The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

December 17, 2012

Businessman: Authority creates ‘air of distrust’

JOHNSTOWN — Well-known businessman Mark Pasquerilla has added his voice to city council members calling on Johnstown Redevelopment Authority to be more accountable and transparent.

“I think the redevelopment authority has created an air of distrust and the stench that something is wrong,” Pasquerilla said. “I just don’t get it. I don’t think anything there works.”

Pasquerilla is taking his gripes to the public this week, sponsoring an electronic billboard message along busy Route 56 at Point Stadium.

“Taxpayers: Get the redevelopment authority back to working for the good of our city!” the message reads, adding “This dog don’t hunt.”

It includes Pasquerilla’s name as sponsor.

“I felt strongly we have to do something,” Pasquerilla said. “We need to get somebody’s attention.”

Last week, city council voted to end its primary contract with the redevelopment authority, giving up $66,000 a year the authority paid the city for some financial management services.

The action was taken as an attempt to preserve three city union workers’ jobs that the authority had replaced through its sewage-billing contractor.

But the contract does not actually address those employees’ positions, authority chairman, the Rev. Raymond Balta, said. The contract covering the clerical workers is linked to the city’s contract with the union, he said.

Council’s action launched talks brokered by the city’s solicitor, David Andrews, and the authority’s solicitor, William G. Barbin.

Those negotiations have resulted in a proposed resolution that will reinstate the financial contract and reassign the city workers to authority-related work in offices at the Public Safety Building, Andrews said.

“The intention of council was to have the employees go back to the redevelopment authority,” Andrews said.

Although he acknowledged that last week’s action would not achieve that goal without additional action by council, Andrews said the subject will soon be moot.

“We don’t want to argue about that,” he said. “We are not going to proceed in that manner. Everybody is trying to work together to get this matter resolved."

A special council meeting is scheduled for noon Wednesday, when a vote is expected to reinstate the original contract.

“I guess the severity of what we did sort of woke them up a little bit,” council member Marie Mock said Monday.

Although Mock voted against ending the contract, she just wanted more time to study the action, she said last week.

Mock led council’s chorus of gripes against the authority’s failure to keep council apprised of its work. She repeatedly called the authority a “rogue” organization during council’s meeting last week.

Council member Peter Vizza said the vote scheduled for approval on Wednesday will benefit the city and the redevelopment authority.

The city will continue to provide some financial management work, and the three clerks will be working on collecting delinquent sewer bills.

“They will have something constructive to do,” Vizza said.

As council’s liaison, Vizza attends the authority’s meetings, but has no voting power.

Mayor Thomas Trigona, on the other hand, is a voting member of both boards.

Vizza said he has been trying to persuade Balta or other authority members to come to a council meeting and answer nagging questions about the operation of authority-owned Johnstown Regional Sewage.

Authority leaders asked him to delay the appearance until after the first of the year.

The renewed talks and tentative agreement are not enough for Pasquerilla, whose applications for appointment to the authority were passed over by Trigona.

Pasquerilla has called for sweeping action, beginning with a forensic audit of the authority’s financial operations.

“If I were on the board, I would look at all the contracts,” he said. “You have to assume everything is wrong.”

Pasquerilla would not divulge how much he paid for the electronic message, which repeats about ever 35 seconds on the billboard.

“It was not cheap,” he said. “For an average taxpayer, it would probably be pretty expensive.”

A Lamar Advertising Co. message said a “Happy Birthday” message can be purchased for $100 a day.

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