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Former Ogdensburg housing administrator speaks out

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OGDENSBURG — Former Director of Planning and Development Martin D. Murphy responded to criticism leveled by city representatives by disavowing any knowledge of wrongdoing.

“My record speaks for itself,” he said. “During my tenure, Planning Department staff secured well over $20 million in grant funds and successfully rehabilitated literally hundreds of housing units in the city.”

At a City Council meeting last Monday, Mr. Murphy was accused of mishandling Ogdensburg’s housing program. Until 2010, the program was operated out of the Department of Planning and Development, which Mr. Murphy directed from 1993 to 2007.

James A. O’Neill, president of C.W. Augustine, the DeKalb Junction firm administering the program, cited a 2010 “Housing Needs Assessment, Affordable Housing Plan and Program Income Spending Plan” compiled by Community Development Resources of Lincoln, Neb. The report points to dozens of irregularities while the housing program was run by Mr. Murphy.

“I know nothing about the programs prior to us getting involved,” Mr. O’Neill said. “All I do know is that we received that report that was done by CDR.”

The report, initiated as “a comprehensive effort to rehabilitate the city of Ogdensburg housing programs and to help the city restore its credibility with state and federal funding agencies,” said the city’s housing program was cited by state and local agencies multiple times from 2004 to 2009 for poor communication and documentation and inadequate reporting of financial transactions.

Mr. Murphy said that he never saw the report but that under his watch the housing program never received a bad audit from state and federal agencies.

“We were never cited for any violations,” he said.

Mr. O’Neill said city housing records back up the report’s findings. “We have found problems with files,” he said. “We can deduce what happened by what we see in the files and we can see now what the funders saw, but if they weren’t looking closely, they missed it.”

The report says that during Mr. Murphy’s leadership, the city was “found to have issues with basic file organization, project management and financial compliance that are inappropriate for a city with consistent staff and a long history of receiving this grant funding.”

Mr. O’Neill said Mr. Murphy, with a small staff, several programs and shifting state and federal regulations to manage, could not be blamed for the program’s issues. “It was a systemic issue. The whole program was the problem,” Mr. O’Neill said. “He had no idea he was doing anything wrong. It all came to light in 2007.”

Mr. Murphy, now Cortland village manager, defended his record. “Our success in obtaining hundreds of thousands of dollars year after year was due in part to our successful administration and implementation of the housing program,” he wrote. “As evidenced by C.W. Augustine’s record, state and federal agencies do not fund mismanaged housing programs.”

Mr. Murphy said Ogdensburg needs an active and well-administered housing program. “There is little doubt that Ogdensburg meets the need and demographic criteria for grant funding,” he said. “C.W. Augustine’s failure to articulate that need and demonstrate sound management practices has already cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant funding and contributed to the demise of the city’s once prominent housing program.”

The state did not fund any of Ogdensburg’s housing rehabilitation programs in its last round of grant announcements.

Mr. O’Neill said the city is reapplying for the grants and should have better luck this time.

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