JOHNSTOWN — Third Ward Councilwoman Amy Praught has declared her candidacy for the Republican nomination for mayor, and the previously declared GOP candidate Scott Jeffers has switched to running for councilman-at-large instead.
Johnstown is facing the prospect of significant political change at city hall after the November election, as four of the city’s incumbent Republican leaders have announced they will not be running for reelection: Mayor Vern Jackson, City Treasurer Mike Gifford, Councilman-at-large Craig Talerico and 2nd Ward Councilwoman Kathi Iannotti.
The mass exodus of leadership comes in the wake of the referendum defeat in November 2020 of the city government’s second attempt since 2015 to abolish Johnstown’s independently elected Water Board. The Water Board’s survival led to lawsuits filed by the entity against the city, Jackson and Gifford, seeking return of signatory control over the bank accounts containing the city’s water rent revenues.
Jeffers is a teacher at the Greater Johnstown School District and was also a former president of the water board, and a veteran of several city-wide campaigns. He first ran for councilman-at-large in 2007 as an independent at the age of 23, but was defeated. Then he ran for mayor in 2013 at age 29 and lost to Democrat Michael Julius, who later died in office in 2016.
Jeffers was appointed to the 4th ward council seat in 2019, but was then defeated by Democrat Max Spritzer in a special election.
Jeffers said his career as a teacher would interfere with the duties of Johnstown’s mayor, which is a part-time position, but one that often has ceremonial duties during times Jeffers would need to be in school.
“I gave it some thought and realized that the Mayoral position requires more time than I can give it right now, and that’s not fair to the people who live here,” he said. “So I decided to run for a different position that I think I’m qualified for.”
Jeffers said he made his decision before hearing Praught was entering the race. He said he was against abolishing the city’s independent Water Board during the 2015 referendum, but he said he chose not to vote for or against the recent referendum to abolish that board.
“I would have liked to see some of the ideas that were presented in the Grand Jury report carried out,” Jeffers said, referencing the 2019 grand jury probe of alleged official misconduct among members of the Water Board. The grand jury chose not to issue any indictments but wrote a report recommending changes that might help the Water Board and city officials cooperate better.
Praught made her announcement at Monday’s Common Council meeting.
Praught, whose term as 3rd Ward Councilwoman runs through 2023, has distinguished herself in recent months as a fiscal hawk, leading the charge to pare back a proposed 52.4 percent raise for city clerk Carrie Allen and a 44.4 percent raise to city deputy treasurer Victoria Nellis. The council rejected the proposed raises and then Jackson vetoed the council’s changes, but then the council overrode Jackson’s vetoes and replaced the larger raises with 8 percent raises. The 8 percent raise wasn’t enough to keep Nellis from retiring, which she did in January.
Praught has also been a critic of the city treasurer’s office under Gifford, questioning why Gifford hasn’t been responding to risk alerts identified by the city’s Internal Control Officer Darryl Purinton.
Praught has often partnered with Spritzer in her critiques of city government. In February both said they favored the city hiring a new deputy treasurer, even though Nellis has agreed to work part-time in that office. Jackson rejected the idea of hiring a new deputy clerk, arguing whoever becomes the next city treasurer should choose the new deputy.
“We have 24 high risk alerts, which have not been addressed, and they’re still pending,” Praught said during a council meeting in February. “I think the council deserves answers. Who is responsible for writing policies and procedures? Why [aren’t] these addressed? We’re coming up against a city government that is going to be down three people on the council, down a mayor, we have the deputy treasurer [Victoria Nellis] who is retired, we have the city treasurer who is not running again, so we need to get everything in order. We need to clean our house and get everything set, so that [when] we make that transition mayor, whoever is in place is not left holding the bag.”
After he announced his intention not to seek reelection Gifford said his decision to retire was not caused by the friction he’s experienced working with Praught, but he said it didn’t make him want to stay-on either.
Shortly after Praught’s speech 1st Ward Councilman Bradley Hayner announced he will run for city treasurer.
If Praught and Hayner are successful in their bids for mayor and treasurer, that will leave freshman councilmember Spritzer as the longest tenured member of the common council and the only remaining member who served during 2020 and 2021.
After last week’s Fulton County Democratic Committee meeting it appears Hayner will have competition for the treasurer’s job from Thomas W. Suydam, whose Facebook profile indicates he is a certified public accountant.
Jerry Ryan, the Fulton County Democratic Committee’s secretary, said Suydam is petitioning to run for Johnstown city treasurer on the Democratic line and city resident Michael Rose is circulating a petition to run on the Democratic line for city mayor.
Political petitions to run for office are due back to county boards of election between March 22 and March 25.
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