Governance by chaos

Ogdensburg Mayor Jeffery M. Skelly watches from the audience Dec. 31 as his fellow City Council members take their oaths of office. Tom Graser/Watertown Daily Times

At some point, residents of Ogdensburg will need to grapple with how poorly their interests are being served by the weekly chaos coming from their elected representatives.

The City Council no longer offers anything resembling competent governance. Officials have abandoned any effort to collectively resolve problems. Now they just bicker among themselves and show the disdain they have for collaboration.

Like many other municipalities, Ogdensburg is seeing its resources severely strained by the state’s stay-at-home orders resulting from the novel coronavirus pandemic. Some council members have proposed significant cuts in the city’s budget, and they raise a valid point about the need to cut spending.

But Mayor Jeffery M. Skelly along with Councilors William B. Dillabough, Steven M. Fisher and John A. Rishe have gone about this recklessly. They’ve proposed actions that aren’t proper. They haven’t sought the input from department heads on how their ideas would affect operations.

During a lengthy meeting May 6, council members passed a resolution directing City Manager Sarah Purdy to reduce the Police Department by four officers, lay off two administrators within the Recreation Department and got rid of a housing inspector position. The vote was 4-3, again pitting the Dillabough/Fisher/Rishe/Skelly alliance against Councilors Nichole L. Kennedy, Michael B. Powers and Daniel E. Skamperle.

But Ms. Purdy informed the council this week that the resolution had “no legal effect”; based on the city’s form of government, she has the sole authority to relieve staffers. She said that City Attorney Scott B. Goldie researched this matter — something that the proponents of this measure should have done. In addition, New York State Civil Service regulations nullify the Friday deadline established in the resolution for other employees affected by it.

Mr. Skamperle said late last month that he solicited the advice of Mr. Goldie on some of the council’s proposals. But Mr. Goldie said he will not communicate with him unless a majority of the council approves of the inquiry.

This is outrageous! Now one voting bloc can obstruct an elected official from obtaining pertinent information to make a well-informed decision. How does this help advance the council’s objectives?

A special meeting held April 30 had to be rescheduled when it became clear the computer application that council members were using couldn’t handle the number of residents logged on. In a bizarre moment, Mr. Fisher recommended that City Clerk Cathy A. Jock begin deleting people from the online forum.

That would have violated their rights to participate in a public meeting. These four council members are making ill-advised suggestions without conducting proper research into the topics they want to address.

The City Council faced a similar situation Monday when more than 1,000 people registered to participate in the scheduled meeting. Mr. Rishe said the meeting should proceed because “it is not our fault if the system is overloaded.”

He also said that those who wanted to log on intended to disrupt the meeting. Both he and Mr. Fisher urged Mr. Skelly to begin the meeting.

Ms. Jock wisely reminded members of the council that a meeting may not go forward if it isn’t open to everyone. She said it would be improper to commence the proceedings and shut the meeting down. Thankfully, someone within city government exhibited common sense.

It appears that some council members are focused more on sticking it to their rivals than working together to come up with practical solutions.

They need to rethink their strategy of delivering the services their constituents deserve.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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