Johnson Challenges Milford with Libertarian Viewpoint


A mid-1980s article about Avery Johnson’s eccentric libertarian views and his involvement in local politics in Milford, NH.

MILFORD — “As you well know I don’t like prescribed rules,” said Selectman Avery Johnson to voters this week.

Anyone who has watched Johnson,54, sit on the Board of Selectman for the past three years doesn’t need to be reminded of this.

Johnson, board vice chairman, is seeking another three years at making people aware that there are alternatives that perhaps haven’t been made “thinkable” before.

Although often perceived as inconsistent —believing in the least possible amount of government while being in town government and being adamantly opposed to compulsory education and serving as town truant officer— Johnson likes to explain the finer points of his thoughts.

He is responsible for putting the municipal computer system on line; he spent about 30 hours a week programming the information since the system was approved last March, he said. He has worked extensively on planned Town Hall renovations.

A Libertarian, Johnson said the first couple of years on the board were “discouraging” in terms of getting across his philosophy.

Now, he says, “I have this vague feeling there’s a job about half done,” and he is beginning to find ways to make progress.

An inventor with a Ph.D. in engineering, Johnsson is one of the heirs to a family fortune – his grandfather invented Palmolive dishwashing liquid.

Johnson developed a telephone conferencing system, attended a national conference to show off his haptic (“touchy feely!”) devices, has continuously studied neuro-linguistic

programming and is in the process of writing a book on the human brain and the development of language.

Johnson became a Libertarian in the late 1970s when he got to know some local people. “I was an Ayn Rand fan years ago. The lack of a sense of humor was a turn-off.”

He said that when he began reading Libertarian literature, he found it to be more “responsible” than a lot of other journalistic sources.

“And I was impressed with the thought given to the relationship of the government to those governed —the individual,” he said. “Why does government have to step in?”

At weekly selectmen Johnson is easily irritated with the “rigid” rules of the town — especially

when it comes to zoning regulations.

He was taken to court by the town before he became a selectmen because he built a house on his property without getting a building permit.

“I would like there to be a flexibility — a performance criteria — so that whenever anybody wants to take all the risks, he can. Why does anyone have the right to tell you you can’t take that risk?... Does a site plan on paper make it more real?”

Johnson took some heat at a forum Wednesday night for his lax views on enforcing zoning laws.

“Every time it’s thrown at me that we are a society of laws and not a society of men, I want to get sick,” Johnson said at a recent forum.

“The main problem is that we have meetings by offering unusual solutions to down-to-earth problems. rigid rules that don’t accommodate for realities,” he said. “Life goes on in the broad context of many relationships.” 

He also was criticized for allowing a foundation to be poured on his property without going through proper channels first. What made the situation worse was that it was Building Inspector Robert Milliard who, intending to buy the property, built the foundation.

“I’ve made some people angry,” said Jonnson. “But later I go back and talk to them, to straighten it out.” For example, he apologized to veterans last year for an alleged slight he made in a comment about prisoners of war being no more special than other veterans and that “once this was cause for shame.”

His pet project is the Town Hall renovations, which this year officials expect will have to be put off until a year when so many other expensive things aren’t needed.

“I’ve worked in the Town Hall for three years, and really fell in love with the building,” he said. 

At times Johson has displayed his characteristic quirks to Town Hall for all to see, like the time he donned a wizard’s hat to demonstrate his magical relationship with computers. 

Johnson often brings his avant garde perspective to selectmen meetings by offering unusual solutions to down-to-earth problems. 

Several years ago when a group of citizens was complaining about losing sleep because of early morning noise from a milk truck, Johnson suggested that the soothing sounds of ocean waves be used to overpower the sounds of the truck’s diesel engine revving. 

More recently, Johnson added to his reputation by getting board approval to pump water from the contaminated Savage Well controlled by the Environmental Protection Agency. He surprised other board members by taking a drink. The whole incident led to another town official to say, “He was almost arrested.”