Tuesday morning, 12 hours after he stunned Oak Park with the news of his coming resignation from the village board, Trustee Ray Johnson was "taking it all in" as messages flooded his Facebook page and the Journal's comment board.
"People are incredibly nice," said Johnson. "It's good, but it makes this hard."
The senior member of the village board with 11 years of service, Johnson announced his March 3 resignation at the close of a busy Monday village board meeting. Most of his fellow trustees learned the news earlier Monday evening that Johnson has gained a major promotion at his job with HSBC bank and would be moving to New York — Brooklyn specifically — in the months ahead.
Johnson said he told Village President Anan Abu-Taleb and Trustee Colette Lueck earlier in separate private meetings. Johnson and Lueck have been particularly close board colleagues.
The 50-year-old Johnson has worked at HSBC for 31 years. It was his first job out of college and he has stayed with the bank in various capacities since. Johnson said Tuesday that he worried about his job at the bank a few years ago when the economic crisis hit and the bank closed the marketing department where he had worked. He landed in the bank's community investment department and will become a vice president focusing on all of the bank's employee volunteer efforts in the U.S.
Owing to the retirement of other longtime members of the department, the position opened up and was offered to Johnson in mid-December. He took time over the holidays with his family in Michigan to discuss the move but said he was clear from the start that he wanted the new post.
"This is a great job. You don't say no to these opportunities. I know I will be successful, and it is meaningful work," he said.
Johnson said that until the economic crisis hit he assumed he'd stay in Oak Park forever.
"There was a time even a few years ago when I thought I'd be in Oak Park the rest of my life," he said.
After the great recession hit, he said, he knew it was time "to embrace change" if it came. And, he said, "I know I have a great place to come back to here in Oak Park."
Johnson took office in 2003. He has been an active supporter of the Oak Park Area Gay and Lesbian Association. In fact, in listing the five most notable transitions in Oak Park on Monday night, he included the village's strong support for the rights of gays, lesbians and the transgendered on that list.
Included on that list after Monday night was the remaking of the village government's economic development efforts which Johnson has long supported.
"I've been a skeptic and a critic of OPDC," Johnson said. "Not tonight. Tonight I'm optimistic."
While there have been tensions between Johnson and Abu-Taleb since the latter's election last April, Johnson said those disagreements had no impact on his decision to move to New York and to leave the board.
"I've learned from Anan in just a year. And I've seen the impact a leader can have," said Johnson.
And pointing to notable current issues before the village board Johnson said, "On economic development, on building and property standards, on parking issues there is no daylight between us."
In announcing his resignation Monday, Johnson tearfully said, "Serving on the village board for the last 11 years and prior to that as a commissioner for a combined five years on the community development citizen advisory commission and planning commission has been one of my greatest honors. Village government has been a highlight of my life."
Lueck said it was Johnson who inspired her to become involved in village government.
"Ray recruited me," she said. "I wouldn't be a trustee if Ray hadn't come to me and said, 'Colette, why don't you consider running?' I am tremendously grateful for his support and collaboration throughout the years."
Abu-Taleb has up to 60 days to choose an interim replacement, following Johnson's departure. It is the president's choice to make although the ratification of the village board is required.
The last trustee to resign from the board was Ernest Moore in 2008. Moore left after just over a year on the board to take a job in Texas. His seat was filled by Lueck, who was re-elected to the board in 2009 and 2013.
Dan Haley and Graham Johnston contributed to this report.
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