Burns: JHA takes 35 days to comply with Prospect RTK request

’80 years with no record of maintenance – and they’re surprised the ceiling fell?’

EBENSBURG, May 25 – Thirty-five days after making his Right-to-Know Law request on Prospect ceiling work – and 15 days after the Johnstown Housing Authority gave the same information to a local newspaper and TV station, after telling him it needed 30 days to determine whether its release was required – state Rep. Frank Burns finally got a response Tuesday.

JHA Executive Director Mike Alberts emailed Burns the same sparse information Alberts previously revealed May 8 – when he posed in his office showing off 1943 blueprints as a prop for stories done by WJAC and the Tribune Democrat.

That staged event occurred after Burns filed a Right-to-Know request dated April 18. He received a letter dated April 25 from JHA attorney Terry L. Graffius of the Johnstown firm Leventry, Haschak & Rodkey LLC, stating, “A legal review is necessary to determine whether the records you requested are records subject to access under the RTKL Act.”

Burns, D-Cambria, said the JHA’s political gamesmanship with this unnecessary delay is palpable.

“The JHA told me it needed a 30-day extension to determine whether the information I was requesting needed to be released – then basically turned around and released the same information to news outlets 13 days later,” Burns said. “By doing so, the JHA has proven that it likes to play games. It’s no wonder the public gets fed up with how they operate.”

Burns asked the JHA for any and all documents related to the installation of gypsum wall board and related cement plaster topping in the ceilings of the Prospect community housing units, including, but not limited to, contract specifications; contract solicitations, biddings and approvals; inspection reports; and payment amount(s) for work done.

On the chance that the Prospect ceiling work was done by JHA maintenance staff instead of a contractor, Burns also asked for any and all documents related to the work, including, but not limited to, in-house work orders, inspection reports and administrative approvals.

All Burns received after being forced to wait 35 days was:

  1. A contract from 1942 that indicates it is for excavation of the grounds in Prospect and basic installation of foundations for the structures.
  2. Photos of the original blueprints where ceilings are mentioned as a finishing item - includes the terms “gypsum” and “plaster.”

Along with that information, Alberts wrote, “To date, this is the only documentation we have discovered relating to the installation of ceilings in Prospect. The ceilings that were noted as a danger in the recent structural inspection report appear to be the original ceilings … If we happen to get any more information about the installation of the ceilings, we will update your office with this information.”

Burns said it is somewhat incredible that the JHA has no records of any work being done on Prospect ceilings since two years before World War II ended.

“You mean to tell me that there’s been zero maintenance –no repairs, no painting or patching, no anything – since 1943?” Burns said. “That’s 80 years with no record of maintenance – and they’re surprised the ceiling fell? All I can say is they sure got their money’s worth out of that original plaster and paint.”

Burns said it also seems “miraculous” that he received a response to his April 18 information request the same day that citizen-journalist John DeBartola mentioned the long delay at a JHA public meeting.