The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Editorials

April 27, 2014

Cloud remains over council | Is appointee aligned with school bloc?

JOHNSTOWN — We’re going to reserve judgment when it comes to the latest appointment to Johnstown’s City Council.

We hope that Frederick Mickel is a man who thinks for himself and won’t simply go along with one of the existing voting blocks, thereby giving it a majority on virtually every issue.

Mickel is a key voter, as nearly every controversial vote by the all-Democrat City Council seems to come down to a 3-3 deadlock. Those with ties to or alliances to Greater Johnstown School District – Pete Vizza, William Gentile Jr. and David Vitovich – vote one way while those without – Marie Mock, Nunzio Johncola and Mayor Frank Janakovic – vote the other.

The division is well known in Johnstown. It was that way last year after Ann Wilson died unexpectedly. The two sides split on every attempt to fill the vacancy. Joseph Taranto eventually was appointed by a three-judge panel of David Tulowitzki, Patrick Kiniry and Linda Rovder Fleming.

Taranto seemed to make an effort to work between the Greater Johnstown faction, which at that time consisted of Vizza, Gentile and then-Mayor Tom Trigona, and the opposing side of Mock, Janakovic and  then-Councilwoman Rose Howarth.

Last year’s elections brought a new round of problems. Howarth, essentially was replaced by Vitovich while Janakovic’s triumph in the mayoral race meant that he had to give up his council seat in order to take Trigona’s. That left the council with another 3-3 split in mindset.

As we predicted back in January, the divided council was unable to come to an agreement on which candidate should fill the vacancy.

So, again it was out of council’s hands. But, this time, instead of a three-person panel, the decision was Cambria County President Judge Timothy Creany’s alone. While Creany had every right to do so and we feel that he is more than qualified to fill the position, having only one person make the decision can be problematic, if for no other reason than for the appearance of bias.

Creany has already encountered such accusations. He told reporter Kathy Mellott last week that he has received three anonymous letters accused him of showing favoritism.

When Creany picked Mickel, who has a background in banking but who has also served as a math instructor with the Greater Johnstown High School SAT prep class, those grumblings grew even louder.

That’s not to say there was anything untoward about Mickel’s selection or Creany’s process. But having a solitary vote certainly is more open to second-guessing.

“Whether I was right or wrong won’t be (immediately) apparent,” Creany said of his appointment. “Mr. Mickel assured me of his independence and I hope Mr. Mickel will prove me right in my position.”

We hope that is the case, but wonder if someone without connections to the school might have been a better choice for such an important position.

Mickel’s first high-profile vote – on the selection of the new deputy mayor last week – didn’t do anything to assuage our fears. Vizza, Gentile and Vitovich voted for Vizza; Mock, Johncola and Janakovic supported Mock.

As it appears he will often be, Mickel was the deciding vote. Which way did he lean? Toward Vizza.

To be fair, Mickel had a plausible reason for his vote.

“He was the leading vote-getter in the last election from the people who were up for council,” Mickel said of Vizza. “I believe he’s the most qualified for deputy mayor.”

We’ll accept that. But we’ll also be watching how Mickel votes and we hope that he truly follows his conscience and what is best for the city. Having a political “yes man” on council won’t be doing Johnstown any favors.

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