To listen to the audio recording of the Syracuse City Council meeting go to: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/24713501 or http://www.syracuseut.com/
SYRACUSE -- The political divide between Mayor Jamie Nagle and some members of the city council, exposed by ongoing discussions about a potential development near Syracuse High School, has reached the point that even a simple gesture like an opening prayer has become a point of division.
Nagle took aim at four members of the city council during Tuesday's meeting, after efforts to create an economic development project area plan in a location near the high school ran into a stop sign. A motion to approve the plan died for lack of a second, without even a word from four members of the city council.
The mayor claimed the council members were guilty of private discussions on the issue outside council chambers and a lack of transparency.
She also alleged that Councilman Larry Shingleton's invocation to open the meeting contained what he said the mayor termed a "veiled threat." Clear audio of the prayer was unavailable and a microphone for the councilman did not pick up the prayer clearly for most participants to hear well.
Council members Brian Duncan, Shingleton, Craig Johnson and Karianne Lisonbee all took issue with the mayor over her charges.
The mayor does not back off the idea the prayer was used inappropriately.
"His 'prayer' thanked the Lord for the opportunity to represent the true voice of the people and let the people's voices be heard in planning the correct way for the city. They weren't threats, they were jabs made under the premise of a prayer," Nagle said in an email Wednesday.
"I don't recall his specific words but that was the gist of his prayer. My comments were directed at that. Using a prayer as a bully pulpit to give insight, when there was a refusal by the council during time for discussion to give any insight as to why they were denying the EDA, is absolutely wrong and in my opinion totally sacrilegious," Nagle said in the email.
Shingleton was caught off guard by criticism of the prayer and he denied after the meeting using the forum to promote any agenda.
Nagle and council members met as the board of the Redevelopment Agency minutes before the regular council meeting. The board meeting came to a quiet halt after the project area plan died for lack of a second.
Bruce Baird, an attorney for Ninigret Group L.C., developer of the proposed project, used the public comment period of the council meeting to ask questions related to the RDA action.
"We're asking for guidance for where we go next ... Is it something that can be fixed? I don't know what your questions are. I think the project is in the best interest of the city. As it sits now, everyone is in limbo. I'm asking for guidance on where we go next," Baird said.
Nagle took a moment to address Baird's question, and sparks followed.
"I do not have any direction for you ... I wish I could give you direction. It's unfortunate. When we try and figure out how to develop a property, I wish I had some guidance for you, but I don't," Nagle said.
Lisonbee interrupted the mayor during her response, and that ignited a point-counterpoint discussion over transparency.
"Your accusation is totally false," Lisonbee said of council members conspiring on the issue.
Duncan said the mayor's assertion implied there was discussion outside of the regular meeting.
"Is that illegal?" Duncan asked.
"Is it illegal? It is not. Is it best practice? It is absolutely not," Nagle said.
Later in the meeting, the issue came up again during council discussion and then the mayor's report.
Duncan bristled at the idea he was guilty of a lack of transparency.
"It's absolutely ridiculous. I never hide my agenda. Any insinuation that I am doing something underhanded, not open or public, is not well-taken," Duncan said.
Shingleton said he is concerned when accusations are made.
"Unfortunately, it happens quite often," he said.
Lisonbee renewed her claim that the accusations made by Nagle were untrue.
But the mayor did not back down when it came her time to give her report.
"The accusations were absolutely true. When I hear that council members call and say, 'We've talked about this,' those are conversations that are happening. Are they in violation of the open meetings law? You can say it's not happening, but it's not true. It is what it is," Nagle said.
She then pointed out that even Shingleton's opening prayer had contained a veiled threat.
Shingleton countered, telling mayor she was out of line, and got up and walked out of the meeting.
Several council members were bristling in the foyer of the city building following the meeting, saying they had not talked about the project area plan among themselves. Johnson said he was shocked at the silence surrounding the RDA motion, but said there was no preconceived notion of what would happen on the issue.
In her email on Wednesday, Nagle claimed the council's ideology is crippling the city's efforts to bring jobs to the area.
Ninigret has said as many as 1,200 jobs would come to the city with the light-manufacturing project near Syracuse High School.