Johnstown Water Board has new acting president

JOHNSTOWN — The new acting president of the Johnstown Water Board desires a fresh start with city government, working with the city and getting things done for Water Department infrastructure users.

That was the message Tuesday from the board’s new Acting President Michael Capparello. Former board President John Swierzowski resigned from the board at is special meeting July 29 at the downtown bandshell, replaced in the leadership seat by Capparello.

Mayor Vern Jackson on Tuesday said he had no comment at this time on current city-Water Board relations.

“I’ve already reached out to the mayor,” Capparello said. “I want to have a meeting with him.”

Capparello said he will be meeting with Jackson on Thursday.

“I want all this bickering back and forth to stop,” said the new Water Board acting head.

Relations between city government and the Water Board have been strained the last few years, so much so that District Attorney Chad Brown convened a county grand jury to hear complaints.

Following a three-month investigation by the grand jury, the report, dated Dec. 11, 2019, was filed with Fulton County Court. On Dec. 31, 2019, County Court Judge Polly A. Hoye signed an order accepting the report and allowing it to be made public. The report mainly centered on two issues — how city Water Department employees report their work duties and are paid, and an issue involving a Linden Avenue property owner who was trying to tap into city water.

The grand jury report on an investigation into the Johnstown Water Board made public Jan. 7 didn’t call for indictments. But the report made four main recommendations for the board and city government for the future. Those recommendations were: the water board should hire a water superintendent, establish a chain of command for the Water Department, the board must have bylaws in place, and the city and water board should ensure any future land projects go through necessary steps to get state Department of Health approval for installing water lines prior to selling.

The last time the city had a full-time water superintendent was about 2000, officials say.

In March 2019, the Johnstown Water Board had considered a proposed request for proposal for a new water superintendent drafted by the Fulton County Planning Department. The city later said it could provide the deputy city engineer as the water superintendent for free. But the board didn’t take that offer, instead choosing to hire former Gloversville Department of Public Works Director Dale Trumbull in March 2020 as the new water superintendent, only to have the $70,000 salary for the position not budgeted by the city, with Trumbull later taken off the payroll.

The Water Board Jan. 13 also hired the Hinckley Allen law firm of Albany to litigate possible future legal matters related to the grand jury report. Approved was an initial retainer of $10,000, with future billings to be capped at an additional $10,000, for a total amount not to exceed $20,000.”

Capparello, a three-year member who has been on the board for 11 months, said Tuesday he has seen the grand jury recommendations and takes them very seriously.

“That’s what I want to achieve,” he said.

He said he is committed to finally bringing in a new water superintendent, whose salary will be paid for by the water users.

“I’m going to get a water superintendent in there that’s qualified,” Capparello said. “I work for the city residents.”

He said the funding to pay for the superintendent position will be paid for through the board budget; the “water rents.”

Capparello said his hope is to accomplish water goals and projects in the city with the least amount of “resistance” from the city.

In addition to Capparello, other members currently serving on the board are: Brandon Lyon, Ralph Marotta and Mark Empie.

He said he’s not sure who the board is looking at for superintendent, but said he understands water plant operator John Denmark isn’t interested in the position.

“I like the guy,” Capparello stated. “He does a really good job.”

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.

By Paul Wager