Johnson Utilities still under fire in the southeast Valley, AZ Corporation Commission stepping in

Posted at 7:35 PM, Mar 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-16 22:36:18-04

It's a rare and drastic move. After years of complaints the Arizona Corporation Commission is moving forward to consider appointing an interim manager to oversee Johnson Utilities.

Anticipating the utility company to fight them in court, corporation commissioners voted to hold a "show of cause" hearing before voting on appointing an interim manager.

An ACC spokesperson said that person could be someone who does not even work at Johnson Utilities.

In public records the Arizona Corporation Commission cites unjust/unusable service, inadequate management and planning, failure to provide and maintain service and equipment and lots of violations that have yet to be addressed by Johnson Utilities as just some of the reasons.

ACC officials say they want to hear from residents who have had problems with billing, poor customer service, and unsafe water quality to show up with proof at the hearing that is set to take place on March 29 at 10 a.m.

Many Johnson Utilities customers feel this should have happened years ago.

George Johnson, the owner and manager of Johnson Utilities is currently under federal indictment for allegedly conspiring, and bribing a past Arizona Corporation Commission member to increase water and sewer rates, successfully.

Pinal County Supervisor Mike Goodman said he had tried to meet with George Johnson on several occasions to try to improve services in Pinal County. The first few times he left the meeting with a feeling of hope, but was surprised to see Johnson do the opposite of what he had said. Goodman said he was even more surprised to see Johnson assassinating his character and trying to put out negative information against Goodman, when he called Johnson Utilities out in public.

"Since getting into this office the abuse of power is probably the biggest thing for me that I've actually realized more than anything else," said Goodman.

ABC15 asked Goodman why Pinal County supervisors had failed to act to address resident's concerns in the past. Many residents were outraged saying Pinal county supervisors did nothing to protect them.

"That's a good question. A lot of it has to do I think with the abuse of power itself, maybe the concern of lawsuits," said Goodman.

Public records indicate George Johnson has sued residents who spoke out against him.

"So many people told me he's probably one of the most powerful people in San Tan Valley or maybe the state of Arizona," said Goodman.

He added that Johnson donated a lot of money to causes, and even controlled the housing market as his company had to issue water and sewer permits to developers.

Goodman said while attending ACC hearings he was extremely moved to see the residents who showed up to speak out against Johnson Utilities, it made him realize he needed to fight for them as well.

Goodman said seeing a man with a walker fighting for his rights touched him deeply.

"The look that he had in his eye and he said to me, I don't know what good this has done. We have been trying to do this for years, and I realized I asked him to trust me, to have confidence in me. That made me realize I have a sacred responsibility for these people," said Goodman.

He added that he had not only seen residents moving out of Pinal County to get away from Johnson Utilities as their provider, but advertising it to sell their homes.

"People are advertising the they're not in the Johnson Utilities service area just to have their house sold," said Goodman.

Susan and Barry Wilson were Pinal County residents who spoke out at the ACC hearing. They had some billing issues with Johnson utilities.  Wilson said they were getting disconnect notices in the mail even after they had paid their bills on time.

They described the water coming out of their taps as "undrinkable."

"It has a strong, strong metallic sandy taste," said Barry Wilson.

His wife, Susan Wilson said for so long they had seen Arizona Corporation Commissioners treat George Johnson with kid gloves.

"They treated Mr. Johnson as if he was, oh you poor baby. I'm so sorry you have to sit here and listen to all of these nasty people say things," said Wilson.

ABC15 asked the residents if they had faith in the ACC now. Wilson said they wanted to wait and see what happened.

Julie Phillips said she felt encouraged by what had transpired, and was glad to see the ACC challenging Johnson Utilities.

"George Johnson, I call him King George, thinks he runs San Tan Valley and Pinal County.  He has paid off and contributed highly to many elected officials out there. So, follow the money," said Phillips.

She called it "typical, small town Arizona politics".

"If my father were alive, and he is an Arizona native, he would've called George Johnson a snake oil salesman," said Phillips.

ABC15 reached out to Johnson Utilities for a comment. They did not return our calls.  George Johnson and other managers at the company have repeatedly declined our requests for an interview. We also left a message for Johnson's attorney and have not received a response yet.

Ironically, the company that has infuriated so many Pinal County residents is now advertising a "Community Appreciation Day" with free hot dogs, carnival rides, and face painting on March 24.

Residents don't seem to be too enthusiastic to attend. One woman commented under their flyer on Facebook saying, "Lol, is this a joke?"  Another man wrote, "Hope they give out bottled water," and another said "They should raffle off a water purifying system."

"Maybe some of them will show up for a free hot dog," said Goodman.

A hearing has been set for March 29, 2018 starting at 10 a.m. at the Corporation Commission, 1200 W. Washington St., Phoenix.

The ACC says customers who have service, quality, and/or billing issues may request the right to intervene and provide testimony during the March 29 hearing. Information on how to intervene in a utility case can be found HERE.