The Ogdensburg City Council dug a deeper hole for itself Monday in addressing the question of how members can interact with their legal counsel.
By a 4-3 vote, the council passed a resolution requiring a majority vote when a member wishes to seek the advice of city attorney Scott Goldie. This means that any request for his guidance can only be made when the council is in session, and his response must be dispersed to all members in executive session.
This issue stems from city officials not wanting to pay more than they need to in legal services.
Mr. Goldie is the primary legal representative for the city from the firm of Conboy McKay Bachman & Kendall LLP. He charges $190 an hour, and any work performed by a paralegal is billed at $110 an hour.
It’s understandable that the city wants to curtail any unnecessary expenses. But mandating a majority vote to request legal advice is a bad practice.
Mayor Jeffery M. Skelly has joined Councilors William B. Dillabough, Steven M. Fisher and John A. Rishe in forming a majority voting bloc. Councilors Nichole L. Kennedy, Michael B. Powers and Daniel E. Skamperle act as a loyal opposition of sorts, but they can’t advance any of their proposals.
This is why the requirement for a majority vote to seek Mr. Goldie’s advice is problematic. Such acrimony exists between the two sides that any request by Councilors Kennedy, Powers or Skamperle for legal guidance is likely to be rejected, no matter how reasonable.
How can officials make informed decisions on items needing council approval if their request for legal advice is repeatedly turned down just for spite? The way all council members behave toward one another, this is the probable outcome.
In addition, Mr. Goldie must provide his response during an executive session. However, he may be addressing an issue that does not permit the council to adjourn behind closed doors. In this case, any such gatherings would violate the state’s Open Meetings Law.
Mr. Goldie does not attend most council sessions, but he should start doing so. This way, councilors could ask him for his advice right then and there. That’s the best solution to this problem, not mandating unnecessary council meetings and executive sessions.