OSWEGO – Something to celebrate, something to commemorate, and something to ameliorate, gave the overflowing, standing-room-only, law-enforcement-loaded crowd at the Jan. 27 meeting of the Common Council something to smile and cheer about, something to remember and think about, and for those who remained for the entire meeting, something to remind them that though change can be slow and change can be expensive, progress can be made and things can get better.
For Phillip Cady things have certainly gotten better. The 48-year-old became the city’s 21st Chief of Police Monday, capping a 20-year career in law enforcement by becoming the leader of the police force in the city he graduated high school and college from and has lived in with his wife, Beth, and three children since 1996.
As Beth held the bible, Cady raised his right hand, Mayor William Barlow administered the oath, and what seemed to be the entire uniformed Oswego Police Department (though undoubtedly someone was out on patrol), lined up along the back wall of the council chambers and watched as a new regime was born to resounding and extended applause.
“Mr. Cady’s professional background and experience, along with his calm, but firm, demeanor and strong leadership qualities make him, in my opinion, the most qualified and prepared individual to take control of the Oswego Police Department in the history of city government,” Barlow said, and in recounting their first meeting and interview added, “I knew Phil was the man for the job.”
Cady took the podium briefly to say, “I’m extremely humbled to be offered this position. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I was going to be back working in my hometown, but I certainly look forward to the challenge, and I thank the Council too for having the faith in me to take this position.”
With the speeches and photos over, the backslapping and congratulations began as Cady walked through the packed crowd smiling and shaking every hand extended to him. Most in attendance then filed out, and by 7:30 p.m. the mayor and Council got down to the evening’s more solemn business.
Exactly 75 years earlier, the Russian army liberated the Nazi Auschwitz death camp in German-occupied Poland three months prior to the end of World War Two. One million Jews and at a least one hundred thousand others perished there between 1940 and 1945. In memory of those victims and the unique role Oswego played in the establishment of the only safe haven in North America for the victims of Nazi persecution, and in honor of the day Jan. 27 has become, Mayor Barlow read a proclamation acknowledging International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“Whereas the history of the Holocaust offers an opportunity to reflect on the moral responsibilities of individuals, societies, and governments,” he began, “in order that we the people of the city of Oswego should always remember the terrible deaths of the Holocaust and remain vigilant against hatred, persecution, and tyranny, and whereas the first and only refugee center established in the United States for nearly 1,000 victims of the Holocaust were located at Fort Ontario in the city of Oswego from August 1944 to February 1946, and whereas the Fort Ontario emergency refugee shelter is a significant piece of United States, New York state, and city of Oswego history, and the story of the Fort Ontario refugees is woven into the fabric of the Oswego community, and whereas on November 1st, 2005, the U.N. General Assembly adopted Resolution 60-7 to designate January 27th as International Holocaust Remembrance Day marking the liberation of Auschwitz and meant to honor the victims of Nazism, support the development of educational programs to remember the Holocaust to prevent further genocide and to reject any form of Holocaust denial, now, therefore, I, William J. Barlow, Jr., mayor of the city of Oswego do hereby proclaim January 27th, 2020 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day in memory of the victims of the Holocaust and in honor of the survivors as well as the rescuers and liberators, and further proclaim that we, as citizens of Oswego, will embrace our history as the location of the first and only refugee center established in the United States for victims of the Holocaust and will work to promote human dignity and confront hate whenever and wherever it occurs.”
The mayor then asked for a moment of silence “for the victims and those affected by the Holocaust.”
And so, Monday’s meeting began with happiness and sadness, with hope for the future, and remembrance of the past.
And then on to business.
“My office has received a lot of questions about the parking ban,” said Barlow. “The parking ban is not in effect. Right now there’s hardly any snow on the ground and there’s nothing major forecast, so, there’s really no sense in putting a ban on and inconveniencing folks who don’t have driveways. We’ve done this every year, and slowly but surely, we’ve really limited the amount of usage, the time the parking ban has been on. So, I hope we can keep going like this, although now that I’m announcing this, we’ll have a storm forecasted probably tomorrow. We’ll see. Pay attention to my Facebook, MayorBillyBarlow, my Twitter @MayorBarlow, and we have the alert media system. You should enroll in that to get these updates, and you’ll know immediately when that parking ban does go on.”
Committee meetings generally take place one week before the Common Council meets to take up the same issues and officially pass them into law. Often, changes are made to the proposed resolution in the interim. That was true in spades this week.
