O'burg councilor says email from deputy mayor violated city charter
Thursday, February 20, 2020 - 1:02 pm

BY JIMMY LAWTON
North Country This Week

OGDENSBURG -- Ogdensburg City Councilor Michael Powers says an email from the deputy mayor to the city manager gave a directive that violated the city charter.

At issue is an email from John Rishe to City Manager Sarah Purdy that requested their correspondences be kept private, but Powers and other councilors contended that such information should be shared with the board.

North Country This Week obtained the email in question through a Freedom of Information Act request. The discussion between councilors occurred at a recent city council meeting.

"In the future, my requests for information and communications between you and me and anyone I copy are considered confidential. If I choose to share it with others, that’s my business," Rishe said in the email to Purdy.

Powers said that while he did not have an issue with anyone presenting questions to the city manager, all of the answers she provides should be given to the entire council.

Written and recorded communications between city officials are considered public documents, though some information can be redacted in cases where the information is deemed sensitive under state law.

The email prompted a discussion at a recent city council meeting, where Powers said he believed any councilor should be free to ask questions and consult the city manager, but said such interactions should not be kept from the rest of the board.

“I don't have any issue with asking questions,” Powers said. “What I have issue with is when direction is given by a certain individual in print where anything that they have deemed to share with anybody else is going to be confidential. Which puts (Sarah Purdy) in a precarious situation for the simple fact that she reports to the council as a whole,” he said.

“I don't have a problem with the questions and or endeavors that you’re looking to pursue to advance the city. That’s what we’re all here for,” he said. “But when direction is given to the city manager, in an email request and copied by a certain individual and cc’d to somebody else I take issue with that because it does violate the city charter.”

Councilor Dan Skamperle said anyone making lengthy requests of the city manager which would take a significant amount of time to fill should go through council as a whole. He said an email sent to the city manager, which included many requests, should have been discussed with council first in public session.

“From now on when somebody wants information, just throw it out here. Items for discussion, whatever,” he said.

Councilor Steven Fisher said he believed councilors should be able to request information from the city manager and department heads and have time to review the responses before needing to bring it to the council.

He said this allows for him to research and determine whether or not there are issues worth raising to the council.

City council took no action on the matter, but councilor Rishe referred to it as a moot point, now that it has been raised publicly.

A video of the city council meeting can be found here.