The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

February 13, 2013

Lift the veil of secrecy

What are redevelopment entities hiding?


The Tribune-Democrat

Editor’s note: As defined on its website, www.johnstown-redevelopment.org, the mission of the Johnstown Redevelopment Authority is to “undertake urban renewal and the continued revitalization of the City of Johns-town, using unified public and private partnerships while engaging citizens in a community vision for growth.”



Is the Johnstown Redevelopment Authority and its board “engaging citizens”?

We think not.

The current secrecy surrounding an authority shakeup is serving no one.

Officials who know what is going on are not talking – at least not to the public, the people whose tax dollars are paying for the authority’s very being.

And officials who should know what is going on say they don’t have a glimmer.

Those in charge of the redevelopment authority are looking silly and indecisive. And Johnstown City Council is looking inept and confused for not having reined in this out-of-control arm of government long before now.

A public notice in Tuesday’s Tribune-Democrat did announce that the authority would hold a special meeting at noon today “for the purpose of acting on personnel matters and any other matters which may come before the board.”

Will this mystery unfold then?

Or will the authority board move to executive session and keep the matter from the public – and city leaders – even longer?

Who knows?

Here is what we do know:

* Authority Executive Director Ron Repak, an administrative assistant and board secretary have been put on leave. We don’t know whether that is with pay or without.

* The five-member authority board’s last public meeting was on Jan. 22, at which time no votes were taken on job actions.

* Msgr. Raymond Balta, board chairman, mostly has kept himself unavailable to the media, thus unavailable to answer any questions taxpayers might have.

“It is a personnel issue. I can’t tell you anything else,” was all Balta would say this week.

* William G. Barbin, authority solicitor, says he is not an authorized spokes-man and has deferred questions to Balta.

* At least two city councilman say they have no inkling what is going on, including Pete Vizza, who has been identified as the liaison between council and the authority.

“I read it in The Tribune-Democrat,” Vizza told reporter Randy Griffith.

Added Councilman Frank Janakovic, “This is just another example of what we’ve been complaining about,” noting that council has been asking since November for authority members to attend a council meeting.

“Get this out in the open. If there are questions to be answered, let’s deal with it.”

We totally agree.

Perhaps any shakeup occurring needs to include authority board officials. It’s also time council quit asking and, instead, demand a meeting with the redevelopment authority.

Sending three longtime redevelopment authority employees home creates an atmosphere of serious wrongdoing.

Is it all tied to an investigation referenced in a footnote with the redevelopment authority’s 2010 annual audit?

Again, who knows?

End the secrecy.

By not speaking out, authority overseers are allowing rumors to mount.

They are casting a bad light not only on the employees, but on the authority board itself, and certainly on city government.

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