PHOENIX — Pinal County Supervisor Todd House thinks that Johnson Utilities satisfactorily handles issues, and he is confident that they can take care of the district.
He also testified Wednesday he doesn’t think his personal friendship with George Johnson —going back 12 years — has any influence over his judgement on this matter.
House, R-Apache Junction, along with Supervisor Steve Miller, R-Casa Grande, testified in the Johnson Utilities evidentiary hearing before the Arizona Corporation Commission on whether to appoint an interim manager.
House continued to defend Johnson Utilities as he has previously in Pinal County Board of Supervisors meetings, and does not support the appointment of an interim manager.
“I have full confidence in Johnson Utilities’ ability to take care of the district,” House said. “I believe they address the issues to my satisfaction.”
House has repeatedly denied in public meetings that campaign contributions from George Johnson affect his decisions on matters regarding the utility, and that they do not represent a conflict of interest.
When pressed as to why there were hundreds of people at the ACC public hearing in San Tan Valley pleading that the ACC take action, House provided a similar answer to Johnson himself: the complainers are a small but vocal minority.
“There is a history of people being upset with Johnson Utilities, but I believe that it’s confined to a small group of people,” House said. “A lot of the issues that were brought up that night were past issues that had been corrected.”
However, when questioned further, House was unaware of the fact that Johnson Utilities ranks No. 2 in the state in sanitary sewer overflows, and he also was unaware that the utility had five in 2018. When asked if that indicates a problem, House continued to defend the utility.
“I would not know if those problems exist. They have not been brought to me by citizens, so I would not be in the loop on that,” House said. “I rely on citizens to bring problems to me. ... I am saying they are doing a satisfactory job of trying to rectify those problems.”
House said the utility had addressed the hydrogen sulfide problems at the wastewater treatment plant, despite the fact that there have been several violations in April alone.
House was unequivocally against appointing an interim manager.
In his testimony, Miller admitted matters regarding the utility concerned him but gave lukewarm support for the appointment of an interim manager.
“I think it might be beneficial at some level,” Miller said.
Both Miller and House testified that at one point, before the order of abatement, Johnson Utilities had represented intentions to the county to build a mechanical plant, but they did not agree on what ultimately happened to those plans.
House said that he believed the utility still intended to build the plant. Miller said he recalled that the utility said it was not receiving enough volume for a mechanical plant, which he said was not a logical explanation based on his experience with wastewater treatment plants.
Their testimonies did not offer a complete explanation of why a mechanical plant was never built. Sarah Harping, the administrative law judge overseeing the case, wondered why none of the county officials who testified were more familiar with the issue.
“There must be someone at the county who is familiar,” Harping said.
Both House and Miller have met with Johnson since he stepped down due to his indictment on bribery charges. Miller said he discussed matters regarding the utility, but did not characterize Johnson’s contribution as either relating to managerial issues or to those of an owner.
House said he has met with Johnson on many occasions but said he did not discuss Johnson Utilities. House said he went on a friendly double date with his wife, Johnson and Johnson’s wife, not for business.
He also said he had business-related dinners with just George Johnson but said they did not discuss Johnson Utilities. That might be illegal because Johnson is supposed to have stepped down as manager. House testified that they discussed general matters in the county like incorporation along with Todd House’s annual diaper drive, to which Johnson contributed generously.
“I do a diaper drive every year for the county; George is generous enough to donate,” House said. “When I found out there are babies going to bed with wet diapers, that really pulled at my heartstrings.”