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The Citizen file 

Brittney Cunningham works on an ice sculpture at the 2017 IGNITE the Winter festival in Auburn.

Auburn City Council will vote to settle lawsuit over collection of contaminated oil

The city of Auburn is set to settle a civil lawsuit brought by a waste management company stemming from an incident that took place in the summer of 2009. 

On Thursday, the Auburn City Council will vote to approve a $30,000 payment to Safety Kleen over contaminated oil the company collected from the city landfill. 

In the past, residents were able to dispose of used motor oil at the landfill. However, the city did not have a system in place to test the oil that was disposed, nor did the city have a record keeping system to determine who used the service. The city relied on residents to "do the right thing" and not dispose of oil they knew was contaminated, Assistant Corporation Counsel Nate Garland said.  

"Were there procedures set up by the city to catch that? Not so much," he said. "That's what caused the situation to happen, unfortunately."

According to a 2013 lawsuit filed in Monroe County by Relin, Goldstein and Crane on behalf of Safety Kleen, on June 25, 2009, the waste management company picked up oil contaminated with PCBs from the city landfill, which was a violation of the agreement between the city and Safety Kleen.   

That same day, the Safety Kleen collection truck also picked up oil from several auto shops in Auburn and Skaneateles. At some point after that, Safety Kleen discovered the oil in its tanker was contaminated with PCBs, Garland said. The next day, on June 26, Safety Kleen came back to each stop and took samples to find out which location had the toxic chemicals. Tests determined the oil came from the Auburn landfill.  

On Sept. 18, 2009, Safety Kleen sent the city a bill for $77,897 to cover the costs the company incurred from "analyzing the non-conforming oil, remediation and emergency response, reimbursement to (Safety Kleen) customers, transportation and disposal of the contaminated oil/waste," according to the lawsuit.  

The city pushed back, denying the allegations and accusing Safety Kleen of not following its own testing policy. The city argued that Safety Kleen should have tested the oil before collecting it. It remains unclear if a sample was ever taken before collection, Garland said. 

"Record keeping wasn't great on both sides," Garland said of the 2009 incident.  

After years of back-and-forth between then-Corporation Counsel John Rossi and then-Assistant Corporation Council Andrew Fusco and Safety Kleen's attorneys, the waste management company agreed to settle the lawsuit out of court. On Feb. 7, Safety Kleen accepted the city's offer of $30,000 to settle the case. 

The city stopped accepting used oil for disposal at the landfill shortly after this incident. 

Garland called the outcome a "relatively positive settlement."  

"We take very seriously how we spend or direct taxpayer money and we think this is a good result," Garland said.

Safety Kleen and its attorneys declined to comment for this story as the litigation is still pending.  

The Citizen file 

Bulldozers push trash at the top of a hill at the city of Auburn landfill off North Division Street.

NY lawmakers honor state champion Skaneateles football team

The state champion Skaneateles Lakers football team received a hero's welcome in Albany Wednesday. 

The team, led by head coach Joe Sindoni, was honored by members of the state Assembly and Senate. A resolution celebrating the Lakers' achievement was already approved by the state Legislature

State Sen. John DeFrancisco, who represents Skaneateles, hosted the Lakers and recognized the team during their visit to the Senate chamber. 

"Each of the students and each of the players, I understand, know what team ball is, and that's going to bode well for all of you for the rest of your lives," DeFrancisco, R-DeWitt, said. 

After DeFrancisco's remarks, the senators gave the Lakers a standing ovation. 

The Lakers defeated Holy Trinity to capture the state Class C championship in November. The state title game was played at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse. 

Patrick Hackler, the Lakers' quarterback, had 187 passing yards and three touchdowns in the win. Running back Areh Boni rushed for 176 yards and a touchdown. Nick Wamp was the team's leading receiver with four catches for 86 yards and a touchdown. 

It is customary for championship-winning high school sports teams to be honored by the Legislature. Last year, the state Legislature recognized the Moravia boys basketball team after the Blue Devils won the state Class C title

The recognition from state lawmakers wasn't the only highlight of the day for the Lakers. Sindoni said they received a tour of the Capitol and DeFrancisco's office held a pizza party for the group. 

Sindoni relished the opportunity to spend the day with his team. 

"It was really nice being with the kids again as a group and seeing them all one last time as a team," he said. "We've had a good time." 

Weedsport village board to hire law firm to deal with employee issue

WEEDSPORT — During a special meeting on Wednesday, the Weedsport Board of Trustees went into an executive session to discuss pending litigation with an unidentified village employee, with Mayor Jean Saroodis insisting that an additional attorney join the executive session.

The meeting came two weeks after a regular village board meeting on Feb. 14 in which Trustee Chris Lukins was released from his responsibilities as deputy mayor by Saroodis. At the Feb. 14 meeting Saroodis also said issues prevented the village from being able to approve Feb. 8 meeting meeting minutes. The village has refused to make the meeting minutes public, possibly in violation of the state's open meeting law.

