JAMESTOWN – The Jamestown City Council and Mayor Sam Teresi were on the defensive during Monday night’s council voting session, fending off criticism and attacks from several members of the public who spoke during the meeting’s public comment session.
A total of five individuals spoke to the council, including Falconer Mayor James Rensel. Rensel has attended several past city council meetings to question and criticize officials about the ongoing annexation effort, in which the city is trying to annex a piece of property it owns, but lies within the village of Falconer/Town of Ellicott. The proposed annexation of the Jamestown Board of Public Utilities‘ Dow Street Substation is currently awaiting to be reviewed and decided on in State Appellate Court in Rochester.
During Monday’s meeting, Rensel focused his attention on a past proposal involving the the Falconer Volunteer Fire Department that he said was purported to create an annual $2 million savings for the city. That proposal was initially discussed more than 14 years ago, when the city was considering ways to cut public safety costs. It was brought up again earlier this year during the May 22 voting session when several individuals from Falconer and the Town of Ellicott addressed the council to voice their concern’s with the annexation.
Rensel even cited the former Falconer Fire board member Steve Vanstrom and former Jamestown deputy fire chief Lance Hedlund, saying they both confirm the plan existed and was reviewed and eventually turned down by city officials at the time. He then called out city councilman and finance committee chair Tony Dolce for not remembering the plan, which put Dolce on the defensive.
“Mr. Dolce’s comment was, as a recall, ‘I don’t remember that occurring. Well Mr. Dolce…”
“Excuse me. That is not true,” Dolce said, interrupting Rensel’s comment. “And I want to tell you right now, I did my homework and I asked the fire department… they said it was a bunch of crap that was made up. It didn’t exist. It didn’t happen, so don’t stand up there and make those types of comments and put those words in my mouth.”
Near the end of the meeting, Dolce again took time out to address the plan Rensel was referring too.
“I don’t recall a meeting because I was not invited and so I reached out to a bunch of people [following the May 2017 meeting],” Dolce said. “I’d have to believe that if there was a $2 million savings, then we would have pursued that. I reached out to the former city council presidents and former members of council that were here at the time, and also current deputy fire chief Chet Harvey. No one could recall, although those meetings may have taken place, that there was anything of substance that came out of it.”
Jamestown Mayor Sam Teresi, who was also mayor at the time to purported plan was first discussed, also addressed the statements made by Rensel, although Rensel had left the meeting before hearing Teresi’s response.
“The only thing that I can recall of a proposal during my tenure – and before my tenure here because it comes up periodically – was a proposal that was brought forth by local 1772 of the Jamestown Professional Firefighters Association to allow them to staff up and ramp up a paid personnel, equipment, and facilities to run a 24-7 professional ambulance service within the operation of the fire department and go head-to-head with a private sector provider of those services – Alstar, that is a division of taxable WCA services division – with the wild claim that it would result in $2 million in net revenues and savings to the taxpayers of Jamestown…. It’s been shown that not only does the plan not produce a savings, it would actually create $1.5 to 2 million in net losses to the city,” Teresi said.
Others who spoke to the city included Jamestown resident and Falconer property owners Raven Mason, who returned for the second month in a row to accuse the city council for not having a full discussion on the annexation, either amongst themselves or with the public.
During the council’s August meeting, Mason had posed 12 questions prior to the vote on the annexation and the council didn’t address any of them prior to voting in favor of the annexation later in the meeting. She also accused council president Greg Rabb for discouraging her from attending meetings and asking questions.
“I’m concerned about having received an informal letter from the city council president that clearly implied that if I had any public remarks, questions, or concerns, I should not address them publicly but instead call a private cell phone number instead of in the public venue…”
“I have to interrupt you,” Rabb then said. “That is not what I said. I said that if you had any concerns that you would like to discuss further I would be happy to meet with you anytime. But I didn’t not tell you not to bring them up in public.”
Following the meeting, Rabb explained why he sent her a message and directed her to call him to discuss further, adding that it wasn’t intended to be interpreted as discouragement to attend future meetings.
“I just offered [my cell number], I thought generously, and I will continue to do this,” Rabb said, saying he gives it out to all constituents. “I say to people that if they have an issue that I can’t deal with right now, or if they give me an issue I’ll say let me go to city hall, give me a few days, and then call me. So I think that’s a public service.”
Mason also told WRFA after the meeting that she was appreciative of Rabb and Teresi’s response to her concerns, but also said that city officials need to work harder at encouraging and participating in public discourse with constituents before weighing in on controversial issues.
“I’m not trying to criticize from the point of right or wrong. I’m trying to establish truth here and establish transparency, and that people could feel comfortable enough to address it publicly. Maybe not so much as a debate, but getting clarity and transparency so that we know what is going on in our city,” Mason said.
Others who spoke to the council included resident Chris Gardner, who challenged Rabb and other city officials for not fully answering his past questions that he posed during public comment regarding the annexation, including who was the city official who was the original sponsor of the annexation proposal.
Teresi responded by telling Gardner he didn’t know off the top of his head who the specific BPU board member was, only that it came as a recommendation from BPU General Manager David Leathers and that neither he nor Rabb – who both sit on the BPU board – sponsored it because city officials serving on the BPU don’t typically sponsor BPU resolutions. He also urged Gardner to call the city clerk’s office or BPU secretary and ask them to review the minutes to identify the sponsor, or to simply look it up in the meeting minutes that have been posted online.
According to the BPU minutes for the January 2017 meeting, the resolution was sponsored by BPU member Ralph Wallace and approved unanimously 7-0, with both Rabb and fellow council member and BPU member Maria Jones absent.