Judge rules primarily in favor Johnstown water board in suit against city

PHOTOGRAPHER:

Exterior of Johnstown City Hall 2753 Route 29, Johnstown.

JOHNSTOWN – Fulton County Supreme Court Judge Rebecca Slezak has ruled that the city of Johnstown must give the water board back control of its bank account and must stop interfering with the board’s employment relations, bargaining ability and budgeting process. 

Slezak also ruled that the board must give the city treasurer all sewer rents collected between January 2021 through Thursday, which is when the judgment was filed. 

The judgment comes after the board sued the city following allegations that then-Mayor Vernon Jackson and then-city treasurer Mike Gifford violated the city charter. 

The judgment also comes after the council recently voted to hold a public hearing on July 18 regarding the city’s push to abolish the water board and instead establish a water department overseen by the city council. The public hearing is the first step before a referendum could be held on the matter. The city has twice tried to abolish the board by referendum – failing both times – although inching closer the second time around. 

Water Board President Mike Capparello said he doesn’t believe there should be a hearing, especially given the judgment. 

“It’s a court document saying we’ve been doing what we’ve needed to do based on the charter,” he said. 

Capparello said he does not yet have access to the bank accounts. 

“I just want to be left alone to do the job I’ve been voted in to do,” he said. 

Slezak’s ruling also differs takes a different position from  the state Department of Health’s stance on the city’s water system – the state health department recognizes the city as the authority on the water system.

“Ensuring that New York’s water is suitable for people to drink is a priority of the New York State Department of Health,” said Jeffrey Hammond, the deputy director of communications in an email on June 7. “That is why the Department works to make sure local municipalities adhere to the State Sanitary Code. The Department of Health’s interaction with the City as the entity in control of the water system is based on a practical determination, not a legal one.”

The city council will hold a special meeting tonight in which it is expected to enter an executive session to discuss the judgment, according to Mayor Amy Praught. 

Praught said she didn’t agree with the actions of the last mayor and treasurer but that “we’re going to move forward.”

By Shenandoah Briere

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