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City, water board still at odds

JOHNSTOWN — City government and the city Water Board are still at odds over the water superintendent position the board is trying to fill with Dale Trumbull.

He was hired by the city Water Board and started March 9 as the city of Johnstown’s new water superintendent. The board action was to agree to pay Trumbull $70,000 annually to start, and his term as city Water Department water superintendent was to run until the end of 2023. But the action to pay him was contingent upon council action.

But the Common Council on March 15 voted unanimously against an agenda item that would have authorized a 2020 city budget modification to pay Trumbull. The city said then that Trumbull was not a city employee, effective March 17.

Water Board President John Swierzowski said Tuesday that his board, however, on Monday decided it wanted to reinstate Trumbull to the water superintendent position. He said he and Water Department Clerk Barbara Koehler were working on an agenda for a special board meeting for Monday night at the Water Department building on East Main Street about 3 p.m. when city police told them to vacate the building.

Mayor Vern Jackson previously shut down all city buildings because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Swierzowski said that he and Koehler peacefully left the Water Department after being “removed” by police.

“We were going to have a meeting,” he said, with several resolutions.

He said that City Attorney Michael Poulin was invited to the meeting, but didn’t show.

“We asked and encouraged attorney Poulin to be in person,” he said.

The meeting ended up being held outside the Water Department building and most of the board members showed, exercising social distancing and approving a few resolutions.

Among those resolutions was one to rehire Trumbull.

“We read a resolution that he be reinstated,” Swierzowski stated.

He said the board is simply trying to exercise its rights to hire a person as superintendent to run the Water Department.

Jackson said Tuesday that he wasn’t sure what the Water Board did at 6 p.m. Monday outside the building was legal.

“I’d have to see the resolution,” he said. “I declared a state of emergency.”

The mayor said in his opinion Trumbull is not on the job again, and he will still only be paid for the few days he was working prior to the council voting not to fund the position. The city is maintaining the position can be handled in house by the city.

Jackson said the board was supposed to inform the public of the meeting and he wasn’t sure if a meeting on the sidewalk was legal.

The mayor last year told the board the Water Board could have former Deputy City Engineer Joel Wilson also serve as water superintendent in-house, at no cost. That option was rejected by the board.

Trumbull is a former director of the Gloversville Department of Public Works, resigning that post in January, effective Feb. 7. He had served as Gloversville DPW director since January 2016. The Johnstown Water Board hired Trumbull after an “extensive” search and Trumbull has a great deal of experience for the job, Swierzowski said.

The city of Johnstown has not had a full-time water superintendent since the start of the century.

In March 2019, the Johnstown Water Board considered a proposed request for proposal for a new water superintendent drafted by the Fulton County Planning Department.

A Fulton County grand jury report on an investigation into the Johnstown Water Board made public Jan. 7 didn’t call for indictments. But the report made four recommendations for the board and city government for the future.

Those recommendations were: The water board should hire a water superintendent, establish a chain of command for the Water Department, the board must have bylaws in place, and the city and water board should take all steps to ensure any future land projects go through necessary steps to get state Department of Health approval for installing water lines prior to selling.

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