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Ogdensburg council member launches telephone attack campaign against mayor

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OGDENSBURG — A City Council member who launched a telephone campaign Tuesday accusing Mayor William D. Nelson of creating a ‘public circus’ surrounding the 819 Knox St. issue has drawn the ire of the city’s Republican chairman and a fellow council member who is calling for his censure.

A recorded phone message from Republican Councilor Nicholas J. Vaugh that targeted city residents Tuesday accuses former city Planner J. Justin Woods of lying about City Manager Arthur J. Sciorra’s involvement in decisions leading up to a family being allowed to live in the city-owned Knox Street house for three years without paying rent or taxes.

The recording, which says it is an “urgent message” from Mr. Vaugh, also questions Mr. Nelson’s leadership.

Mr. Vaugh and Mr. Nelson are both Republicans. Mr. Nelson is seeking re-election in November against independent candidate Jack F. McGrath. Mr. Vaugh is not seeking a second term.

“Justin Woods defied the city manager’s directive and the City Council’s policy by allowing a family to live at 819 Knox St. Clearly we have all been misled by Justin Woods,” Mr. Vaugh said in the recording, a copy of which was obtained by Northern New York Newspapers. “What is most disturbing is the mayor and deputy mayor (Michael D. Morley) knew this information, and now they claim they were not informed and now support what they know is not true. Unfortunately, due to a lack of leadership, Mayor Nelson has permitted and participated in a public circus, all in a desperate and miscalculated attempt for political gain.”

Mr. Sciorra has said Mr. Woods acted without his knowledge on the Knox Street property, a claim Mr. Woods has denied. Mr. Nelson has called for Mr. Sciorra to resign, saying the city manager misled the City Council about his involvement in the Knox Street matter. The call for Mr. Sciorra’s resignation led Mr. Vaugh earlier this month to ask the council to publicly reprimand the mayor. His request got no support from the rest of the council.

“My first thought that came to mind is ‘there he goes again,’” Mr. Nelson said. “He raised motions that the elected officials of the city did not support, so now he’s throwing a temper tantrum. He’s making accusations, unfortunately, when he hasn’t looked at the documentation and he’s listening to information from only one side.”

City Republican Committee Chairman Frederick P. Bean said Tuesday he is baffled by Mr. Vaugh’s actions.

“I don’t know what to say,” Mr. Bean said. “I’ve been sitting here shaking my head.”

Mr. Bean said the Republican Committee had nothing to do with the call.

“I’m obviously not happy with it. I think it’s a very inappropriate thing to do, and I’m not sure what the motive is behind it,” he said. “The city committee is behind Mayor Nelson 100 percent. Nick Vaugh is doing this specifically on his own. It seems he has put himself on this personal crusade.”

Fellow Republican Councilor R. Storm Cilley denounced Mr. Vaugh’s actions Tuesday in an email message.

“Councilor Vaugh is completely out of line and deserves to be censured for this stunt,” Mr. Cilley said in the message.

The recording opens with Mr. Vaugh saying, “City Council knows Justin Woods is lying about the truth behind directives from the city manager in regards to 819 Knox St. and the Main Street program.” Mr. Cilley said Mr. Vaugh is wrong to speak for the entire council.

“I do not know that Justin Woods is lying. To date, I have seen nothing to prove that fact to me,” Mr. Cilley said in his statement. “He is repeating facts provided to the council by City Manager Art Sciorra during an executive session. I have no proof that what Mr. Sciorra told us during that meeting was true. I have only the word of the two men that their statements were, in fact, truthful. I have called upon Mr. Vaugh to make a public apology for his statement, in the same manner in which he made his statement.”

Mr. Vaugh did not return a phone call seeking comment.

“It’s unfortunate that Councilor Vaugh continues to make comments about my employment that are personnel matters in breach of the separation agreement, which says they won’t make any negative or malicious comments about my employment,” Mr. Woods said.

He declined further comment. An agreement signed by him and Mr. Sciorra setting the terms for Mr. Woods’s resignation bars either party and city officials from publicly making disparaging remarks about each other. Mr. Morley said the recording echoed a statement Mr. Vaugh made at Monday’s council meeting that was inaccurate.

“I asked him to correct his statement. I wish he would have made those corrections because he’s making a fool out of himself,” Mr. Morley said. “His opinions are his opinions and do not represent the whole City Council.”

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