The City of Johnstown's government is in a state of uncertainty following a court ruling on Wednesday that determined City Manager Melissa Komar does not meet the qualifications to hold the municipality's top administrative position.
She is expected to remain in the job, pending a possible appeal, according to Mayor Frank Janakovic.
Meanwhile, two key roles are vacant due to the recent resignations of Finance Director Bethany Peracchino and Public Works Director Darby Sprincz. Those openings can only be filled by the city manager.
Tension also exists on council between two groups of members – Janakovic, Nunzio Johncola, David Vitovich, Marie Mock and Pete Vizza – and Jack Williams and Charlene Stanton, the two individuals who filed the legal action that eventually resulted in the city manager decision by Cambria County President Judge Norman Krumenacker III.
All of that uncertainty and political divisiveness, along with the city's ongoing battles with blight, drug-related crime and population loss, is occurring less than three years before Johnstown will be required to exit Pennsylvania's Act 47 program for distressed municipalities by October 2018 or ask for an extension.
“I think this kind of press hinders the city in getting qualified applicants for positions,” Janakovic said. “Most professionals do not want to be placed into the negativism that we have in the city right now.”
Vizza added: “I'm hoping to look for people to fill the positions. I thought that the court ruling would go in our favor, but I'm optimistic we'll be able to fill these positions at some point with people that will continue to move the city forward.”
Krumenacker determined Komar's bachelor's degree in geography was insufficient to meet the requirement that the city manager holds a master's degree in public management or “equivalent,” as spelled out in a city ordinance.
Komar's hiring and contract are now void “ab initio,” meaning from the beginning, thus creating uncertainty about any actions she took as city manager. She said the decision is “disappointing” but added “there's too much work to be done and we need to keep positive.”
Williams and Stanton plan to call a special meeting of council on Monday. They expect to introduce resolutions to appoint Komar as an interim city manager and to begin a search for a new full-time city manager. The court ruling does not prohibit appointing Komar – the city's former assistant city manager – to the position on an interim or acting basis.
Asked if the fact Komar was ruled ineligible to be city manager would impact her ability to serve as interim city manager, Williams responded: “She was assistant city manager and the stipulation doesn't pertain to the acting or interim. I won't argue that point. It's been done in the past.”
A quorum of at least four council members would need to be present at Monday's meeting to conduct business. It is uncertain what other members of council – if any – will attend.
Janakovic alluded to the possibility of other members of council calling for a special meeting “some other time next week.”
Council named Komar to the position in December, shortly after former City Manager Carlos Gunby resigned amid allegations he stole money from the city. Council moved quickly to fill the position, so Komar could act with the full weight and authority of being city manager, as opposed to being interim, according to Janakovic.
“The whole crux of it is they should have started this search when Carlos resigned,” Williams said.
Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Sutor.