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Ogdensburg council to discuss publicizing report Monday

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OGDENSBURG — Now that the election is over, the City Council is prepared again to address the housing controversy that has occupied much of its time over the past three months.

“I’d like to get back to business,” Councilman Daniel E. Skamperle said.

The council meets at 7 p.m. today. Mr. Skamperle has placed on the agenda an item that would make public a report investigating the sale of city-owned property at 819 Knox St. and 2 Grove St.

“I threw it on the agenda at the last minute,” Mr. Skamperle said. “I think it is important that the public has a better understanding of what took place.”

The report is the culmination of three months of discussion and argument over what should be done about the property at 819 Knox St., a city-owned house in which tenants were permitted to live for three years without paying rent or taxes. It later was revealed that the planned sale of the property to the tenants violated procedures passed by the City Council.

“Whether it supports what I say or not, the report is a public document,” Councilor Nicholas J. Vaugh said. “There is nothing in the report that shouldn’t be public. The people deserve it. The people want it out there.”

Mr. Skamperle’s resolution, which would make the document at the city clerk’s office open for public review and place another copy at the public library, might face some resistance Monday night.

“I think it is going to be tabled,” Deputy Mayor Michael D. Morley said. “We were told by our attorney to get the advice of an outside attorney before we release it. I think we should follow the advice of our counsel.”

City Attorney Andrew W. Silver recommended that the council seek legal advice before releasing the document, then recused himself from the matter. Despite his desire to follow Mr. Silver’s advice, Mr. Morley said he did not know why the report would have to remain confidential.

“I don’t see anything in it that can’t be made public,” Mr. Morley said. “I want it released as quickly as possible, but I want to do it legally.”

Mr. Morley said the council is preparing to review outside attorneys to advise it on the case, and action on the matter could take place by the end of the week.

“We have to speed this process up,” he said. “We’re coming into Thanksgiving time. I thought that this would be a 30-day process.”

Also on the council’s agenda is the lease of 819 Knox St. to its current tenants.

“Several months ago we asked (City Manager Arthur J. Sciorra) to bring a lease to us,” Mr. Skamperle said.

He said he would support the lease because it would enable the city to start collecting rent, and it will give the City Council an opportunity to make sure the tenants would be able to afford the house.

Mr. Vaugh concurred.

“In the short term we need to collect money on this property,” he said. “This family has lived there far too long paying nothing. I also think that we should look to recover any past rent, sewer, water and taxes from this family.”

The lease will face opposition from Mr. Morley.

“The way the lease has been drawn up, it is not a legal lease,” he said. “The process has not been followed.”

Mr. Morley said the lease should have been drawn up by the city manager and presented to the council for approval. After approval, the city manager and the party leasing the property could sign the document and rent could be collected. In this case, Mr. Sciorra and the tenants of the house already have signed a lease.

“Art’s already collecting rent,” Mr. Morley said. “He’s doing it now only because we screamed for him to get a lease. Where were his actions three years ago? Now he’s doing it to spite us.”

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