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Ogdensburg Councilman’s attempt to fire housing admin falls short

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OGDENSBURG — The City Council came within a legal technicality of firing its housing administrator Monday night.

At its meeting, Councilor Wayne L. Ashley introduced a motion to reconsider a measure passed May 29 giving C.W. Augustine of DeKalb Junction its support to write applications for and administer state housing grants for the city.

“I would rather see the housing program be late a year and see that it is correctly done,” Mr. Ashley said.

Councilor William D. Hosmer seconded the motion.

City Attorney Andrew W. Silver advised council members they could not legally rescind their agreement with C.W. Augustine with a motion to reconsider. If not for that technicality, Mr. Ashley said, his measure would have passed.

C.W. Augustine was hired as administrator of the city’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program in 2010, but saw its responsibilities expand to the rest of the housing programs as it became clear the city would be cut off from federal and state funds unless leftover problems were cleaned up.

Deputy Mayor Michael D. Morley and Mr. Ashley have complained that the May 29 resolution was not presented to them in writing and was rushed through the council. Councilors were urged to give the program a vote of confidence by C.W. Augustine President James A. O’Neill ahead of a July 16 application deadline for state Consolidated Funding Applications.

“We got rid of our city planner and our city manager in part because the housing program stunk,” Mr. Morley said. “I can’t see giving this guy a pass when he was the one managing the thing.”

Mayor William D. Nelson spoke against terminating the city’s agreement with C.W. Augustine.

“We’re going to tell the city that we opted not to have any money available for the obvious need we have for housing rehabilitation because we — some of us, anyway — don’t like Jim O’Neill,” he said. “My concern is that we’re not going to have any grant application for the work that needs to be done.”

In 2011, the housing program came under scrutiny after it was revealed that a family had lived in a city-owned house for three years without paying rent or taxes. Council members then complained that large sums of money had been spent to rehabilitate relatively few houses and some homeowners were displeased with the quality of work done on their property.

Last week, Mr. O’Neill addressed the council’s concerns about poor allocation of funds, shoddy workmanship and infrequent or missed inspections by the housing program.

“I am concerned about the way he treated the citizens of Ogdensburg,” Councilor Jennifer Stevenson said. “I thought he was demeaning and condescending.” But she said the city might be best served by sticking with Mr. O’Neill’s company in the short term.

The council went into closed session to discuss C. W. Augustine’s contract with the city and whether the May 29 resolution was binding, reconvening after 30 minutes. “Based on our executive session and legal advice on contractual issues, I would like to withdraw the motion,” Mr. Ashley said.

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