Several 4-3 votes mark contentious Ogdensburg city council meeting

Published: Sep. 29, 2020 at 6:48 AM EDT
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OGDENSBURG, N.Y. (WWNY) - Tensions were at a boil in Ogdensburg Monday night as people cheered when a city councillor stormed out and dozens of citizens were barred from entering a public meeting.

It comes amid controversy over the city’s charter, the city manager, and the city’s fire department, to name a few of the topics riling up citizens and council members alike.

A series of split votes highlights the divide on the council and an increasingly vocal portion of the city’s population frustrated with city leadership.

In a 4-3 vote, the council approved hiring interim city manager Stephen Jellie as the official city manager going forward.

The three opposed, councillors Nichole Kennedy, Dan Skamperle, and Mike Powers, were unhappy with the hiring process.

They say the city should have taken time to interview other candidates before deciding on Jellie.

Meanwhile, councillors John Rishe and Steven Fisher, along with Mayor Mike Skelly say Jellie has done a good job as interim city manager.

Fisher says with major cuts already happening, the city doesn’t have the money to conduct a formal search.

“We are not standing very well and I don’t think the going back out and spending another $30,000 at this point is a smart move,” Fisher said. "He has proved himself so far. Dan, you didn’t have anything bad to say about him and neither did Mike or Nichole. I think he will do Ogdensburg well.

The council also voted 4-3 against having a public referendum on amendments to the city charter.

Those amendments transfer hiring and firing power over city department heads from the city manager to city council.

And they voted 4-3 to approve moving ahead to a public hearing on those amendments.

Councillors Kennedy, Powers, and Skamperle voted together on each of these controversial resolutions.

Mayor Mike Skelly and councilors John Rishe, Steven Fisher, and Willaim Dillabough voted together on each.

The meeting agenda places the public hearing on October 13 at 7 p.m.

There was another vote on the city’s dispatchers.

Councillors again voted in the same 4-3 block, with the majority approving turning dispatch services in the city over to St. Lawrence County.

Meanwhile, as the meeting began, some citizens arriving late found the doors locked at city hall.

A city resident we spoke with said they were told it was a safety measure because of the coronavirus.

That citizen, however, said this is the first time the doors had been locked, physically preventing community members from entering.

A woman who addressed council after being let in as other members of the public left, implored councilors to postpone the meeting until they could safely accommodate the public who wanted to be heard.

“I suggest the school auditorium, an outdoor arena, anywhere that the citizens of this city, feeling so downtrodden, and so left out, and so dismissed, could at least participate in this.”

Skelly said it was not the council’s decision to lock the doors. He said they were letting people in as others left.

The woman who spoke, however, said many of those who arrived at the beginning of the meeting left after finding the entrance locked.

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