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December 12, 2012

City votes to end redevelopment authority pact

— Johnstown City Council voted to terminate its contractual relationship with the Johnstown Redevelopment Authority on Wednesday.

The action means that the three women whose job transfers sparked a dispute with the authority earlier this month would no longer be city employees, though they will remain members of the union representing those workers.

Ending the contract requires 60 days’ notice. The board authorized City Manager Kristen Denne to hand deliver the notice today.

Mayor Thomas Trigona, along with council members Pete Vizza, Ann Wilson and William Gentile Jr., supported the measure. Frank Janakovic, Marie Mock and Rose Howarth voted against it. Their objections dealt mostly with wanting to have more time to discuss the issue before making a decision. They supported tabling the resolution until another meeting later this month.

Council took action after three union city workers – Sue Truscello, Brenda Saintz and Kelly Smith – were transferred from the Johns­town Regional Sewage office to the Dornick Point sewage treatment plant. The authority owns the sewer operations, but workers are city employees. Council wanted the women returned to their original jobs.

“The contract between the city and the redevelopment authority provides either party can terminate that agreement with 60 days’ notice, so the city felt that since the redevelopment authority was not following its requests to bring those women back in to the office that the redevelopment authority should then assume that responsibility for those employees,” said city solicitor Dave Andrews. “As of now, the city has the liability for any action that the union would bring for those employees. We don’t think the (authority’s) action was right under the law. (They) can’t do that without bargaining first with the union. They should have contacted the city to do that, and the women should have remained in those positions.”

Council members spoke harshly against the authority.

“We don’t know what’s going on with the redevelopment authority,” Mock said. “They refuse to talk to us. ... This has been going on for months, ever since the new billing system (was put into place). We’ve wanted them to come to meetings to give us information on that, and then they throw this out at us. ... The whole thing is just handled wrong. It truly is being run by a rogue administrator over there, and I don’t even know who’s running it.”

United Steelworkers Local 2635 Unit 17 President Craig Cernic supported council’s decision, calling it “a very smart move by the city.”

The contract calls for no lockouts or transfers except through negotiations.

“We didn’t create this (issue),” Gentile said. “I’m saying put them back. It’s a union contract. Put them back where they belong.”

The authority will be responsible for the employees once the agreement is terminated.

Authority Chairman Monsignor Raymond Balta and Executive Director Ron Repak did not want to comment before receiving the notification.

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