Johnstown extends limited state of emergency; Keeps city in control of water system operations

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Johnstown Mayor Amy Praught extended on Monday the city’s limited state of emergency order through Feb. 24 to give the city more time to fill positions in the Water Department. The order, originally issued on Jan. 1 before being extended last week, had been scheduled to sunset on Feb. 1.

Praught said the city is still figuring out plans to bring aboard a certified assistant water plant operator as well as a certified IA operator that could allow Senior Water Plant Operator John Denmark to take weekend and holiday breaks. Praught said more details on the hiring process would likely be available later in the week, but for now, extending the emergency order buys the city time. Praught did confirm that the city of Schenectady would not be providing assistance–an option that was on the table as recently as last week. 

“I think by the end of this week, we’ll be in really good shape to having people in line for the shifts that we need covered, and then we can move on and start hiring more permanent people,” Praught said Monday. 

The emergency order effectively keeps the city–rather than the Water Board–in control of the Water Department’s day-to-day operations. 

Praught issued the original declaration during the city’s Jan. 1 organizational meeting, when the city was facing the impending resignation of its senior water plant operator, which would have left the city without a qualified water filtration operator. That could have resulted in a boil-water notice in the city.

The Jan. 1 declaration was supported by an emergency ordinance and resolution unanimously passed by the newly sworn-in Common Council, giving the mayor authority to “marshal all city resources and personnel as are necessary to keep and maintain the City’s Water Works in good operation and repair.”

The city is currently in violation of New York State Department of Health Codes for not having a properly qualified assistant operator.

Mike Capparello, president of the Water Board, said Monday that the mayor can do what she wants as far as issuing the emergency declaration and hiring Water Department employees, but he was confident the forthcoming results of a lawsuit would grant the Water Board authority over the water system’s day-to-day operations.

She can extend it for whatever she needs to, but if the lawsuit comes in and is settled by then [Feb. 24] we’ll see what happens,” Capparello said. “The lawsuit is going to decide who’s in charge of the Water Department.”

The Water Board’s authority has been in limbo ever since Capparello began the process of trying to hire a new senior water plant operator after Denmark submitted his resignation in December. During that search process, Capparello learned that New York State recognized the city, rather than the Water Board, as the owner of Johnstown’s water facilities.

“The Water Board has been advised by the New York State Department of Health that since it does not own the water facilities, it cannot enter into any agreement to engage a plant operator. Only the city may do so,” Capparello wrote to then Mayor Vernon Jackson on Dec. 31.

A day later, Praught issued the state of emergency declaration to have legal cover for the city to take over water operations, and that action led to Denmark rescinding his resignation. 

Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.

By Andrew Waite

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