At the Jan. 21 meeting of the Administrative Services Committee, postponed one day for the observance of Martin Luther King Day, item number five on that evening’s agenda requested the mayor be authorized to sign Change Order No. 2 submitted by W. D. Malone Trucking & Excavating in the amount of $31,857.47 for extra work done on Munn Street and proposed remediation of Christopher Circle, part of Brittany Hill. Of that amount, $19,677.47 was for unforeseen repairs required on Munn Street about which there was no dispute. That left $12,180 requested for proposed remediation of Christopher Circle after Riccelli-Northern mistakenly tore up sections of the pavement and made cuts into driveways where they were not authorized to do any work at all. For Sixth Ward Councilor Ron Tesoriero, who lives in that neighborhood, that was $12,180 too much.
City Engineer Hinderliter explained that Riccelli is willing to repair the mistake at no cost to the city, rather than $12,180, by simply patching over the damaged sections.
“In the end,” Hinderliter said of that offer, “what you’ll end up seeing is a patchwork of patches. As an alternative, they’ve offered to repave that whole section, do a whole new overlay, essentially at cost. So, this $12,180 represents them repaving at $58 a ton, which is a tremendous price.”
Tremendous or not, Tesoriero was having none of it.
“This is nothing the city should be responsible for,” he said that night. “Our due diligence was correct. Our drawings were correct. I don’t feel comfortable paying for something we did not do. I think this is on his (Riccelli’s) dime. We had a perfectly good road there, absolutely nothing wrong with it. That section was paved about three, three-and-half years ago. We had a perfectly good road. It should be restored to a perfectly good road. I’m not saying we should go back and patch and seal. No. Put it back the way you found it. This is what you did, nobody else did. This is what the contractor did. Just put it back the way you found it, which means if they have to eat the $58 (a ton) in costs, they have to eat it. It shouldn’t be on us. We didn’t do it. It’s not like the DPW went out there and cut it up. No. They did it. This company that did this work has done a ton of work for the city, millions and millions and millions of dollars. Let’s hold them accountable for once. And that’s my stance.”
A valiant stand on principle for sure, except that it was based on erroneous information. The road was not paved “three, three-and-a-half years ago” as Tesoriero had claimed. He had been misinformed. Over the week between meetings, he and the Council received the truth of the matter.
As Seventh Ward Councilor and Council President Robert Corradino put it, “one of the pieces of information that was not transmitted last Monday was that the road had not been paved three years ago. It was not brand-new asphalt. It was skim-coated. Skim-coating and paving are two different things. When they do paving, it’s an inch-and-a-half to two inches of asphalt. Skim-coating is where they put, at the most, an inch just to kind of skim it to make it look pretty and to make it last for a short time. So, skim-coating is what was done. That was going to be needing paving soon. So, in the long term, we will get for $12,180 a brand-new road. It won’t be patched. It’ll be paved with an inch-and-a-half to two inches of asphalt. What we’re doing is making the best of a situation. We actually benefit by paying a little extra for the overall job, but we’re going to be getting a better road, because we weren’t going to be doing that section of the road originally. Now we are at a very discounted price.”
This, of course, left Tesoriero in a rather awkward position, having made such a stand only to later learn it was based on bad information. “I would like to offer an apology for the confusion on the change order referring to the (Brittany Hill) project,” he said. “Misinformation that I didn’t obtain, my due diligence caused this confusion, and so, my apologies to the engineering department. I don’t want this to be any reflection on the fine work that Riccelli Paving has done for us.”
Corradino thereupon recommended amending the resolution in light of the new facts.
“I agree with Councilor Tesoriero,” he said, “that the committee that discussed this on Tuesday (Jan. 21) didn’t have all the information that was necessary to make an informed decision. And because of that, we omitted the $12,180 that was going to be used for the paving of the Brittany Hill area. And after taking a look at some of this information, I think it’s in the best interest of the city to pay the $12,180 because not only will it produce a better road, but it will last longer than patching does. So, the amendment I’m going to make is that in addition to the $19,677.47 (for Munn St.) that this resolution is talking about, if I could add the additional cost of $12,180, and the total cost is $31,857.47.”
Both the amendment and the amended resolution passed unanimously, and the best had been made of an unfortunate situation.
This meeting was chock-full of important, far-reaching matters. Among them were the following:
The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has ordered the city to develop a Disinfection Efficiency Improvement Plan in order to ensure that the facility is in compliance for its Total Residual Chlorine and Fecal Coliform requirements at both the Westside Wastewater Main Plant and the Excess Flow Management Facility. The plan is to be submitted to the DEC on or before March 2. This city has chosen GHD Consulting to prepare such a plan at a cost of $12,500.
