BY JIMMY LAWTON North Country Now OGDENSBURG — Two former city councilors and a long-time board of education member are running on the Democratic ticket for Ogdensburg City Council. Longtime city …
BY JIMMY LAWTON
North Country Now
OGDENSBURG — Two former city councilors and a long-time board of education member are running on the Democratic ticket for Ogdensburg City Council.
Longtime city resident Michael Tooley is eyeing the mayoral seat while Jennifer Stevenson and Storm Cilley will run for city council seats.
Seats currently held by Steve Fisher, Bill Dillabough, John Rishe and Mayor Jeffrey Skelly are up for grabs in November. It’s unclear at this time if any of them plan to run again.
During their tenure as council members the city has undergone drastic cuts to staff, seen significant cuts to taxes and several legal battles.
City council meetings are often contentious, as is the current relationship between the city and county.
Tooley’s hoping to push the reset button on things and is hoping to see a change in tone.
Tooley comes to the table with a strong background in finance having served as the chief fiscal officer for the Ogdensburg Diocese. He also served as business manager for Morristown Central School and served on the Ogdensburg City School District Board of Education for 10 years.
Tooley says he’s hoping things can be less personal if he’s elected mayor. He knows disagreements can exist but wants to see them handled with less animosity.
“When people disagree with one another there is no need to make the disagreement turn personal,” he said.
Tooley said that in recent years he’s seen council members make personal attacks on social media, use the city website as a platform to criticize county legislator candidates and create a poor atmosphere between council and staff. He says such actions are inappropriate.
Tooley, who frequents city council meetings and often provides critiques, criticisms suggestions and sometimes praise, said that he tries to be balanced in his approach.
Tooley has been vocal in sharing his concerns about the city’s decision to cut taxes by 20% in recent years and as well as the city’s decision to keep this year’s hike to just 2%. He said the cuts were too aggressive given the uncertainty of the city’s new sales tax formula.
Tooley thinks council has done too much, too fast, but added that he believes their intention was to make the city a better place.
“I think every council has made attempts, in their own way, to make things better and I do think that is true with the current council. I just don’t agree with everything that they’ve done to get there,” he said. “I want to see if a new city council can take a step forward and help things in the city improve,” he said.
Tooley is a long-time Republican, but recently switched parties. He said he’s always considered himself a moderate as far as politics go.
Storm Cilley, a former city councilor who served on city council from 2010 to 2013, has a lengthy background in education and is a long-time member and chief of the Ogdensburg Volunteer Rescue Squad. He has been among those who have shared their criticism of former City Manager Stephen Jellie and the many decisions made by council in the past three years. He said he was urged to run for office by members of the public.
“After these guys kind of started destroying our city, I got frustrated with it,” he said.
Cilley said many approached him about running for mayor, but said he believed Tooley had a stronger background for that seat.
Like Tooley though, he said he wants to rebuild relationships between state and county officials that he believes have been destroyed in recent years. Even more, Cilley wants to rebuild trust with staff and citizens of the City of Ogdensburg.
Cilley says recent cuts to public safety jobs have hurt the city, whether it be reductions in the police force or the fire department. He said the city lost a lot of great employees who can’t easily be replaced.
Cilley said he’s also skeptical of the current council’s presentation of numbers. He wants to see the comptroller’s position restored and adequately staffed.
“I feel with my experience and the community’s support we can get things back on track,” he said.
Cilley said he would make no promises about “fixing” all the city’s problems, but said he wants to see the city council become a more honest and open government.
Stevenson is owner of Blue Heron Realty and community volunteer. She has often criticized council for its lack of decorum and had encouraged council to seek guidance on government operations as well as how to properly run meetings.
She served on the city council from 2012-2020. She said she was asked by city residents to run for council in recent years.
Stevenson said that if elected she wants to see the council work toward balancing expenses with services and rebuild relationships with county and state officials.
"I know it’s a struggle for most people to pay taxes, water and sewer but there has to be a balance between taxes and services," she said.
Stevenson said she also wants to see civility return to the council.
"We have to work as a team, whether it be council, mayor, city staff, other municipalities, elected officials. We need to be able to have civil conversations."