Special meeting called to consider administrative leave for Ogdensburg city manager

Special meeting called to consider administrative leave for Ogdensburg city manager
Sarah Purdy (Source: WWNY)

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - A special meeting has been called for the Ogdensburg City Council to consider placing the city manager on administrative leave until she retires.

City Manager Sarah Purdy announced last month that she will step down June 26. Her retirement headed off a move by Mayor Mike Skelly and his council allies to fire Purdy from the job she has held since 2015.

The special meeting, which was called by council members John Rishe and Steven Fisher, is scheduled for 4 p.m. Thursday.

The resolution to place Purdy on administrative leave reads:

"WHEREAS, this City Council has expressed its concern over the City's financial health as it faces projected losses of sales tax and real property tax revenue, as well as pending State cuts to Municipal Aid, and "WHEREAS, this City Council has clearly stated its directions to the City Manager to make the necessary adjustments to the City budget to compensate for this loss of revenue, and

"WHEREAS, the City Manager has failed to implement the necessary budget adjustments requested by this City Council, and has otherwise obstructed its plans to improve the City's financial health, and

"WHEREAS, the City Manager serves at the pleasure of the City Council.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the City Manager Sarah Purdy is hereby immediately placed on administrative leave, with full pay and benefits, through June 26, 2020, her stated retirement date."

Purdy had no comment on the resolution when 7 News reached out to her Wednesday.

The meeting will be held remotely and the public will have a chance to participate by using the following link: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/6206741346652374032 or by calling 1-213-929-4212 and entering Access Code #992-751-490. The public can preregister to attend the meeting by using the link above.

The relationship between Mayor Skelly and Purdy has been contentious.

Last week, Skelly and his council allies voted to lay off 7 city workers, including 4 in the police department.

Purdy released a memo over the weekend saying council has no authority to remove employees under the city charter.

The legal issues were expected to be resolved during Monday’s city council meeting, but the online meeting was canceled after the number of attendees overwhelmed the system.

Police responded to city hall after something happened involving Skelly and city staff members. Exactly what happened isn’t clear. Skelly denied doing anything wrong.

On Wednesday, Skelly sent 7 News what he said is an email exchange between Purdy and City Attorney Scott Goldie, initiated by Purdy on the morning of May 8.

"To my knowledge it was never shared with City Council. He makes it clear that our resolution to reduce 7 positions in police, rec and code enforcement was NOT a violation of the city charter," said Skelly in an email.

He attached the following information:

From: Sarah Purdy

Sent: Friday, May 8, 2020 9:47 AM

To: Scott B. Goldie

Subject: RE: City Charter question raised by City Manager

Scott:

Good morning. Thank you very much for your work in these matters yesterday. I do have one follow-up question, and appreciate that your email included providing me with an opportunity to ask additional questions. Because the action taken by vote on the resolution did, in fact, direct me to lay off four police and to eliminate one housing inspector, have those who voted to do so violated Article 3 §C-9 B of the City Charter? I would appreciate it if you are able to give me an answer by noon. I have attached the adopted resolution for your convenience.

Thanks,

Sarah

__________________________________

From: Scott B. Goldie

Sent: Friday, May 8, 2020 11:39 AM

To: Sarah Purdy

Subject: Re: City Charter question raised by City Manager

I specified in my earlier email that the resolution does not “violate” the City Charter. I would regard it a violation of section C-9 B if they directed you to hire or fire a specific individual. For example, if the Council directed you to hire a relative of one of the board members, or fire a specific employee. The board has the authority to communicate budget concerns and priorities, and ask that you follow the will of the majority of the Board. Specifically asking you to cut positions for budget purposes, particularly based on their concerns over significantly reduced income projections, does not violate the Charter. The City Manager is the mechanism by which the Board acts. You can chose to follow or not follow their directive at your own peril.

__________________________________

7 News reached out to Purdy or Skelly for comment about the emails.

“I’m shocked that the mayor released those. It is attorney client privilege," said Purdy.

Skelly said the city attorney works for city council, not the city manager.

“We should have been given that email because we were misled,” said Skelly.

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