‘It makes me wonder what side you truly are on,’ lawyer tells lawmaker

Monday night's Watertown city council meeting
Published: May. 2, 2023 at 6:06 AM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - It was an unprecedented conversation at Monday night’s Watertown city council meeting as a discussion about electrical work at the Thompson Park Golf Course grew heated.

The city’s interim lawyer questioned whether a city council member was on the city’s side or that of the course’s former owner.

The debate began as the city discussed a resolution to pay Blackstone Electric $54,000 in electrical work at the newly purchased course.

The city bought it from developer Mike Lundy for $3.4 million.

The $54,000 dollars is more than anticipated, part of that due to what the city’s lawyer, manager, and mayor characterized as necessary to get it in working order or up to code.

The discussion spiraled into a debate over the return of the large golf ball sign taken from the course by Lundy.

Council member Cliff Olney took issue with the recent demand letters sent to Lundy’s legal team by interim city lawyer Todd Bullard.

“I was under the impression there was going to be two sentences, ‘Can we have our ball back? It has been decided the city wants it,’ not all of these things that ended up being three pages in length,” Olney said, “which, to me, I thought was very inflammatory, personally.”

“I will say this,” Bullard said. “I’d like to stop you right there. I have to stop you right there.”

“Let me finish because I’m talking right now,” Olney said. “You work for me, not the other way around.”

“Stop with that,” Mayor Jeff Smith said. “He works for the council, not for you.”>

“I work for the city, first of all, not any individual council member and I certainly don’t work for Mr. Lundy or Mr. Simao or whomever your other friends are,” Bullard said. “But I’ll say this, when I see you advocating for a vendor who has not complied with their legal obligations to the city, it makes me wonder what side you truly are on. I sent a demand letter, I’ve been practicing for 36 years, and I sent a very detailed demand letter, under the law, with respect to the city’s obligations, with respect to the city’s rights, and also that Mr. Lundy violated the agreement that he signed with the city. That was laid out clearly. It was sent to him and his counsel. I subsequently had conversations with his counsel about resolving this matter. And I would like to say that I take strong objection to you telling me what should be in a demand letter. First of all, sir, you were not in agreement with any demand letter whatsoever. Second of all, how I do my job is how I’ve done my job for 36 years, very skillfully and with passion, and I’m telling you that Mr. Lundy has not complied with the basic obligations of the law. Now you may take his side, and you may say, ‘oh, he’s hurt,’ but the bottom line is, the city is owed property. It’s property. That it paid $3.4 million for. That’s a fact. That is a fact.”

“Mr. Lundy should have got a letter that said two things, ‘we’d like the ball back, there was a misunderstanding between me and Mr. Mix,’” Olney said. “I read Lundy’s response to your first letter. It clearly outlined that there was a misunderstanding. There was a conversation between our city’s manager and of course a discussion that led to him thinking that he had the right to take the ball.”

At one point council member Lisa Ruggiero asked Bullard if he believed Lundy taking the ball was a civil or a criminal matter.

Bullard said he did not want to be goaded into making inflammatory statements but said they should continue to advocate for the return of city property.

After the lengthy discussion, the council voted 3-2 in favor of the $54,000 dollars in electrical work.

Smith and council member Sarah Compo Pierce voted against it.

Meanwhile the council unanimously approved paying National Grid $28,000 for the removal of streetlights on Court Street as ornamental lights are set to replace them, with discussions of making the payment under protest.

The reason for that is a back and forth between the city and the power company over whose responsibility it is to fund the removal of existing “cobra head” lights.

A 1991 agreement with what was then Niagara Mohawk states any future additions, upgrades, or expansions of the streetlight system are at the sole direction of the city and the city will provide all equipment necessary.

It also states the electrical company will install it at its sole cost and expense.

The current disagreement, however, threatens to hold up the Court Street project, and potentially cost even more money.

So, the council opted to agree to the payment, with the understanding that they have objections to it.

National Grid argues the city should pay because the lights being removed are not at the end of their useful life.