Ogdensburg deals with opposition to charter change

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OGDENSBURG — In a jam-packed City Council chamber, with people spilling out into the hallway, council members faced shouts of derision from the crowd to vote unanimously to make it more difficult to fire the city manager by requiring a super majority vote.

Despite the restless crowd being clearly against the proposed change to the city charter, only two people took advantage of three opportunities to address the council about the matter.

The proposed change to the charter is in response to statements made by Mayor-elect Jeffery M. Skelly in his campaign, during which he expressed a desire to fire City Manager Sarah Purdy.

Mr. Skelly won the election decisively along with every other challenger on the ballot.

The four incoming council members have vowed to work together and represent a majority on the seven-person panel.

One who spoke against the law was former Mayor William D. Nelson.

Mr. Nelson questioned the timing of the action, pointing out that the city had undergone a charter review in 2017 and the section concerning the city manager was never discussed.

“There were seven Charter Commission meetings,” Mr. Nelson said. “And not one time did anybody at those meetings mention changing the way the city manager is to be terminated.”

The reason it didn’t come up, Mr. Nelson said, was because there is already a very precise procedure in the charter regarding the dismissal of a city manager.

“As council members, it is not your job to protect the manager,” Mr. Nelson said. “It is your job to protect the citizens and carry out the will of the people.”

Mr. Nelson said council members need to consider their motives.

“So each of you are extremely well-respected citizens in our community, you have a track record of success that you can be proud of,” he said. “Don’t tarnish your accomplishments and leave a blemish on your successes and your record of how the citizens of Ogdensburg will remember you. You don’t want to leave as one of your last actions to be what is widely perceived in this community as an act of revenge.”

When it came time to vote on the resolution, the crowd grew more agitated and Mayor Wayne A. Ashley had to — several times — use his gavel to quiet the crowd, at one time striking it so hard on its sounding block that the head flew off the handle and onto the floor in front of the dais.

Council Member Michael B. Powers had to raise his voice to be heard over the heckling crowd.

“It ultimately boils down to politics and Ogdensburg doesn’t have room for politics,” Mr. Powers said as voices were raised in opposition.

When the crowd quieted down, Mr. Powers spoke out about how the recently concluded election campaign was carried out.

“The point of the matter is simple, here — there has been a lot of defamation, there has been a lot of characterizations made about people …it’s disingenuous, quiet frankly, I find it pretentious and I think it’s sickening,” Mr. Powers said.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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