Ogdensburg City Manager: Layoff directives “have no legal effect”

Updated: May. 9, 2020 at 8:01 PM EDT
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OGDENSBURG, N.Y. (WWNY) - Ogdensburg City Manager Sarah Purdy is telling city councillors that layoff directives they approved earlier this week “have no legal effect.”

The language was included in a memo, as part of the City Council agenda for Monday, May 11th.

Purdy writes, “Because the directives in Bill #37 regarding layoffs have no legal effect, I will instead seek union negotiations to obtain cost-saving measures.”

Purdy wrote she’ll have more details for lawmakers Monday night.

In a vote of 4 to 3 Wednesday, city councillors passed a controversial resolution to trim costs and layoff employees, including four in the City Police Department, and a housing inspector.

Purdy’s memo appears to be informed by correspondence from city attorney Scott Goldie, who, after reviewing a portion of the Ogdensburg City Charter dealing with the powers of the City Manager and city councillors, wrote,"The authority to suspend or remove employees rests with you as the City Manager."

Another portion of that correspondence refers to parts of the resolution passed Wednesday, specifically the parts calling for layoffs.

It reads, “Since the City Council does not have the authority to direct you to remove employees, their resolution has no legal effect with regards to resolution numbers 1 and 5, other than to express in clear uncertain terms their views.”

Councillor Mike Powers, who was one of three lawmakers to vote against Wednesday’s action, told 7News, “I questioned the legality of it. It goes against the language of the City Charter.”

Powers also tells 7News he has reached out to a couple attorneys in Albany for their guidance.

Councillors Nichole Kennedy and Dan Skamperle were the other two “no” votes Wednesday night.

But Mayor Mike Skelly says he discussed the resolution calling for cuts and layoffs with the city attorney before the vote happened.

“I think it’s correct. It’s a budget reduction,” Skelly said.

Skelly added that councillors were not using the resolution to single out specific employees for removal. Instead, he says the cuts and layoffs were intended to be used as a tool to reign in spending. Wednesday’s resolution indicates the city is looking at a revenue shortfall that could add up to $900,000.

Skelly is also describing his rivals’ interpretation of the City Charter’s language as “a distortion of the intent of that charter.”

As for Purdy’s memo, Skelly said, “It’s just her being an obstructionist.”

Last month, Purdy informed lawmakers she would be retiring June 26th, heading off a move by Mayor Skelly and his council allies to fire her. Skelly had said the two sides were “incompatible” when it comes to addressing key issues, like sales tax negotiations and the management of police overtime.

When asked if he thought Purdy was attempting to obstruct the actions of city lawmakers, Councillor Powers replied, “That’s absurd, and that’s typical of his (Skelly’s) behavior."


City Manager Sarah Purdy tells 7News she was “caught off guard” by Mayor Skelly’s comments claiming she was being an obstructionist.

“If I’m obstructing, it’s not intentional,” Purdy said.

Purdy says leaders need to get more clarity from the city attorney. Purdy went on to say if she misinterpreted the attorney’s analysis of the City Charter, she will “do what needs to be done.”

She says the resolution, brought forward by Mayor Skelly and his council allies, happened quickly, and added, “I had no idea it was coming.”

“There has not been a lot of time for me... to execute what they want. I’m trying to work within the confines of the law,” she said.

Purdy says the layoffs councillors have requested could not take effect on May 15th, as written in the resolution. She tells 7News the law requires employees be given 20 days notice. From a human resources perspective, Purdy also wants the time to talk to all the affected workers personally, something she says she has already started to do.

“We’re dealing with people’s livelihoods here,” Purdy said.

Purdy plans on presenting lawmakers with more information at Monday night’s council meeting.

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