According to Corradino, the anticipated plan will consider that “we’re changing the way we disinfect it (the water processed through the Wastewater Treatment Plant), going from a liquid chlorine process to a dry chemical chlorine derivative, which will make it safer. Liquid chlorine is very dangerous. If you have a chlorine leak you have to evacuate miles, whereas this is much safer. There’s equipment, there’s modifications to the system that have to be made. That’s what this company will be doing. We’ve used them (GHD Consulting) for years.”
This meeting’s resolution only authorized a report “to see what it will entail to make the conversion.” The city met with Camden Group, a waste management service in Camden, for their advice, and according to Corradino, Camden Group said “more and more communities and more and more treatment facilities are going this way. It’s safer, and it’s more effective.”
The resolution to fund this plan and to have GHD Consulting develop it, passed unanimously.
The big money resolution of the evening also passed unanimously. Marcellus Construction Company will be paid $6,462,229 for the General Construction portion of the Westside Combined Sewer Separation Project. This is the third, and final, portion of the project ordered by the state under a consent decree.
The new police chief’s contract came before the Council, and it too passed unanimously. The three-year contract, with up to four extensions, will pay Phil Cady $111,723 a year and will include 25 vacation days and four personal days per year along with one sick day per month. Cady will also be entitled to an educational benefit of tuition and books for one course per semester. These benefits match those of the fire chief.
And last, but not least, the city will undertake a change in the way it handles a problem common to all cities: what to do with properties the city takes possession of for taxes owed and how to possibly prevent the situation from getting to that point in the first place. Mayor Barlow described the proposal this way:
“This is an attempt of the city council to add some transparency and some equity to the process of selling city-owned properties. Every so often the city will take back properties where taxes are owed and the property’s foreclosed. Previously there really has not been, at least in the last few years anyway, a system set in place to market these properties.”
The mayor ordered City Attorney Kevin Caraccioli to send property owners facing foreclosure a letter stating “they had 30 days to come in, talk with Caraccioli, and pay the back taxes in full if they wanted to continue owning the house. Otherwise, the city would take back the house, and they would find their former property was being publicized in the market. I’m happy to say,” Barlow continued, “that after sending them that letter giving them the 30 days, the majority of the property owners came in and paid all the back taxes that they owed. However, we still have six or seven properties that we will now publicize and sell. We are setting some criteria, sealed bid, for one. So, after we pass this resolution, tomorrow we will put a picture of the property on the city website, and market these on our social media outlets, and we will set a 45-day sealed bid process where anybody interested would have to bring in their proposal and turn it into the city clerk’s office in 45 days. The city council will not look at the offers for the course of those 45 days. If anybody interested has any questions, we’re selling the homes as is, so we’re not cleaning them up for people to look, we’re not taking people on tours, we’ll simply review the bid that they submit. If they have any questions, they are to submit those questions in writing to the city clerk’s office who will then seek the answers and provide the answer back to the person interested. I’m not sure I speak for the council, but I know I speak for myself in that we will not necessarily always give it to the highest bidder. Personally, I’m more interested not in the price that the person submits, but the plan. We want to see in their proposal, we want to have them articulate how the property will be used for the benefit of the residents of the city. Include a plan as specific as possible for the development of the property, provide an estimated cost to be incurred redeveloping the property, and express the bidder’s interest in the property in the first place. So, the more detailed, the more specific you are, the better your chance will be. Again, I personally don’t care what the price, what the bid is, I care more about the use of the property, and that’s where I’ll be voicing my support or opposition. We reserve the right to reject any or all bids on all properties. We had city employees tour each property and assess it and fill out the report card, and that’s how we based our minimum bid. Forty-five days from now we will go back into executive session with all of the bids, and we will come out of that executive session with a decision on each property. Interested property owners should not circumvent the process. Don’t call my office looking for information. I’d recommend not calling a councilor at all to get the latest scoop.”
The list of properties and their minimum bids (in parentheses) is as follows:
75 Mercer St. ($1,000); 110 E. Fourth St. ($500); 111 E. Fourth St. ($500); 132 W. Oneida St. ($15,000); 154 E. Seneca St. ($750); 181 W. Seneca St. (($2,500), and 268 West Fifth St. ($500).
The above list includes four vacant lots and three houses.