Retiring Battle Ground mayor talks tenure, the future of the city


After 12 years as Battle Ground’s mayor, Philip Johnson is looking forward to a new phase in his life.

Johnson did not seek reelection for his City Council seat this year and will be moving on from his service to Battle Ground. Johnson intends to stay busy in his retirement, however, making up for lost time previously dedicated to city government.

“For the last 12 years, I never missed a City Council meeting,” Johnson said proudly. “I made every one of them, and so what happened was that my vacations were always planned between City Council meetings. My wife wasn’t very happy with that, as you can imagine. And now I’m free, [and] she’s free, so we will be traveling a little more.”

Johnson said, even though he is stepping away, that doesn’t mean he stay quiet if he sees something he disagrees with taking place.

“And so if things hit me as being odd or I read something in The Reflector, read something in The Columbian that hits me as a little odd, I will take the time to complain,” Johnson said. “That’s who I am as most people probably have figured out by now. I’m not above complaining if I see something that’s just not right.”

Johnson is also a firm believer in attending council meetings as a concerned resident.

“What I wish most of all is that on the first and third Mondays of every month that there would be more than two or three people coming to meetings,” he said. “Come look at small-town civics and see what we talk about and then make up your mind.”

He added that people can learn a lot by attending council meetings, more than just what policy councilors are setting in the city, but also what type of people are sitting on council.

“You know, are they seven morons that shouldn’t really be in charge of putting a two-car funeral together, or are we seven basic citizens who look at what is offered,” Johnson said.

Reflecting on his 12 years on council, Johnson mentioned very few people questioned the councils he was on but were more interested in calling councilors names. Johnson prides himself on answering the public’s questions, and if he didn’t have an answer, he would find one. Johnson said that is what a city council does.

“My whole goal this whole time I’ve been here is to try and get 11 cents worth of value out of every dime we spent,” Johnson said. “We didn’t. We didn’t do it. But we came closer than I thought we did.”

Johnson encourages residents to see the new council in action this upcoming year and ask councilors questions. He also wants community members to learn more about how taxpayer money is being spent.

“Most people don’t realize it, and I didn’t, but the city has about 27 different checking accounts,” Johnson said. “... And so it’s been shocking to me because I started coming to City Council meetings 16 to 17 years ago and kind of paid attention to it. But, we spend 70 to 80 million dollars a year and most people have no idea that the seven of us and 100 of us in the city are spending roughly a million and a half a week.”

Although the Battle Ground City Council will have some new faces in the new year, Johnson ensured it will follow through on existing priorities and projects, including the work on state Route 503 cutting through the middle of town. He said another east-west connection to and from the highway is planned.

Along with road infrastructure, Johnson said that residents should continue to expect growth.

“There are plans, and they are firm plans, for the expected growth … The state says that we should probably take another 7,500 to 8,000 people between now and the end of the ’20s and into the ’30s,” he said.

He said the city currently has adequate water and sewer infrastructure to handle that growth, and staff have plans to expand city boundaries, as well.

“Yes, we’re going to expand the city, probably to the west, maybe to the south and, yes, there’s going to be maybe more big box stores come in and more of those kinds of things,” Johnson said.

Johnson expects more industry and businesses to look north in Clark County as the southern and eastern parts of the county have a shortage of buildable land. This will create more jobs in the Battle Ground and Ridgefield areas, as a result. It will also bring more big-box stores, he said. At the intersection of Main Street and state Route 503, between 50,000 to 60,000 cars go through a day, he said.

“Walmart recognized it. … Why wouldn’t someone else?” Johnson said. “It does take away from the small town, but does it keep you from going to Vancouver if you want to go to a Target or something like that?”

When Johnson first moved here from North Carolina in 2004, Battle Ground was small but growing. He said it would take him a day or two to visit every business in town, but now it takes four days because the city has grown so much since just 2011.

“So, I’m hoping that the city, as we grow, we grow smartly and that we start accepting people for who they are,” he added. “Whether they’re like me, from North Carolina, or whether they’re like your neighbor next door who moved here from Santa Barbara and he’s a Californian. God bless him, he’s up here. He’s one of us now. Let’s try our best to accept these people as our neighbors.”

Johnson said he will miss serving as mayor but thinks the new mayor the council appoints will do an even better job than he did.

“Being the mayor is a ceremonial job,” he said. “You’re in charge of the meeting and you cut ribbons and you go to high school and talk civics and you go to fifth-grade classes and talk civics. … And so those things I’ll miss.”