Ogdensburg not seeking to follow city charter in election; attorney blames conflicts of interest
Sunday, September 8, 2019 - 8:11 am

BY JIMMY LAWTON

North Country This Week

OGDENSBURG -- Ogdensburg attorney Andrew Silver says conflicts of interest will prevent the city council from taking action to modify the November ballot to comply with the city charter.

“Please be advised that four members of the council have an apparent conflict of interest over this issue and therefore, the city lacks the requisite quorum and majority of council to request, petition, direct action or commence legal/equitable proceedings with regard to the issues raised in the letter,” a letter issued by Silver said.

The conflicts of interest stem from the incumbents being on the ballot they would seek to change. The incumbents include councilors Timothy Davis, David Price, Jennifer Stevenson and Michael Powers.

The notice, sent to the St. Lawrence County Board of Elections, came after write-in candidates for mayor and city council issued a letter claiming that primary elections for city council and the ballot for November did not properly follow the law as outlined in the city charter.

John Rishe and Jeffrey Michael Skelly, who are running for mayor and city council respectively, say that the city and board of elections erred in the handling of partial-term council seat that was vacated by Shawn Shaver earlier this year. Councilor Michael Powers was appointed to fill the position in March. While there are still two years remaining on the term, his appointment is only good until the November election.

Three other city council seats are also up for grabs in November. While there are four candidates on the ballot competing for those seats, Powers is running for his seat uncontested.

Rishe and Skelly say that the four candidates receiving the highest votes in November should fill all four seats at large, rather than have the partial term seat handled as a separate race.

Meanwhile, the Board of Elections says they can’t change the ballot without a judge’s order.

"We are required by state law to continue this process unless ordered by a Supreme Court judge to do otherwise. This process started in late February. Since that time we have received petitions, which no one challenged and conducted a primary, which no one challenged. Legally we can't just undo that," said St. Lawrence County Board of Elections Republican Commissioner Tom Nichols.

City Manager Sarah Purdy said it is not within her power to challenge the ballot on behalf of the city, and that without a quorum, the city council cannot vote to seek the litigation.