OSWEGO, NY – At Wednesday’s committee meeting, councilors spent more than a half hour debating the pros and cons of making the assistant city attorney ‘the Common Council’s attorney.”
Councilor Pat McLaughlin made the proposal in the wake of last month’s imbroglio involving the sewer contract between the city and Oswego Town.
Kevin Caraccioli is the city’s attorney. He is also Oswego Town’s Council. He staunchly denies any improprieties occurred during negotiations.
The call for a council attorney is “much to do about nothing,” according to Caraccioli.
“I try very hard to keep any potential conflicts away. This was a very direct way of doing that; having (assistant city attorney) Tom Reynolds negotiate the contract for the city. I handled the negotiations for the town of Oswego. Ultimately at the end of the day both the Common Council and the town board looked at those agreements … and voted on them on their own merits with very little discussion. We were open and very transparent about it,” Caraccioli told Oswego County Today. “I think we achieved a very fair agreement. I think a byproduct of this is the council will become more active in contract negotiations and I welcome that.”
Historically, both the city attorney and assistant city attorney have been more than capable with assisting the mayor and council on legal issues, he said.
“It’s always worked that way. It’s worked well that way,” Caraccioli said after the meeting. “And, it’s worked well that way this year. I don’t see a need to change that.”
He added that he respects the concerns and questions of the councilors.
Councilor Nate Emmons said he didn’t understand the need. The council has access to other legal services, if the need arises, he pointed out.
However, Councilor Eric VanBuren said he felt the council should have its own attorney, in-house.
“I’m curious as to why this is an issue now,” Emmons said.
Both of the city’s attorneys are appointed by the mayor; they serve at the pleasure of the mayor, not the council, VanBuren said.
Nancy Sterio, personnel director, pointed out there is a host of other reactions that come into play if the council were to move ahead with the proposal, among them civil service issues.
“None of the councilors have approached me regarding this subject. It sounds as if you’re trying to create a new position. Doing that, there is Civil Service Law … that must be followed,” she told the councilors. “You can’t just arbitrarily create a position, without following the Civil Service Laws.”
Councilor Robert Corradino said he believes this proposal came out of the city – town of Oswego sewer deal.
The current set-up has worked fine for a number of years, he added.
He likened the situation to a person getting a paper cut. You can go crazy and go to the emergency room and ask for stitches as a knee-jerk reaction of you can just go to the medicine cabinet and get a Band-Aid, he said.
The knee-jerk reaction for the council would be “making this big huge decision of changing the charter,” he said.
Caraccioli said he’d like to see the councilors take a more active roll in contract negotiations.
“Frankly that’s what they were elected for and that’s what they should be doing,” he said. “I’d like to see them at the table, for all negotiations working with their legal representatives. That would make a much stronger contract for everyone.”
“My whole intention was to get a conversation going, not so confrontational,” McLaughlin said. “We need to do more research into what has to be done and how to go about it. I think it will happen this year, just not sure when. It all will have to be looked at. But, it will still be cheaper than having an outside legal opinion when we need it.”
No action was taken on the proposal.