The mayor asked the village attorney, David Thurston, if he had anything for the board on Wednesday night.

"I'll defer to the board, it's up to you guys," Thurston said.

"I move to go into executive session to discuss pending litigation with an employee," said Trustee Steve Sims.

All trustees were in favor but Saroodis did not cast a vote. Village Clerk Jeannine Powers later said the mayor typically vocalizes her vote, either aye or no, unlike tonight.

"With that we will go into executive session. But I ask that, a representative of the employee is here, his attorney is here, and I ask that he be able to stay. I can do that," Saroodis said.

Trustee Harry Hinman asked Saroodis to restate her request.

"A representative of the employee is here, on his behalf, an attorney, and he can be asked to stay in the executive session," Saroodis clarified. A long pause followed her remark. "Do I have a vote?"

When trustees did not initiate a vote, Saroodis declared: "Then we won't go into executive session."

After a long pause, Trustee Chere Perkins made a motion to allow the attorney, "so we can continue with this matter."

"Do I have a second?" Saroodis said. "Do I have a second?" she repeated. "We made a motion that he attend the executive session. You can do that."

After a long pause, Hinman asked who the attorney was, and Saroodis said his name was Richard Graham.

The village board lingered in silence for 30 seconds.

"OK," Saroodis said, "can I have a vote? I've asked twice, or I have a motion, and have asked twice for a vote.

"That's that, there will be no executive session and the meeting is adjourned," Saroodis added after another 30 seconds passed with no response to her request for a vote.

"Any board member can call a meeting," Sims said. "I'd like to call a meeting and I'd like to continue. The meeting, No. 1, has not been closed. There was no vote to close it."

Saroodis began to interject, and Sims cut her off quickly by making a motion to "move to executive session to continue discussion pending a specific employee ... uh ... issue."

Saroodis again affirmed that she had the right to ask that the employee's representative be able to attend the executive session.

"If he wants to stay, he can stay. It's not going to change anything, but if he wants to stay — I'll second your motion," Sims said.

All trustees voted in favor of moving into executive session; Saroodis again did not cast a vote.

The board moved into an executive session with Thurston, Powers, Greg Gilfus, the officer in charge of the village's police department, and Graham.

Barely 10 minutes into the executive session, Powers, Gilfus and Graham were in the lobby, no longer included.

After an hour, Lukins announced the executive session was over. The public meeting then resumed for one minute.

"No decision was made in executive session," Saroodis said. "We need a ... job to do, to approve the outside attorney."

"I would like to make a motion to hire Bond, Schoeneck & King (law firm) to represent the village for our ... situation," Hinman said.

All trustees voted in favor, Saroodis did not vote. Then the meeting adjourned.

After the meeting, Saroodis said "there is nothing to comment. Seriously. We paid our bills and that was it, nothing was decided."

Graham could not disclose any other information other than that he was representing an unidentified employee.

Auburn schools to offer retirement incentive in wake of $4 million deficit

The Auburn Enlarged City School District will be offering a retirement incentive to teachers in order to save employee jobs in light of an impending deficit.

The district's board of education approved the memorandum of agreement between the district and the Auburn Teachers Association on the incentive at a board meeting Tuesday night. The incentive is for eligible employees who send in an irrevocable letter of resignation to the district by March 1. If 11 to 14 eligible employees send in letters, the incentive will be $5,000. If the district receives 15 or more letters, the incentive will go up to $7,500.

Pirozzolo said in an interview with The Citizen on Wednesday that staff was informed of the incentive and that he talked to board members and association president Cheryl Miskell about it around three weeks ago. He said the incentive is meant to save jobs in light of the district's incoming deficit, which Pirozzolo said comes to $4 million. 

Pirozzolo said this decision was in the works before Cayuga Centers announced Feb. 22 that its residential treatment program will be closing.

There are 19 district employees who work at Cayuga Centers, and 18 of them have seniority, allowing them to take positions elsewhere in the district. Pirozzolo had said Tuesday night that seven teachers and five aides from other schools in the district could lose their jobs as a result unless funds to keep those positions can be found.

District business manager Lisa Green said at the Tuesday night board meeting that the district is expected to lose a minimum of $450,000 to $600,000 if staff are not laid off immediately, as the district bills the counties where the students in the program come from for tuition. That figure will rise if staff are kept longer. Green and Pirozzolo said at the meeting that the district received no advanced notice of the closing.

The school board decided at the Tuesday meeting to table voting to cut staff members. Pirozzolo said the district is working on ways to try to secure enough money to save those positions. He noted some of those 18 employees will be filling vacant positions. 

Pirozzolo said Wednesday that employees are eligible for the incentive if they are 55 and have 30 years of teaching experience or are 62 years of age. He said he believes that 17 people qualify for the incentive. 

"This is all about saving jobs for next year," Pirozzolo said.