OGDENSBURG The Ogdensburg City Council passed a preliminary resolution to fire City Manager Arthur J. Sciorra with cause, claiming woeful misconduct, negligence and incompetence Monday evening.
In a 5-1 vote, the council moved to suspend Mr. Sciorra from all of his duties as city manager and began the process of his termination.
Regulations werent followed, legislation wasnt adhered to and our recommendations werent followed, Councilor Michael B. Powers said, arguing for passage of the resolution. Councilors Wayne L. Ashley and R. Storm Cilley, Mayor William D. Nelson and Deputy Mayor Michael D. Morley also voted in favor of the resolution.
Mr. Sciorra has five days to ask for a public hearing during which he may argue against his termination. If he chooses not to respond, the council may proceed with his removal.
If he does request a public hearing, the City Council must schedule it no sooner than 15 days and no later than 30 days after Mr. Sciorra receives a copy of the resolution. The council directed City Clerk Kathleen A. Bouchard to give Mr. Sciorra the resolution immediately.
The council appointed Assistant City Manager Philip A. Cosmo as interim city manager until a final resolution is passed or Mr. Sciorra is reinstated. Until that time, Mr. Sciorra will continue to receive a city paycheck.
The move comes after prolonged council debate surrounding the property at 819 Knox St., in which a family was allowed to live without paying rent or taxes for three years. The property became an issue after several reports in the Watertown Daily Times in August revealed the tenants had stayed in the property during renovation using funds from the citys Neighborhood Stabilization Program.
The councils resolution said Mr. Sciorra had failed to update it on the problems surrounding the property, with which the city became involved in the fall of 2008, despite being informed by City Comptroller Mr. Cosmo, interim city attorney A. Michael Gebo and former director of planning and development J. Justin Woods of the status of the property.
The resolution also said that Mr. Sciorra did not act on the recommendation of his department heads that the occupants be evicted, and that he did not seem familiar with the property when prompted. The council also said Mr. Sciorra delegated tasks to department heads that should have been his responsibility as city manager, such as pursuing eviction of the houses occupants or acquiring a lease for the property.
To sit on an issue for two and one half years and then to shift blame to department heads tells me all I need to know, Mr. Powers said.
Mr. Sciorra has alternately blamed Mr. Cosmo, Mr. Woods, Mr. Gebo and former city attorney Katherine H. Wears for the oversight that allowed the Knox Street issue to persist. The City Councils resolution stated that Mr. Sciorra had supervisory responsibility for the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. Because he was responsible for the appointment, review and removal of department heads, the council found that Mr. Sciorra should have handled the issue before it was made public.
Finally, the resolution said that Mr. Sciorra lied to the public, press and council members, because when asked about the property this year he claimed to have no knowledge of its issues.
The lone dissenter, Councilor Daniel E. Skamperle, said he did not think Mr. Sciorras actions warranted termination.
I think Art has done a bit of neglect of duty, he said. Woefully is another story. The record shows that he did give the orders and staff didnt follow through.
Mr. Skamperle said the Knox Street problem was a result of an honest mistake that was allowed to fall through the cracks.
If youre going to hold this kind of stuff against the city manager, youre going to go through a lot of city managers, he said.
Mr. Sciorra is considering suing the city, Mr. Nelson, Mr. Morley and Mr. Woods for defamation of character and breach of conduct for statements made about his performance as city manager during the investigation process. Mr. Morley and Mr. Nelson have each called for Mr. Sciorras resignation and brought preliminary resolutions to fire the city manager forward at the beginning of November.
Mr. Sciorra, who began his duties in February 2006, was the fifth city manager of Ogdensburg since the city adopted the council-manager form of government. He was unavailable for comment after the meeting.