OGDENSBURG — The Tuesday night meeting of the Ogdensburg City Council, which was virtually attended by more than 300 people, included a public comment period that lasted more than an hour.
About 20 people spoke over the Gotomeeting.com app and several others tried but were unable because of technical obstacles.
The vast majority of the comments were critical of Mayor Jeffery M. Skelly, Deputy Mayor John Rishe and councilors William B. Dillabough and Steven M. Fisher.
Many who did comment spoke of the absence of the city attorney at council meetings, something that has been criticized by councilors Michael B. Powers, Daniel E. Skamperle and Nichole L. Kennedy.
Mr. Powers said City Attorney Scott Goldie will not attend meetings unless he is asked by a majority of the board.
Mr. Powers cited a reason for the attorney Tuesday night after the public comment period when Mr. Fisher called for an executive session.
Mr. Fisher cited Public Officers Law section 105 parts C and D for the executive session: C. information relating to current or future investigation or prosecution of a criminal offense which would imperil effective law enforcement if disclosed; d. discussions regarding proposed, pending or current litigation.
“I still question why the attorney isn’t present in a meeting and more importantly in an executive session,” Mr. Powers said. “We need to make sure that what transpires out of that is just within the contracts and potentially Civil Service law.”
Mr. Fisher said there wouldn’t be any action, indicating that the attorney was not necessary.
As Mr. Skelly asked that a vote be taken, Mr. Powers said with an air of exasperation, “ I don’t know what is going on here.”
The vote came out 4-3 in favor of the executive session but City Clerk Cathy Jock informed the council that it was not enough.
“In accordance with the Administrative Regulations section 17 E 5.3 any action brought from the floor requires two thirds of all council to be approved and actionable immediately otherwise it is put forward to the next council meeting,” Ms. Jock said.
“But there is not going to be action,” Mr. Fisher said. “There won’t be a vote, so it is permissible on a 4 to 3.”
“I wish we had an attorney here,” Mr Skamperle said.
The day after the meeting, Mr. Skelly was adamant that the three councilors only wanted the attorney present for political reasons and that it had never been the practice to have an attorney at meetings before Mr. Skelly took office.
“When they were doing all this stuff, before we took office, they never had a lawyer there and there was a lot going on,” Mr. Skelly said.
He also said controversy was instigated by former City Manager Sarah Purdy who, he said, split out the attorney’s fees in the consent agenda revealing how much the attorney was billing for meeting with Mr. Skelly and other councilors.
“Sarah Purdy made this an issue. We do consent agenda and the lawyer is never separated out,” Mr. Skelly said. “She did this as an obstruction. And the fact is there was $5,000 spent by other councilors and myself and there was $1,200 spent by her and much of her conversation was concerning her own job because she knew she was going to be let go.”