EMS Squad says AED check held ‘hostage’

The Ogdensburg Volunteer Rescue Squad says City Manager Stephen P. Jellie is holding a payment for new AEDs “hostage.” Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

OGDENSBURG — The Ogdensburg Volunteer Rescue Squad is sounding off on comments made by City Manager Stephen P. Jellie at a recent City Council meeting. The city manager said the rescue squad is “not an organization that’s been financially clean and easy for the last several years.”

The discussion came up at the City Council meeting during a discussion about the city sending a second $78,000 payment for five new automated external defibrillators, AEDs, that the OVRS received in 2021. The first payment was paid last year.

After being questioned by councilors as to why the check hadn’t been sent, Mr. Jellie told City Council that the second payment hasn’t been made because the OVRS has not sent the city its financial report for 2021.

“I have asked them for financial documents — the short route, which is them providing them to me — and they refused. I am requesting them for the long route through the AGs Office so I can assure the council the organization’s financial stability,” Mr. Jellie said. “Finances are really the least of our concern for an organization that saves lives so it’s important to make sure they balance their books and pay their debt, and certainly not an organization that’s been financially clean and easy for the last several years.”

Mayor Jeffrey M. Skelly said that the rescue squad should just send the financial report so it can be reviewed by city staff.

“This is irresponsible on their part, this is a simple request,” the mayor said.

Councilors Daniel E. Skamperle and Michael B. Powers requested that the payment be sent, regardless.

In response to Mr. Jellie’s statement, OVRS Chief of Emergency Services Kenneth J. Gardner sent the city manager and the City Council an email detailing the issue at hand and responses to the comments made by Mr. Jellie about the financial stability of the rescue squad.

“Let’s be very clear here. The Ogdensburg Volunteer Rescue Squad has always been very clean and easy to work with especially during my 15 years here in Ogdensburg and we have ALWAYS PAID OUR DEBTS. In fact, our credit rating is very good, and our yearly audits have been very positive, we have been extremely clean,” Mr. Gardner wrote. “Past history, some members of Council thought we were making a lot of money and didn’t need to do any in-kind services or anything as we were wealthy. We invited Council to meet with our Board of Directors where we produced our financials, sat at a table here in the rescue squad and went line for line. When we were done the Councilors understood they had a wrong understanding of our financials.”

When reached for comment Thursday, Mr. Gardner said that the agreement between the city and OVRS requires the squad to present its annual report on a yearly basis to the City Council.

Mr. Gardner said that he had requested twice to be placed on the agenda for a City Council meeting and was rejected twice by Mr. Jellie. Instead, the city manager wanted to meet with the rescue squad in person.

“Let me point out, that this is required in the agreement that we make that presentation for the express purpose of being open and honest with the Council. I was then asked to come meet one on one with the City Manager and bring our financials to that meeting. I then advised the City Manager that our financials are available and always have been on the NYS Attorney General’s site for him to see any time. I also offered to come to an open council meeting to do my presentation and hand to all councilors our financials in an open and public forum. I was again denied that request,” Mr. Gardner wrote.

Mr. Jellie said the rescue squad provided the information requested last year. But according to Mr. Gardner, OVRS did not send the city its financials in 2021.

“That is untrue. Not once did he ask for or receive our financials. Did we sit and discuss our organization, yes we did. Lastly, Mr. Jellie did not tell you that he wants to review our financials and he and the City’s Comptroller ‘will give their opinions and recommendations,’” Mr. Gardner wrote.

Mr. Gardner said that Mr. Jellie is holding the second payment for the AEDs “hostage.”

“In my own personal opinion, it’s become a Steve Jellie power play that he can hold a check over our head and it’s almost like a hostage situation,” Mr. Gardner said. “There are no stipulations in the budget for that, nothing from the board or councilors for that, there were no stipulations made whatsoever.”

He added that as grateful as OVRS is for the funding for the new AEDs, the city “has no role or say in how we operate.”

Mr. Gardner said he once again offered to attend the next City Council meeting to present an annual report and to hand each councilor the rescue squad’s financial documentation, including an audit for 2021.

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