Watertown’s mayor to file ethics violation against council member

Published: Sep. 11, 2023 at 4:39 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - Watertown City Council will soon vote on a new city attorney. But it’s how that information became public that has Mayor Jeff Smith set to file an ethics violation against Council Member Cliff Olney. Olney fires back, saying the mayor is a hypocrite.

For city governments, executive sessions allow sensitive or private information to be discussed openly, but away from the public.

After a September 5 executive session for Watertown’s City Council, however, information discussed about the city’s lawyer became public with reporting by WWNY-TV and other media outlets on a plan to replace lawyer Todd Bullard.

Now, Smith is filing an ethics complaint against Olney.

“I think there’s a clear pattern here and it will be pointed out in my ethics complaint of individuals working against the city,” said Smith.

Smith says between last week and other instances, Olney has repeatedly shared information discussed in executive session with media and lawyers who do not represent the city.

On Monday, Olney elaborated on the executive session, saying council took a tentative vote on putting forward a resolution to change legal representation. He says a formal vote on that resolution should happen on September 18.

As for the ethics of sharing that and other information, Olney believes the mayor is wrong.

“He’s a hypocrite because what he’s done by claiming that I have an ethics charge for releasing something. All I said was what I’m gonna do for a vote when the next vote when that comes up about who we’re gonna choose for an attorney. I didn’t say what Lisa was gonna do or anybody else that was in the background. So he’s wrong, but again this is for theater more than anything,” said Olney.

Olney says the complaint is more about the upcoming mayoral race between council members Lisa Ruggiero and Sarah Compo Pierce than ethics.

In a statement announcing the ethics complaint, Smith also alludes to closing documents from the city’s purchase of the golf course at Thompson Park, the contents of which he says are “extremely disturbing” and says could be seen as a “cover up.”

It’s unclear what is in those documents. 7 News is filing paperwork with city hall in order to see the documents.

Smith expects the ethics complaint to be officially filed by Wednesday.