The Public Servant
by Jacob Shafer
Twenty-ten was a big year for Jo Anne Johnson: she lost her husband of 30 years to complications from Parkinson’s disease, finished her fifth and final term on the County Council, was tapped by incoming Mayor Alan Arakawa to head up the County Department of Transportation—and got remarried. “I didn’t expect it,” says Johnson of the nuptials, “but it’s proof that some things really are meant to be.” Her new husband is a rabbi and an old friend who she re-connected with via the Internet. “He cooks and cleans,” Johnson says with a smile. “Sometimes I can’t believe how lucky I am.”
But her personal life isn’t the only area where changes are afoot. After ten years representing the people of West Maui, Johnson is now tasked with overseeing the County bus system—among other things—and finding ways to maintain and improve service in the face of budget constraints and bureaucratic red tape. The challenges may be new, but Johnson says her approach will be the same. “Transportation touches everyone,” she says, “the elderly and disabled, students and young people, visitors. I see it as a chance to have a broad impact.”
Though she still has a passion for public service, Johnson has ruled out seeking further elected office. “I think that should be left to younger people,” she says, referencing her successor on the Council, Elle Cochran. “That doesn’t mean I’m not motivated,” she’s quick to add. “I love Maui and I always will. But now, I think, I can be active in other ways.”
CLICK HERE TO READ MORE from MauiTime’s January 13 cover story “20 for ’11: Who Matters on Maui?” featuring twenty movers and shakers in art, food and politics who are shaping our island’s future.