi is.”
That said, he is excited to take on his new role, which he feels he will fit into quite nicely.
“My background is in tourism, and what I'm going to be doing in Cleveland is tourism.”
He said that there are some things that he has done that have hindered his ability to do his job to the fullest extent as well, so he felt that stepping down and letting new blood in, so to speak, could be the best thing for Chickasaw County at the moment.
“Speaking of bridges, I don't know if I've burned them, but I've damaged them because of the consolidation effort when I was working on the courthouse consolidation, that made a couple of those supervisors upset, and then of course my run for mayor has made it a little more difficult to work with the city. So, a fresh face in here would probably be a good thing, and we could revisit what my role in Houston will be in a few years, but right now I think it's time for a break.”
There is no definitive date for his last day in Houston, however, it will be no later than Friday, Sep. 10. He is working to make the transition as seamless as possible so that his replacement can hit the ground running.
“I start there on Sep. 13, so I'll leave here as soon as we feel comfortable that I've got everything settled. Right now a lot of my work is getting files organized for my replacement and making sure that they know, when they step in this role, exactly what's going on.”
He said that it has not been easy having to make the decision and that he was definitely sad though.
“It's been a little heartbreaking for me, especially after seeing all of those posts on social media and being loved like that. I mean, it had an effect, but this is the right thing, and I'm only going to be literally right down the road. Highway 8 goes right into Cleveland, so we're on the same road, it's just a pretty two hour drive, and so I won't be far away.”
When asked what one of the biggest things he was able to get accomplished in his time here, he told a little story.
“Getting that clock fixed,” he said, referencing the courthouse clock in Houston, which rang for the first time in years last year. “I believe strongly in symbolism. I believe that there are symbolic things that happen, and that clock had been dormant for nine years, not fixed, so somebody comes in one year and it says 11:15, they come in the next year and it says 11:15, for nine years the clock had stayed the same. It was like a 'Back to the Future' thing. I had asked what's the problem with it, and somebody had said that it was going to be really expensive to fix, that was all it took to not fix it, somebody said it was going to be expensive to fix. I went to the Exchange Club, and I asked them could we get the clock fixed? I don't know how much it's going to cost, they said it might be kind of expensive, $5,000-7,000 to get it fixed, could we raise the money for it? 'Yeah let's raise the money for it, that's a great thing, let's do it.' I called Bobby Sanderson and said Bobby come up and have a look at this clock with me. We get up there and it didn't cost a penny to fix it. It took maybe $50 to get it cleaned. Now if you see a clock that doesn't work year, after year, after year, what that says about a town that that clock's in is either that they're broke, or they don't care, and our situation, we know nobody cared. The town is like a garden. It requires love and effort, and you've got to go out and weed it and nourish it and protect it. You've got to think about where you plant this plant because it needs light and this plant needs shade, you've got to put thought into it. It requires effort, it just doesn't happen itself, if you're going to have a good garden. If you want to feed people, if you want to nourish people you've got to put love into the garden, you've got to fix the clocks and you've got to care about the community and have heart for it. There are people in this community that have heart for it, and I think there are more people that have heart for the community now than when I started, so I feel good about that. I hope that the level of expectation has been increased for the community so that they do not accept a broken clock.”