Otis served as a Scholar in Residence at Savannah State University from February 2012 to May 2019 after serving eight years as the 64th Mayor of the city of Savannah, Georgia. He was elected Mayor in 2003 and reelected in 2007. He ended his second term on December 31, 2011. Dr. Johnson was prohibited from running for a third four-year term because of a term limit law. While mayor, Dr. Johnson provided leadership for the creation of Step Up Savannah, Inc. (2005/06), a poverty reduction initiative, and Healthy Savannah (2007), an initiative that promotes healthy lifestyles.
Dr. Johnson has devoted his professional career to making conditions better for low wealth families in Savannah and the South. He worked for the Economic Opportunity Authority and the Model Cities Program before he began teaching at Savannah State University in 1971. He organized the undergraduate program in social work at Savannah State University. Dr. Johnson was elected to the Savannah City Council in 1982 and reelected in 1986. He resigned from the City Council and a tenured faculty position at Savannah State University in 1988 to become Executive Director of the Annie E. Casey Foundation supported Chatham Savannah Youth Futures Authority. The Youth Futures Authority was a collaborative of organizations that worked with children and families that needed help. Dr. Johnson returned to Savannah State University in 1998 as Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and was elected, without opposition, to a four-year term on the Savannah Chatham County Board of Public Education. Dr. Johnson retired from Savannah State University in 2002 and did not run for reelection to the Board of Education to prepare for his campaign for mayor.
Dr. Johnson was a member of the founding board of directors of the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Power & Potential (G-CAPP) in 1995. He was a member of the National League of Cities Council on Youth, Education and Families during his eight years as mayor and chaired the Council in 2009. He served on the boards of the Georgia Municipal Association, MDC, Inc. in Durham, NC, the Harris Neck Land Trust in McIntosh County, GA, Step Up Savannah, Inc., Healthy Savannah, and George Liele Visions in Savannah, and the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation in Winston-Salem, NC.
Dr. Johnson earned degrees from Armstrong University (Now Georgia Southern University) (A.A. 1964), University of Georgia (A.B. 1967), Clark Atlanta University (M.S.W. 1969) and Brandeis University (Ph.D. 1980).
Otis joined the board in 2018, and as a resident of Savannah, represents the Southeast Region.