Ethics meeting for Watertown lawmaker slated for Friday

Published: Sep. 13, 2023 at 5:32 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - A board of ethics meeting for the city of Watertown is set for Friday. At the heart of it is a complaint from Mayor Jeff Smith against Council Member Cliff Olney - a complaint we’re told was filed this week. We’ve asked to see it. It hasn’t been provided.

As for that ethics board meeting, Olney has a worry about someone who may be there and may have a conflict of interest of his own.

The agenda for the board of ethics meeting says members will get legal counsel in executive session. Olney worries that legal counsel will come from the city attorney, a man whom Olney is ready to replace.

“I feel like it has really come to a head that the ethics board needs to address it,” said Smith.

On Monday, Smith filed an ethics complaint claiming that Olney revealed confidential information from council’s September 5 executive session to both the public and the media on multiple occasions.

“In my opinion, it has ruined the most recent RFP Procurement process in terms of looking for a city attorney,” said Smith.

After that September 5 meeting, 7 News reported council talked about firing Todd Bullard, the current attorney. In general, Olney told us he was ready to go in a different direction for city legal counsel and expected a resolution to be voted on in the coming weeks.

Olney doesn’t believe the ethics complaint has merit.

“He’s trying to disparage me and my character and make it look like something that it’s not,” he said.

The board of ethics will go behind closed doors and get legal counsel, presumably from Bullard. In a public email, Olney summarizes Bullard shouldn’t be the one giving legal advice on a situation involving Olney when Olney is ready to replace Bullard as city attorney.

“I’ve given him the benefit of the doubt, opportunities to give him straight answers. I’m not confident in the legal opinions he’s given me. That’s the reason why I want to make a difference and change that,” said Olney.

Olney also wants the ethics board to do what it does Friday in an open meeting, not behind closed doors.

“I would prefer that the public and everybody gets to see whatever is being said by whoever gets to talk at this meeting. That way they’ll know what is being said and how it’ll affect the decision that is being made,” he said.

That meeting is Friday at 1 p.m. at city hall.