Ogdensburg officials reject petition calling for referendum on charter changes

Ogdensburg officials reject petition calling for referendum on charter changes
Ogdensburg City Hall (Source: WWNY)

OGDENSBURG, N.Y. (WWNY) - Ogdensburg officials have rejected a petition that would have put changes to the city charter on the November ballot.

That’s because, the city’s attorney says, while the charter allows for a referendum, state law -- which overrules the charter -- does not.

In August, a 4-3 city council majority led by Mayor Mike Skelly voted to change the charter to put the power of hiring department heads in the hands of the council, rather than the city manager.

The same majority also voted to change the charter to require the police chief to live inside the city, but it’s the change to the manager’s job that has drawn the most criticism.

One councilor, Mike Powers, questioned the legality of the vote and community members, led by Scott McRoberts filed a petition to put the council’s actions to a referendum.

Upon advice from city attorney Scott Goldie (below), city clerk Cathy Jock rejected the petition.

Goldie said that while the city’s charter allows for a referendum on altering the city manager’s duties – which are outlined in the charter – there’s a state law that says that’s outside the power of a local government.

The law, Goldie says, specifies only 11 reasons to call for a public referendum, none of which covers Ogdensburg’s city manager changes.

“The Petition presented to the City Clerk asks for a public vote on the local law changing the City Manager’s authority under the Charter,” Goldie wrote. “This topic does not fall within one of the eleven permitted topics for permissive referendum under Municipal Home Rule Law Section 24.”

He explains that state law says that a municipality can’t expand on the list of items eligible for mandatory or permissible referendum, so certain sections of the city charter “illegally provide for a permissive referendum beyond State Law.”

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