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Expansion to Court Street parking lot back on Auburn City Council agenda

A planned expansion to the Court Street parking lot in Auburn is moving forward after the Auburn City Council sent the project back to the drawing board in September following residents' concerns

City staff has spent the past five months conducting a more thorough environmental review and working with Court Street residents to remedy concerns they had about the project, including issues with drainage, traffic and lack of green space.  

City Manager Jeff Dygert said those concerns have been addressed in the city's new long-form State Environmental Quality Review report and the city is working with Cayuga County to address some of the drainage issues in the parking lot of the county office building as well.     

"That work (with the county) in conjunction with what we're doing should take care of all the concerns and make the site better than it currently is," Dygert said.

The original plan for the parking lot expansion was to add 33 new spaces. The redesigned lot will have fewer parking spaces to improve traffic flow in the lot, Dygert said. The proposed lot will add 20 new spaces and include a parking kiosk. A timeline for the project had not yet been established, Dygert said, but he hopes construction can start as soon as possible, depending on the weather. 

The final copy of the SEQR is not yet complete, Corporation Counsel Stacy DeForrest said, but will be ready for the council approval on March 1. On Thursday, the council will vote to take charge of completing the environmental review by declaring itself the lead agency for the project.   

"The residents' concerns have been addressed and I think the environmental review and analysis has been very thorough," she said.  

The city plans to expand the lot as a way to compensate for some of the parking lost from the construction of the Equal Rights Cultural Heritage Center in the parking lot on Lincoln Street, which permanently closed Feb. 4

Coming this week: The Citizen Facebook Live interviews

The fourth — and at this point final — Democratic candidate running for the party's 24th Congressional District nomination will be joining The Citizens' Robert Harding for a Facebook Live interview today, Feb. 15.

Democratic congressional candidate Anne Messenger of Manlius will round out a day full of Facebook Live interviews when she sits down for a live discussion at 2 p.m. Thursday. The other three candidates hoping to challenge incumbent Republican John Katko have previously agreed to take part in Facebook Live discussions.

At 10 a.m. today, Democratic frontrunner Dana Balter will answer questions. Balter is a Syracuse University professor. Another Democratic candidate, Bill Bass, will participate in a live interview beginning at noon today. Bass is an environmental scientist who recently relocated to central New York. 

Scott Comegys, an alpaca farmer from Palmyra who is also running, did an interview Tuesday night.

All of the interviews this week will be streamed at The videos will be archived on The Citizen's Facebook page and posted on

The interviews will last at least 30 minutes and the candidates will not see the questions in advance of the interview.

To submit questions for the Facebook Live interviews, email Robert Harding at

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Auburn basketball player reinstated to team following school board discussion

AUBURN — An Auburn High School student who had been kicked off the Auburn boys basketball team after being accused of vaping in school has been reinstated, along with another unnamed athlete who had been removed from a different team earlier this year.

Al Brown said the school district superintendent informed him Wednesday that his stepson, senior Majesty Wilder, will be able to resume practicing Wednesday and playing in his team's remaining games. A sectional home playoff game is scheduled for Friday night.

Brown had complained to the district that his stepson's removal from the team following an incident Feb. 6 was unfair punishment. He had argued that Wilder denied he had been vaping when a teacher discovered a vapor cloud in a bathroom last week. Wilder and two other students were inside the bathroom at the time.

Brown also questioned the handling of other cases in which athletes may have violated the district's conduct code but did not receive the same punishment.

Going into Tuesday night's board of education meeting, where Brown spoke about his concerns, the district's had not reversed its decision to remove Wilder from the team.

But in a closed-door executive session in which specific students and staff were discussed, school board members concluded that there are inconsistencies between the district's overall conduct code and the athletic code of conduct regarding vaping prohibitions, Superintendent Jeff Pirozzolo said Wednesday. In addition to reinstating Wilder, the district is allowing another student to return to a different team.

"The relative language in the co-curricular code was somewhat ambiguous," Pirozzolo said. "We wanted to resolve the ambiguities in the students' favor."

The district now plans to work on updating language in the codes in time for the start of the spring sports season, and it will take a more comprehensive look at the need for more substantive changes in the spring.

Brown said he was also told that board members decided Wilder had been punished enough. The senior missed two regular season games and served a full day of in-school suspension last week.

"I just want to thank the superintendent and the board for hearing my points out," Brown said. "Majesty's really, really happy."

Report identifies Onondaga County jail as one of the 'worst offenders' in the state

The New York State Commission of Correction released a report Wednesday identifying the most problematic correctional facilities in the state, and one regional jail made the list. 

According to the report — titled "The Worst Offenders" — the Onondaga County Justice Center and Penitentiary was one of five facilities that consistently violated state law; the others were the New York City Rikers Island Facilities, the Greene County Jail, the Erie County Holding Center and Correctional Facility and the Dutchess County Jail.

"(Despite) the Commission's best efforts, some facilities still fail to meet minimum legal requirements for safe operation," the report said. "These facilities pose an ongoing risk to the health and safety of staff and inmates and, in instances, impose cruel and inhumane treatment of inmates in violation of their Constitutional rights."

Located in downtown Syracuse, the Onondaga County Justice Center opened in 1995 to house pre-arraigned, pre-trial and sentenced inmates. However, despite having 671 beds, the commission said the center has experienced significant overcrowding, and has turned to the penitentiary in Jamesville for help. 

In January, the Onondaga County Sheriff's Office assumed custody and control of the penitentiary, which previously housed only sentenced inmates and was under the control of the county executive branch. Now, the commission said the penitentiary also houses unsentenced "overflow inmates" from the justice center. 

While the transfer of control to the sheriff's office is expected to help with overcrowding, the report said the justice center may still need to add housing to at least one facility. 

"The county will likely take a wait-and-see approach as to the impact the merger will have on overall operations and available housing," the commission said. 

In addition to a lack of sufficient housing, the report said the justice center was short-staffed. In 2017, the commission said it identified several instances in which daily posts were not filled. At the time, the sheriff's office allegedly attributed the staffing deficiency to a provision that restricted or limited overtime. 

The commission also cited disciplinary, hygienic and screening violations at the justice center and penitentiary, noting that some inmates had little or no access to grievance forms, clothing and bedding, and proper detention classification. There were also some significant incident reports, including inmate disturbance, attempted suicide, assault and contraband at both facilities. 

In response to the report, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's chief counsel, Alphonso David, said the governor would thoroughly review the report and "demand focus and an expeditious resolution to these systemic, unconscionable and illegal conditions."

Meanwhile, the Onondaga County Sheriff's Office said the sheriff was "just made aware of the report and is reviewing the content."