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City Council members want to deliver on town hall pledge

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A plan to hold town hall-style discussions between Ogdensburg leaders and residents has not seen much action since it was proposed in January, but City Council members say they have not forgotten about it.

Three months ago, amidst a debate which culminated in the firing of City Manager Arthur J. Sciorra and persisting questions surrounding the city’s housing programs, council members agreed that town hall-style meetings would be a good way to inform concerned citizens and restore the public’s trust.

“I don’t see them doing anything about it,” said Deputy Mayor Michael D. Morley. “I want them. I think it is a good way for the general populace to talk to elected officials. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of work done with it.”

The proposal seems to have fallen to the wayside, but council members would like to see it taken up again.

“I am fully in favor of town hall meetings,” said Councilwoman Jennifer Stevenson. “I asked about it maybe three meetings ago. I’ll ask again.”

Ms. Stevenson, along with fellow council members Wayne L. Ashley and William D. Hosmer, made a campaign pledge to bring better communications and more transparent government to Ogdensburg.

“We had decided that we were going to have one a quarter,” said Mr. Hosmer. “I don’t think we’ve set an official date for one yet.”

Town hall discussions are better than public comment periods held before each council meeting, said Mr. Morley, because people would have more time to voice their concerns and could have their questions answered. At several recent council meetings, citizens have asked the council questions and received no response from the body.

“I am sick of the five minutes allowed to talk to City Council and that people aren’t allowed to ask questions,” he said. “I would like to see them be able to get answers to their questions. The best way to give answers is to have everybody who can answer questions in one place.”

The council has been trying to organize committee of the whole meetings, public work sessions where they discuss important policy issues. Councilman Daniel E. Skamperle said that the sessions have been difficult to schedule.

“It just seems like everybody is busy,” he said. “We have an awful time just trying to get together for a work schedule. Bill is driving all over the place with his work, and we all have jobs, and I have kids. That always takes time.”

A better solution, said Mr. Skamperle, would be to allow a question-and-answer session at the end of each council meeting.

“We’re all there. We don’t have to schedule something else,” he said. “If we just had a little time at the end of a council meeting for some questions and answers, that would be a better option.”

Ogdensburg’s charter has no provisions for town hall discussions, but meetings of the council may be called by Mayor William D. Nelson or any two council members. Committee of the whole sessions could be called by Mr. Nelson or any four council members.

Mr. Nelson was unavailable for comment Friday.

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