FULTON – Following a public hearing at last night’s Common Council meeting, the last meeting for three councillors and Mayor Ronald Woodward, the council made the decision to approve a change in the city charter regarding residency requirements for certain city employees.
The city charter, before last night’s vote, states “no person shall be elected or appointed to any City office, other than City Engineer and City Attorney, unless he shall at the time be a resident elector of said city…” If a person who lived outside Fulton accepted the position, they would have an allotted period of time to move to the city.
Last night, Tuesday, Dec. 17 was the second public hearing on this matter. The council did not vote after the previous public hearing last month on Tuesday, Nov. 19.
The council had initially proposed to change the law by including city engineer, city attorney, commissioner of public work, chief of police, deputy chief of police, city clerk chamberlain, deputy city clerk chamberlain and assistant city clerk chamberlain.
However, it has since been changed to only include city engineer, city attorney, chief of police and deputy chief of police. With this change, which was approved, this allows for those city employees to live outside Fulton, but must live within the county of Oswego.
The current police chief, Orlo Green III, is set to retire Dec. 27 this year, leaving the need to fill the position quickly. During the meeting it was said there had been three candidates to fill Green’s seat, but none lived in the city. Out of the three, Deputy Chief Craig Westbrook was chosen to become the next chief of police.
Cathy Trowbridge, administrative assistant to the mayor, spoke to provide some insight to the past month’s discussions. She said she knows this issue is emotional for a lot of people in the city.
Trowbridge said that after this change is made to include the chief and deputy chief, the new council should take the time to workshop the issue and get further input from the community before proposing further change.
“We do believe that Mr. Westbrook is the best man for the job; he was elected unanimously,” Trowbridge said. “It’s just a small change and then a future study.”
Ten members of the Fulton community spoke during the public hearing.
During the public hearing the two main arguments Fulton residents made in regards to changing the residency requirements were to vote in favor of the change because they wanted the best and most qualified person to fill such an important city position, and to vote against the change because they wanted the people who work for Fulton and receive its tax dollars to in turn live in the city and contribute to its taxes as well.
Other residents suggested the council to hold off on voting on the change to allow the next administration to handle it, to put it on next year’s ballot as a referendum for the people to decide, and/or to put in a grandfather clause so some positions would not have to move if they got a promotion.
Frank Castiglia, resident of Fulton and county legislator, argued against the change. He said since this law has not been changed since the city charter was founded over 100 years ago, it was for a reason. Castiglia said city officials have been pushing that Fulton is a great city to live in, but this change would go against that.
“Basically, what I’m saying is that if you want to earn our taxpayer money, then you must live in our city,” Castiglia said. “If our city isn’t good enough to live in, then it isn’t good enough for you to collect our taxpayer money.”
Fulton PD Investigator Mike Curtis, who was one of the candidates for chief, spoke in favor of the change. He said out of the 55 possible candidates, about five of them live in the city.
“The Police and Fire Commission made an excellent choice in Craig Westbrook,” Curtis said. “When we talk about residency, we cannot put residency in front of public safety. Public safety should always be our priority.”
He said in the 19 years he has spent on the police force in Fulton, he has seen many people in the police department who would make sacrifices for the people of Fulton regardless of where they live.
Curtis also said it is necessary to make accommodations for the best candidate because in today’s climate less and less young people want to become police officers.
After the public hearing was closed, the council left the courtroom to go into executive session. When they returned, the council voted to approve the change to the city charter. The only councilor who voted against it was Sam Vono, fourth ward.
This meeting was the last for Mayor Ronald Woodward, Second Ward Councilor Dave Ritchie, Fourth Ward Councilor Sam Vono and Fifth Ward Councilor Dennis Merlino.