Johnstown City Council position in limbo

Johnstown’s councilman-at-large position will likely remain vacant through February.
Johnstown’s councilman-at-large position will likely remain vacant through February, and possibly beyond, after the Fulton County Ethics Board ruled that Scott Miller, who won the uncontested seat in November, would have a conflict of interest if he accepted the position.
The conflict comes down to Miller’s position as an operator-trainee at the Gloversville-Johnstown Wastewater Treatment Facility. Fulton County Attorney Jason Brott said the joint wastewater agreement between the two cities stipulates that the mayor of Johnstown is the CEO of the facility. In Johnstown, the councilman-at-large assumes mayoral duties in the mayor’s absence, which could potentially result in Miller being his own boss if he were to take the position.
“When the mayor is unavailable for any reason, whether it’s an illness, vacation or he passes away, the councilman-at-large fills the shoes of the mayor; he’s now basically the mayor of the city,” said Brott. “That in turn makes him the CEO of the wastewater treatment facility.”
But the Ethics Board’s decision was non-binding, and it’s unclear what will happen next. The city, which does not have an ethics board, approached the county Ethics Board for an opinion, said Brott. The county is not involved in the matter from here, he said.
“They made the request to us, we gave our opinion that we believe there’s a conflict of interest if he were to assume that position, and that’s really the extent of it,” said Brott.
Miller hired Gloversville-based attorney Michael Albanese to advise him on the matter, and Johnstown Mayor Vern Jackson said the decision ultimately lies with the City Council.
It’s unclear why Miller would have been allowed to seek the councilman-at-large seat given the apparent conflict. Neither Miller nor Albanese returned multiple requests for comment.
Jackson said he told Miller that he could take a month to decide what he’s going to do. If Miller decides not to serve on the council, Jackson could appoint a councilman-at-large who would need approval from the City Council. It’s not clear what will happen if Miller forges ahead.
City Attorney Michael Poulin was not available for comment.
The councilman-at-large hitch is the latest of several troubles that have struck the council in the past year.
In June, then-councilman-at-large Christopher Swatt resigned to take a job out of the area, rendering the seat vacant for nearly the past seven months.
Then in July, former Mayor Michael Julius died unexpectedly. Then-councilwoman Cynthia Lakata assumed leadership of the city through the end of last year, absent a councilman-at-large.
Jackson, a former federal employee who helped Julius revise the city charter in 2015, ran for mayor unopposed and won in November’s election.
Jackson praised Miller for his work as president of the Greater Johnstown School District Board of Education, a position he recently resigned, and said he’s giving Miller time to get an opinion from Albanese.
“I know Scott, I would welcome him to the council,” said Jackson. “He’s someone we could use but I’m not sure. I’d have to look at the ethics decision and see where we go.”
“He’s retained an attorney and at this point he decided not to be sworn in,” Jackson said. “He called me and said I’m not gonna get sworn in until I get an answer from my attorney.”
Jackson, who assumed office Tuesday, estimated he would need an answer from Miller by the end of January, and that he has yet to broach the subject with the City Council.
“I have to talk to the council about it, see what they want to do,” said Jackson.
It’s unclear what would happen if Miller decides to accept the position regardless of the Ethics Board’s input.
“I’d have to ask the city attorney what would happen in that case,” said Jackson. “I don’t know what the possibilities or options would be.”
The Daily Gazette requested comment from the four current council members in Johnstown. Ward 3 Councilwoman Helen Martin was the only one that could be reached, and she said as a member of the joint sewer board she could not comment on the matter.

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