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Ogdensburg council dismayed at lack of communication from mayor, staff

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OGDENSBURG — It’s hard to make good decisions in the dark, but that is where some City Council members feel they have been left.

On July 9, three city officials were notified that housing administrator C.W. Augustine of DeKalb Junction would not write Ogdensburg’s Community Development Block Grant application this year.

That information did not reach the City Council until July 18, Councilor William D. Hosmer said at Monday’s council meeting. “This letter is dated the 9th,” he said. “We didn’t receive anything until the 18th. That is unacceptable.”

James A. O’Neill, C.W. Augustine president, sent an email to Mayor William D. Nelson, interim City Manager Philip A. Cosmo and interim Director of Planning and Development Andrea L. Smith stating his intentions not to apply for any housing rehabilitation grant money on behalf of the city.

Mr. Nelson said it was Mr. Cosmo’s responsibility to notify the rest of the council of the email’s contents.

“I think Phil forgot to put it in the council’s update, because I read it after a meeting,” he said. “It wasn’t a big deal.”

Complicating matters, at the July 9 City Council meeting, Mr. Nelson proposed contacting the Development Authority of the North Country as an option should C.W. Augustine decline to write the applications. He claimed he did not know at the time that the company already had withdrawn.

“The big concern during the previous meeting of council was with C.W. Augustine, so I reached out to DANC for assistance,” Mr. Nelson said. “It was coincidence. It didn’t seem like an issue.”

Mr. Nelson’s fellow council members disagree. Councilor Wayne L. Ashley said Mr. Nelson’s position has no more powers than any other council seat.

“Each member of this council has one vote; therefore each member of this council is just as important as another is,” Mr. Ashley said. “Everybody should have a copy of this information at the same time. In the future, I’m not going to settle for anything less than being notified the same time as other people.”

The state Community Development Block Grant deadline is Aug. 17. Councilor William D. Hosmer expressed concern that C.W. Augustine’s late notification would harm the city’s chances to secure housing rehabilitation funds.

“I was critical of C.W. Augustine for waiting until the last minute to let us know, but in reality the city had known nine days,” he said. “It was discouraging to see that for nine days that information was withheld from us.”

Deputy Mayor Michael D. Morley said this is not the first time information has been withheld from the council.

“We’ve stressed this many times: the mayor gets information that the rest of the council doesn’t get, and we want that information. This is not a one-man show,” Mr. Morley said. “This is not the first time; we’ve complained about this in the past that the mayor hasn’t kept us informed.”

Councilor Daniel E. Skamperle said it is reminiscent of a recent city dispute.

“There’s certainly been times where perhaps a city manager did not forward us information when he probably should have,” he said. “There’s an awful lot where we probably should have known and we didn’t, and where does it get you but a whole lot of turmoil? It should be upfront and we’ll figure it out from there.”

Earlier this year, Ogdensburg terminated the contract of City Manager Arthur J. Sciorra without cause. Some councilors had earlier criticized him for allegedly failing to update the council frequently on the state of the housing program.

At that time, the council argued that withholding information crippled its ability to make good decisions. Mr. Hosmer said the same issue applies today.

“It is hard for city councilors to make decisions if we don’t have all the information,” he said. “It is hard if some people have all the information and others do not. As a group, we all need the same information so we can come to a decision that is based on the facts and not what we perceive them to be.”

Mr. Morley went a step further, claiming that city staff and Mr. Nelson control the flow of information to lead the council to certain choices.

“We have no ability to make decisions because we don’t have choices,” he said. “There’s one common thread that keeps us from getting information. You can figure out who I’m referring to.”

Ms. Smith deferred comment to Mr. Cosmo, who is on vacation and could not be reached.

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