It was sad, but not unexpected, to see the Watertown Daily Times from Jefferson County publish an editorial Tuesday that calls my recent decision to end an Ogdensburg City Council meeting early as being “beyond absurd” and an example of a “temper tantrum” on my part.
The editorial asserts that I behaved childishly because someone in the crowd was “mocking” me. In typical Watertown Times fashion, the editorial leaves out key background and important facts.
Although the paper correctly points out that the person disrupting the meeting was retired firefighter Gerald Mack, it avoids pointing out that Mr. Mack has been removed from meetings by police before, that Mr. Mack has hurled obscenities at the council from the public gallery at past meetings, and that Mr. Mack has falsely accused me and filed charges against me for allegedly throwing him into the street.
Mr. Mack has also sought, and received, a court order of protection against me apparently because he lives in fear. Yet he continues to violate his own order of protection by showing up at City Council meetings and acting in a threatening and intimidating manner.
These are important facts, but ones the Watertown Times editorial board doesn’t feel is needed before passing a snap judgment. I shut down the meeting because Mr. Mack continues to be a threatening presence at our open meetings and, as mayor, it is my duty to safeguard the safety of all in attendance.
According to the Watertown Times editorial, the decision to shut down the Aug. 2 council meeting also reflects poorly on Ogdensburg’s leadership and “mirrors the childish behavior exhibited by city officials since early 2020.” I would point out to the newspaper that the accomplishments of this City Council far outshine those of any other councils in recent memory.
Examples of the positive accomplishments over the past 18 months include our decision to right-size our government operations, resulting in a fund balance of more than $4 million and growing. When I and the other new councilors took over, we were nearly bankrupt and the city routinely borrowed money through a tax anticipation note to make ends meet. We now no longer have that need.
We have used that money to reinvest in our city infrastructure and now have enough money to take down the condemned building at 212 Ford St.; we also have begun marketing the old Diamond paper property on our riverfront, have made repairs and upgrades to our recreational facilities, and we have developed a new comprehensive plan for the city.
What else has this “poor leadership” accomplished?
The city of Ogdensburg has paid off $1.2 million in debt, has cut property taxes by 10 percent with a similar goal for our new budget year, and we’ve seen our bond rating increase dramatically as a result. We have reinvested in our historic City Hall to include repairs to our clock tower and bell and pending upgrades to replace the outdated HVAC system and roof repairs.
These are just a few of the growing list of accomplishments under current “leadership” that the city has carried out. In the next months and years, you will see even more positive improvements as we begin receiving our proper share of sales tax revenue and continue implementing cost-saving recommendations from the New York State Financial Restructuring Board.
The Watertown Daily Times should focus more on saving its own crumbling newspaper instead of preaching to those of us in the trenches making the tough decisions needed to improve quality of life here in the north country.
Being fair and accurate would be a good place for the newspaper editors to start. Maybe it’s time for the “leadership” at the Watertown Times to address some of the internal problems that have resulted in its own financial and readership decline in recent years instead of taking childish one-sided potshots at elected officials.
Jeffrey M. Skelly
The writer is the mayor of Ogdensburg.