Yelling, swearing, locked doors: what happened at Ogdensburg’s city council meeting?

Updated: Sep. 29, 2020 at 5:42 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - Ogdensburg residents were vocal at Monday night’s city council meeting. A few people were asked to leave and even one councillor walked out.

Monday night was another controversial Ogdensburg City Council meeting. Tensions were high - so high, a few people were asked to leave.

On top of that, many residents say they were upset to find city hall locked. About 30 people were allowed inside at one time. Those outside, who wanted to speak, could go in after another person left.

“Personally, I think that it’s appalling. I thought that that was inappropriate. I think that the doors of city hall should not be locked to keep people out,” said Nichole Kennedy, city councillor.

Councillor Dan Skamperle agrees.

“More and more people want to attend these meetings and voice their concerns. We need to do this somewhere where people can be heard,” he said.

Newly appointed City Manager Stephen Jellie says with COVD-19 guidelines, he had no choice but make the call to lock the doors.

“I absolutely did not want to lose control of the number of people that we could allow in council chambers at one given time,” he said.

But why now? City officials say it’s the first time they’ve seen the doors locked.

“Last night was the first meeting since I’ve been here, since July, that we had that many show up, that many people who planned and talked about coming,” said Jellie.

Meanwhile, Mayor Mike Skelly says he likes having the public at meetings and it’s unfortunate seating is limited.

“I don’t think we are silencing people because they can go on remotely,” he said.

7 News looked at Committee On Open Government guidance, which says under the governor’s executive order, lawmakers must stream the video or audio of a meeting if all people can’t attend it safely.

Monday night’s meeting was available by phone and online.

One person who left the meeting early was Skamperle. It came after a resident started asking who negotiated Jellie’s contract and what the contract included.

That man got a copy of the contract from Kennedy, but it appeared he wasn’t getting answers. That’s when Skamperle, in a heated exchange with the mayor said, “Let him speak. You want me to leave too? Because I will leave.”

On Tuesday, Skamperle explained his decision to leave the meeting.

“I got upset that they weren’t answering the question. That it is a legitimate question. Who negotiated the contract? They didn’t want to answer. I certainly need to know. I am a city councillor. The public wants to know. They deserve to know because we work for them,” he said.

Mayor Skelly told 7 News Jellie’s contract was negotiated through himself, Deputy Mayor John Rishe and the city attorney and it followed other city manager contracts like former manager Sarah Purdy’s contract with Ogdensburg.

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