Hard-working City Attorney retires to a life of leisure

Meet the educated face behind how the government in Keizer operates

At the age of 69, Keizer City Attorney Shannon Johnson has two things on his mind for retirement: travel and family.

Johnson, who has worked for the city for the last 15 years, spoke to his justification for retirement saying, “It’s just time to move on.” 

Shannon Johnson has served as Keizer’s only City Attorney since 2009 and in that time he took what he knew from his former law partners who helped found the city and gave back to Keizer in ways that make the city well-known statewide. 

He did this by following one simple rule, “Listen. If you can’t listen, you are not going to be successful.”

Johnson lives in Keizer with his wife, Aleyna Reed, and has two children, Ben and Nissa Johnson. Ben is an officer with the Keizer Police and Nissa works in marketing with Callaway Golf.

The office of City Attorney is a charter position meaning that the offices are mandatory for the city to have though how those positions are filled are left up to those in charge. 

The City Attorney serves at the pleasure of the city council and represents the council as a whole, not individually. 

Johnson described how his initial talks with new councilors always revolve around letting them down easily, saying how they may not have power individually as much as they do a group and to think along those lines when looking to affect change within Keizer. 

Johnson’s time working for the city began long before he became City Attorney. 

While attending Willamette University’s College of Law in 1982, Johnson was informed of an open law clerk position with Hobson & Lien, the firm that helped the City of Keizer, free of charge become legally incorporated, 

Johnson began clerking at the end of 1983, helping with several small city projects as well as the private clients the firm served. He worked with them until 1985 when he graduated and passed the bar exam, earning his Doctorate in Jurisprudence.

From there, Johnson and his wife headed to Portland to look for work when Hobson called out of the blue offering a position with him as an Associate. 

Johnson jumped at the chance and moved back to the Salem-Keizer area. Dealing with a variety of public and private projects, it was not until the late 1990s that most of his law practice became focused on the City of Keizer. 

When the new Keizer City Hall building opened in 2009, the city did not recruit as they already knew who they wanted so they gave Johnson an offer he couldn’t refuse. 

“I had a choice, I could either come in here as an employee with great benefits or lose the only client I had,” Johnson said. 

Dealing with a variety of different municipal projects, Johnson noted his favorite one was helping create Keizer Station, and helping open Volcanoes Stadium in 1996 being a close second. 

When the station was being developed, Johnson had to wrangle 27 different property owners and get them all to agree to the various infrastructure requirements from ODOT due to its proximity to I-5. 

While urban renewal funds provide some support, the lion’s share of the funding came in the form of a federal loan for a local improvement district, or when property owners share the cost of infrastructure improvements. 

The project, at the time, was the largest LID project in Oregon until the creation of the tram line for OHSU in Portland. 

Johnson has spent time as the President of the Legal Advocacy Committee for the League of Oregon cities throughout the 90s as well as President of the Oregon City Attorney’s Association.

Despite the accolades, Johnson views his single greatest contribution to the city as the value he adds to the council with his guidance and advice. 

“It’s the day-to-day stuff. I talk to most of the councilors at least once a week and then I am able to jump in and guide them through the process as they need to be,” Johnson said. 

Johnson noted his dedication to the position as being propelled by a simple concept, he loves where he lives. 

The people of Keizer and the dedication they have to the city have also been one of the things keeping him here.

“One thing I wouldn’t [want] to change is the huge number of dedicated volunteers that this city has and the programs that they run from the Chamber to the Rotary,” Johnson said.

Johnson also discussed how he would love for the city to attain a new, stable source of funding. 

“I would like to be able to get a more stable funding source for the city because we are constantly constrained by what we can do budget-wise,” Johnson said.

When asked about a source, Johnson described the Oregon property tax system as a possible source though there are issues with it.

According to Johnson, the issue now is that property tax limits (only a 3% increase per year) are ingrained into the Oregon Constitution so even if 100% of Keizer citizens and the City Council wanted to add new services and ways to pay for them, they could not, short of changing the laws for the entire state. 

This creates a situation where crucial services, such as support for the Keizer Fire District are restricted to 5-year levies rather than some other more substantial form of support. 

Despite retiring, Johnson’s post-retirement goals indicate slowing down is the last thing on his mind. 

Immediate retirement will find Johnson and his wife making a trip down the coast to southern California, carousing around the Southwest and an European excursion. 

Johnson also described his aspirations to volunteer and put his experience to good use, though he has yet to settle on where to dedicate his time. 

Family will take up a great deal of his post-retirement life as he has five grandchildren to keep his days full. 

Long an avid cook for his family, Johnson described the dishes he enjoys cooking most for his family. 

Among the family favorites are his roasted leg of lamb, Julia Child’s potatoes au gratin, chicken marsala, lasagna and barbecue. 

“When Ben was little, before [Nissa] was born, I made dinner and we had our insurance agent over. She got there shortly before we put dinner on the table, and she turned to my wife after we started eating. She goes, ‘Alenya, this is wonderful. This is, I mean, thank you so much for making this.’ And Ben, who was about three turns and said, ‘Mama doesn’t cook,” said Johnson.

Johnson’s advice for the upcoming City Attorney is reminiscent of any passing of the torch in that those who are new should focus on what has worked for those in the past and, for Johnson, that is to listen. 

“You have a lot of moving parts and it’s frustrating not to be able to get things done faster, but there’s a reason for that. You have to dot your I’s and cross your T’s and go through the process. Trust the process, trust the system,” said Johnson. 

With his doctorate in Jurisprudence, Johnson displays the credentialing needed to undertake the position of City Attorney

Contact Quinn Stoddard
[email protected] or 503-390-1051

SUBSCRIBE TO GET KEIZER NEWS — We report on your community with care, depth, fairness, and accuracy. Get local news that matters to you. Subscribe today to get our daily newsletters and more