Burns calls for purge of elected officials, government employees from Vision 2025 board of directors
Wants nonprofit to eliminate real and perceived conflicts of interest
EBENSBURG, Dec. 6 – In a community floored by recent revelations of incestuous professional relationships between Vision 2025 board members, government officials and local organizations awarded millions of dollars of American Rescue Plan grant money, state Rep. Frank Burns said he wants big changes in the nonprofit’s leadership in a sweeping effort to restore public trust.
Burns, D-Cambria, is calling for all elected officials and government employees – including Johnstown City Manager Ethan Imhoff, who apparently played a key role in deciding who got that grant funding – to either step down or be removed from the 18-member Vision 2025 board of directors.
“Conflicts of interest can be either real or perceived, but any reasonable person who connects the dots on who got money and who did not would probably assume some of both is happening in our community,” Burns said. “When the same names and business or family connections keep cropping up as to where these grant dollars were directed, it’s probably more than some amazing coincidence.”
Burns said he read with great interest a Nov. 24 post on the 5,200-member Revitalize Johnstown Facebook page, which listed a mind-boggling web of connections between Vision 2025 board members, their family members, and their private-sector employees; elected officials; local government employees; and organizations designated to receive what appears to be $2.8 million in American Rescue Plan money.
“While some of these entities received hundreds of thousands of dollars to offer services they have never before performed, Bishop Joseph McGauley, whose Jefferson Memorial Church has been feeding hungry children, is left asking why decision-makers didn’t give them a single slice of bread,” Burns said. “Their answer is that their scoring system focused on ‘sustainability,’ but in the world of nonprofits, everyone knows that getting grant money in the first place is what helps ensure sustainability.”
Instead of being dominated and led by “self-appointed community leaders,” Burns said he wants Vision 2025 board representation shifted to those who live in the city, with membership coming from each of its communities.
“Only then will Vision truly live up to its own billing as a community-driven organization,” Burns said. ‘It’s time for them to become what they claim to be.”
Burns said he additionally believes it was a conflict of interest for Johnstown elected officials to spend thousands of dollars in taxpayer money to influence voters to support a change to the city charter, in a successful November ballot referendum that paved the way for hiring Imhoff as a non-city resident. Burns has introduced legislation to prohibit this self-serving practice.
Burns said he further believes that Tribune-Democrat publisher Robert Forcey, while not an elected official or government employee, should also step down from Vision 2025’s board of directors in order to remove his own conflict of interest as a member of the Fourth Estate.