Battle of legal opinions as some seek resignation of Ogdensburg lawmakers

Published: Feb. 8, 2021 at 8:01 PM EST
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OGDENSBURG, N.Y. (WWNY) - What exactly does the city charter mean? It’s a battle of legal opinions in Ogdensburg, and a citizens group is raising money to take it to the courts.

It all goes back to a 4-3 vote in May to lay off 4 police officers. An arbitrator in a union grievance now says that was illegal. But the Skelly administration points out the city attorney said the opposite at the time.

“I think this was the absolute correct interpretation at the time. The city council has the authority to direct the city manager to take appropriate action,” said Ogdensburg city manager Stephen Jellie.

Jellie points out it was the beginning of the pandemic. Skelly and his allies said the city expected sharply lower revenues.

“A city that was already in financial distress was going to find itself in further financial distress,” Jellie said.

Opponents say none of that matters. They’re focusing on a phrase in the city charter stating the council cannot “dictate the appointment or removal” of employees. The charter says those who violate that must forfeit their office.

Jose Manjarrez, a lawyer with United Public Service Employees Union said, “I mean it’s unambiguous. Right? There’s no question about it.”

So what exactly to these words mean? That’s what this all comes down to. And in the end, it may be only a judge that can really tell us that.

A group calling itself Citizens Watch plans to ask one. It’s now raising funds on Facebook to take it all to court They’ve raised more than $4,500 and posted a statement reading in part:

“... these 3 councilors and Mayor KNEW very well they were INTENTIONALLY violating the Charter. They did not believe our citizens would follow through and defend themselves. These people MUST step down.”

The three councilors who voted against the layoffs want Skelly and his allies to step down. They did not get back to us when we asked for comment Monday. The mayor has said there’s no way he or his allies are stepping down.

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