Some lawmakers say more transparency is needed on Watertown City Council

Published: Jul. 23, 2021 at 3:57 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - How city lawmakers get information about city business wasn’t on the agenda for Monday night’s city council meeting. But it was brought up and raised some concern.

“I don’t think there’s good transparency then” Councilmember Leonard Spaziani said during Monday’s meeting.

The issue has to do with a request from Hospice of Jefferson County. It wants money from the federal COVID-19 relief package the city has received for an upgraded ventilation system. Lawmakers ended up tabling the request.

Spaziani says he wanted to discuss the project as a council, but what he and Councilmember Lisa Ruggiero say they got was an earlier phone call from Mayor Jeff Smith, asking for an informal poll about that funding request and others. Mayor Smith says the result of that poll indicted four councilmembers were against funding for those projects.

But Ruggiero and Spaziani say those calls didn’t provide nearly enough information about the Hospice project.

“When I was called, we had no documentation, we did not have anything that Hospice had sent.,” Ruggiero told 7 News.

Mayor Jeff Smith says he copied all city council members in an email to City Manager Ken Mix about the decision to not fund the request.

Smith said, “My question to everybody was, ‘We’re getting these requests, we have two in hand, another one I’m aware of going to be coming in. Do we want to entertain them, or do you want to spend it all on city projects?’”

Ruggiero says there have been other instances where communication has been lacking. She feels the vote for the 7 million dollar Thompson Park Amphitheater was rushed.

“The night that we had to vote on it was the first time we saw the diagram of it, and some of the basic information on what the building would look like,” Ruggiero said.

Mayor Smith says he was shown the blueprints the same time other councilmembers were and says when the city received the grant, the majority was on board.

Smith said, “Was there going to be the DoD funding for the grant? Once we found that out, we proceeded. There was a general consensus of ‘Let’s do the project.’”

Ruggiero is optimistic that council will be able to work through these issues. But she adds, sometimes a phone call isn’t enough to make a big decision.

As for Mayor Smith, he says he’ll continue to work with every member of council, and do what’s in the best interest of the city.

Ruggiero says she’s been in contact with County Legislature Chair Scott Gray, who’s open to discussions with the city on funding requests from non-profits.

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