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Confidentiality agreement silences comment on Knox Street case

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OGDENSBURG — A confidentiality agreement between City Manager Arthur J. Sciorra and J. Justin Woods, director of planning and development, is casting a shroud of secrecy over the issue of tenants living rent- and tax-free for three years in a city-owned property.

“Due to an agreement of confidentiality, I am unable to comment further on the matter,” Mr. Woods said Thursday.

Mr. Sciorra was out of the office Thursday and could not be reached on his mobile phone. He has not responded to multiple calls for comment this week.

The agreement comes after a meeting between the two men that involved counsel for Mr. Woods and City Attorney Andrew W. Silver. Mr. Silver was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

“I met with Art yesterday, but I am not at liberty to discuss what was said,” Mr. Woods said.

Michael D. Morley, a City Council member, said Thursday he was unaware of the existence of such an agreement.

“Apparently it is something that they drew up,” Mr. Morley said. “I didn’t know they had signed any confidentiality agreement.”

Other council members, including Mayor William D. Nelson, did not respond to calls for comment.

When asked for a copy of the confidentiality agreement, City Clerk Kathleen A. Bouchard directed Northern New York Newspapers Corp. to make a request under the state’s Freedom of Information Law. She has five business days to respond to the request.

The City Council is opening an investigation into the matter, which involves a house at 819 Knox St. that the city foreclosed upon in 2008. At the time the city took title, the property was occupied by a family who had previously rented from the man’s brother.

When the family received notice that the city owned the property, they sought a way to stay in the house, renovate it to bring it up to code and purchase it from the city.

After a lengthy process to secure the funds, the city rehabilitated the property using money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program.

Mr. Morley said he has requested detailed information documenting the city’s decision-making that led to the Knox Street affair, but he hasn’t been given any answers.

“I asked the city manager to get me copies of the information, and I’ve not received them yet,” Mr. Morley said.

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