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Politics & Government

Almost Business as Usual: Syracuse Common Councilors Hold First Virtual Meeting

Scott Willis

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many family, business, and government meetings to be held virtually, and that includes Monday’s Syracuse Common Council meeting.

"Will the clerk please call the roll," said Council President Helen Hudson.

"Yes, madame president," said City Clerk John Copanas, as he called out councilors' names.  

For probably the first time in the city’s history, councilors were not present in chambers for a regular voting session.  Instead, with permission from the governor’s office, they voted remotely via web conference.  One of the items on the agenda was to approve a labor agreement between the city and the police union, and to amend the budget to cover the $20 million additional cost over the 4.5 year contract.  This is the same deal that councilors rejected twice before.  Councilor Tim Rudd has led the opposition.

"There are three questions:  How much does it cost, what value do we get, how do we pay.  Over time, the answers just fell short.   In the simplest terms, we just don't have the money to pay for this contract.  With that, I introduce it, and I urge everyone to vote against it." 

Credit Scott Willis / WAER News
City Clerk John Copanas, front, and Deputy Clerk Patricia McBride document the proceedings.

And they did, by a margin of 8 to 1, with councilor Joe Carni the lone yes vote.  This most likely means the contract will go to arbitration, where a third party will try to reach some middle ground.  The contract details were hashed out for months between the Walsh administration and union leaders, who agreed the educational, second language, and longevity incentives are needed to make the department competitive in recruiting and retaining officers.  Police Chief Kenton Buckner pleaded with councilors in December to plan for the future of the police force, which he says is in a crisis.  


Councilors took action Monday to free up funds to repair parts of city hall severely damaged by a water pipe break over the weekend.  Chief Administrative Officer Frank Caliva says it burst in the mayor's suite, and ran for about 12 hours flooding the payment office below.  Councilors needed to approve the payment of the $100,000 insurance deductible.  Caliva says they're still getting estimates for the work that needs to be done.

"The first thing that needs to be done is asbestos abatement in order for the ceiling to be repaired.  They think there may be asbestos in the floor underneath the carpet tiles, and they think that may be the case in the mayor's suite as well."

Caliva says it'll take about a week of preparation, then asbestos removal will take two to three weeks.  The estimated cost of that alone is at least $170,000.  He says they're trying to  dry out and salvage equipment, as well as freeze-drying about 12 cartons of documents.