Ogdensburg mayor: ‘Smell of alcohol was thick in the air,’ worker assaulted at Monday’s city council meeting

Updated: Sep. 30, 2020 at 3:46 PM EDT
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OGDENSBURG, N.Y. (WWNY) - Ogdensburg’s mayor says “the smell of alcohol was thick in the air” and a city worker was assaulted by an off-duty firefighter during Monday night’s city council meeting - a meeting marked by shouting, swearing and people being kicked out.

In an open letter to the residents of Ogdensburg, Mayor Mike Skelly said he was “dismayed and alarmed to see the actions of some members of the Ogdensburg Fire Department as well as others” at the meeting.

“The smell of alcohol was thick in the air coming from many of the so-called public servants who attended, and their actions, comments and body language throughout the meeting were a clear attempt on their part to intimidate, frighten and bully those of us elected to office,” Skelly wrote.

7 News reached out to other members of city council as well as the city manager to see if they smelled alcohol.

“I had no interactions with the public that would make me feel that way,” said Councillor Nichole Kennedy.

“I didn’t smell any alcohol in the room,” said Councillor Dan Skamperle.

City Manager Stephen Jellie said, “I could smell alcohol when I first came into council chambers and spoke with and passed firefighters.”

Councillor Bill Dillabough said, “They way they were acting, it looked they had a few.”

Skelly went on to say in his letter that an off-duty firefighter “even went so far as to physically assault a member of city staff, an incident that is now under investigation and charges are being considered.”

Skelly said the alleged victim sought medical attention.

7 News reached out to the city police department for information about the alleged incident.

“The Ogdensburg Police Department will not comment on any potential police investigations,” said Detective Sergeant Mark Kearns in an email.

We also requested comment from Ogdensburg Professional Firefighters Local 1799, the union representing firefighters.

“I did not witness what they are alleging, but I am quite certain that they are false. And I am also quite certain that this alcohol-infused and alcohol-induced riot is an over mischaracterization of our members and what our actions. It was more passion-fueled than anything else,” said Jason Bouchard, union president. “All I can say is there was a heavy police presence at city hall Monday night and if any such assault took place, they would have witnessed it and taken care of it on the spot, so I am to believe that that is not the case.”

Later on Wednesday night, the union posted the following statement on its Facebook page:

“Our Union feels it important to address the reckless, unsubstantiated, and departmentally slanderous allegations contained within the, “open letter,” penned by Jeffrey Michael Skelly dated 9/30/2020. These false, inflammatory remarks continue the anti-public safety, anti-First Amendment agenda of Ogdensburg’s, “so called,” leader. We are currently developing a thorough, appropriate response to this attack.”

City hall and firefighters are at odds over a new fire dispatch policy as well as a memo telling firefighters they can’t talk to the media about fire department business without clearance from the city manager.

There’s also a proposal to change the fire department to a part-paid and part-volunteer service - something the firefighters' union says is a non-starter.

In Skelly’s letter, he acknowledges “the cuts we have made, and the cuts we are considering are not easy, and it is not unexpected that tempers might run high among those likely to be affected like our first responders.”

He continues: “However, turning a public meeting into an alcohol-fueled hostile mob is unacceptable. As mayor I am exploring multiple options for ensuring that such violence does not occur at future meetings as we continue to look for solutions to the city’s financial problems. Physically assaulting city staff, hurling profanities at public officials and other aggressive acts can never be tolerated, especially when such actions come from public employees. The job of any first responder should be to protect and save life, not to attempt to physically and emotionally harm others.”

Below is Skelly’s full letter:

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