Johnstown has faced understandable pressure since Intel’s announcement that it will invest $20 billion just a few miles away.
Residents and city officials alike have expressed frustration at the unknown about the development and the pace of change happening in their corner of Licking County.
But the ensuing internal power struggles and infighting will only make Johnstown weaker as big-monied developers look to capitalize on Intel’s development. It is critical that Johnstown officials put their petty squabbles aside and focus on leading the city as it faces unprecedented outside pressures.
Cracks of unrest first publicly revealed themselves at a council meeting in February when spouses of the city’s police chief and finance director called for the resignation of Councilman Marvin Block for spreading unfounded rumors.
More unrest was revealed last month when the city fired Police Chief Abe Haroon seemingly out of nowhere.
Reporting by The Advocate’s Kent Mallett revealed just how dysfunctional the city government had been. An investigator’s report detailed significant conflict between Haroon and Block. This included Block threatening to punish the chief if he made a specific hire and Haroon secretly recording his conversations with the councilman.
Such drama makes for a good soap opera, but not for an effective city government. A dysfunctional government is problematic during normal times, but it will be especially damaging for a community facing an uncertain future.
Speculators are zooming in on the area. This is obvious to anyone who has looked at property transfer amounts. As big developers arrive, they will look to take advantage of any loophole or procedural error made by local governments.
That is why it is critical Johnstown conducts its business professionally, transparently and in the best interest of its residents.
The recent turnover in several key positions will not make this any easier for Johnstown. The city lost long-time manager Jim Lenner in December and has yet to hire a replacement. The council appointed two new members in April after a pair of resignations.
Finding good people to lead a community is difficult in the best of times. The national labor shortage and Intel’s uncertainty will make it even harder for Johnstown to find leadership.
This task will be nearly impossible if candidates see the city government as an unwelcoming or unstable place to work.
Johnstown has a lot going for it, but change is coming. We applaud city leaders for hosting a community forum where they attempted to answer questions about the Intel project.
But more important than answering questions is setting a plan for how the city wants to see itself evolve alongside Intel. That will require a coordinated, professional effort from city leaders and leaves little time for infighting.
The clock is ticking.
- Jim Bidigare
- Olivia Biggs
- Tim Huffman
- Paddy Kutz
- Benjamin Lanka
- Jody Richter