SAN TAN VALLEY — In a sign of the spread of controversy over Johnson Utilities in San Tan Valley, even local churches are getting involved.
The Association of Christian Churches and Organizations in San Tan Valley and Queen Creek has released a declaration calling for the appointment of an interim manager to Johnson Utilities and for the resignation of Pinal County Supervisor Todd House for his complicity and defense of George Johnson and the utility.
“We are just echoing the voices of the people in San Tan Valley,” ACCO President Ben Cloud said. “We’re not creating anything new.”
The association meets every three months to pray together and discuss critical issues in the community. While around 40 churches and nonprofits participate, Cloud said it was the nine churches and three nonprofits that are core active members that worked on the declaration, including Lifepoint, Rock Point, Calvary Chapel, Redemption Church, Amadeo Church, Epic, Mountain View, One Community Church and Saving Grace Lutheran.
Cloud said that hearing news stories, and especially the testimonies themselves, drove him to take action and talk to other association members to take a stand on the issue.
“I have loads of parishioners in my church that talk about how bad the water is,” Cloud said. “We heard the testimonies of the people themselves and that was sort of the like, oh my gosh, this is as bad as it sounds. ... George (Johnson), Chris (Johnson), all these people damned themselves by their words.”
Cloud cites the book of Leviticus, which says that men who do not speak up and tell the truth bear the guilt, along with Ezekiel 3, which talks about watchmen who are called to speak up when faced with injustice, to justify the religious impetus for the churches to take a stand on these issues.
Cloud said that the greatest burden falls to the poor, who can’t afford to buy bottled water or move because of environmental issues caused by the utility.
Other demands in the release include the immediate investment in infrastructure improvement in the amount of up to $160 million, as approved by an independent group accepted by both the Arizona Corporation Commission and local customers. It was testified by Queen Creek Financial Director Scott McCarty and Utilities Director Paul Gardner that $160 million in infrastructure improvements was needed to get the system up to municipal standards.
The association also called for transparency regarding each of the companies — Johnson Utilities, Hunt Management and Ultra Management — and the people — George Johnson, Chris Johnson, Brad Cole and Barbara Johnson — who receive money from San Tan Valley. This would include specific figures related to the employees, salaries, amounts reinvested into the company and actual allocations of funds to bring back confidence in the air and water quality.
At the end of the hearings, company officials could not account for $9 million in funds being funneled annually to subsidiary Ultra Management, and the subsidiary owner Chris Johnson could not say on the stand why the company was created or how much he makes as its owner, but he did admit to having no job duties associated with the subsidiary.
This was an important point for Queen Creek witnesses and an important line of questioning for interveners during the hearing.
McCarty argued that since the utility was only investing a few hundred thousand annually in infrastructure, that the diversion of funds to the subsidiary was highly unusual, and that those funds could have paid for the necessary infrastructure improvements.
Finally, the association called for the immediate resignation of Supervisor House for his complicity in supporting the actions occurring in Johnson Utilities. House defended the utility’s record during the hearings and was against appointing an interim manager. He admitted to having a longtime friendship with George Johnson, who provided the majority of House’s campaign funds, but said that this did no affect his judgment on the issue.
House did not return a request for comment Friday.