County, city stall on tax talks

Ogdensburg City Hall at 330 Ford St., Ogdensburg. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

OGDENSBURG — In a 4-2 vote, the City Council approved a resolution Monday night calling for a public hearing to discuss a proposal to take away from the duties of the city manager to appoint, suspend and remove department heads and give that responsibility to the City Council.

The public hearing will be held at a special council meeting at 7 p.m. Aug. 24.

Councilors Michael B. Powers and Daniel E. Skamperle voted against the resolution.

Mr. Skamperle said the city manager interacts with staff every day and is in a better position to see the performance of department heads.

“I think we are completely unqualified to know what is going on,” Mr. Skamperle said. “And, in the past the city manager has always, traditionally, shared with council who they are going to hire and why and the choices that are made.”

The move would change the way government works in Ogdensburg, Mr. Skamperle said.

“We are basically saying we don’t trust the city manager and it is power robbing for the City Council and I don’t think it is right in this situation,” Mr. Skamperle said. “I think the city manager knows the department heads the best, much more so than City Council and it is probably going to end up turning into something political. And it probably shouldn’t be. It is a very dangerous resolution.”

Mr. Powers said he agreed with Mr. Skamperle.

“I see this as a grab, and I wonder whether this actual resolution is legal,” Mr. Powers said. “I want to send this to the Committee on Open Government. It is a change to the charter and we have a Charter Commission that should be convened for legalities. This resolution said it was approved, as to form, by the city attorney — I’ve got some questions about the legality of it and I won’t support it at all.”

Deputy Mayor John A. Rishe said the city charter was not considered carefully when it was adopted.

“Back in the ‘70s when charters and reforming government came about a lot of these charters were boiler plate and they were just passed around and people adopted them,” Mr. Rishe said. “I think it has been problematic in the past, given my history and what I understand of government. I just think that it’s better.”

Mr. Rishe said that the St. Lawrence County government operates this way as does the Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority, where he works.

“It’s not a power grab, it is just basically putting the decisions, with the recommendations of the manager, who is going to have all the input — and it might even be his recommendation — but ultimately, it lies with the people that the people elected to sit on this council,” he said.

Mr. Rishe, Mayor Jeffery M. Skelly and Councilors Steven M. Fisher and William B. Dillabough voted in favor of holding the public hearing. Councilor Nicole L. Kennedy was not present.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

St. Lawrence/Franklin County Editor

Slowly self-propelled. Two-time cancer survivor. Nearly 30-year newspaper veteran.

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