”No One Should Be Acting Like This” – Utica Council President on Volatile Budget Meeting
Utica Common Council President Michael Galime was part of that much talked about city budget meeting in March that quickly escalated into more than a discussion about budget amendments.
The first incident, between city councilmembers Joe Marino and Jack LoMedico, ''fizzled out'', Galime says - they did exchange some curse words but says no one was concerned it would escalate.
The second argument, involving Marino and councilman Frank DiBrango, accelerated ''to a point where it needed [Utica Police] Chief Williams and Deputy [Police] Chief Noonan in between them so it didn't escalate further,'' Galime said. He went on to characterize it as 'horribly inappropriate'.
Galime recalls a wild budget hearing that 'would have escalated':
A report from Syracuse law firm Barclay Damon LLP was completed this week and said Marino and DiBrango were 'chest-to-chest and nose-to-nose', and that law enforcement personnel believed if had they not intervened punches would have been thrown.
It went on to conclude the conduct of all three city officials was unacceptable ''for politicians to engage in; and clearly violated applicable policies.'' But that report is facing criticism from those who say the city only requested an investigation because Marino is a political opponent of Mayor Robert Palmieri, and the two will soon meet in a Democratic primary ahead of this fall's mayoral election.
Councilman Marino also joined Keeler in the Morning on Thursday and disagrees about how hot it got, or would've gotten. He calls the investigation a 'political waste of money' and while he acknowledged his behavior wasn't professional, he said of his fellow councilors, ''we all know each other. So we've talked like that at bars to one another. It doesn't make it right, but there's a level of familiarity,'' Marino said, adding that he and DiBrango quickly made up after the argument and have known each other for some twenty years.
He also criticized the current administration for blowing the dispute out of proportion.
''There was no brawl, there was no fight. Councilman DiBrango and I were glad to go out and talk about it publicly and hug each other....we've talked about it and he said, 'Joe I woulda never hit you.' And, I said, 'Frank I woulda never hit you.'
While there is a security video of the council chambers that caught the vast majority of the arguing, there is a gap of approximately 45 seconds that misses 'the escalation', and what Marino and DiBrango call an incidental bump. The recording - which is video only, no audio - skips at one point from several people sitting at a table, to DiBrango and Marino pointing and yelling with several people standing between them. Video shows the pair continuing to argue with police officials standing between them. Then, after a minute to cool off, the two continue their argument but are able to do so while sitting next to one another.
Utica OD posted the video. Three-minutes in is where the DiBrango-Marino discussion begins, then cuts out. Earlier this week we spoke to Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara who said the skip in the recording is a common glitch with this type of motion-activated camera, and that he did not believe it was tampered with.
Meanwhile, Marino went on to accuse Palmieri of using distractions to avoid issues. ''I do it all time, when you need me I'm here, in person with no lawyers [on the show]'' saying the incumbent mayor won't answer to questions about why he signed legislation to extend term limits - allowing him to run for a third term - and things like road conditions, paving, fire department personnel and more.
What was the fight about?
The issue the caused the city councilors to shout involved funding for a police officer to be stationed at Utica City Hall, according to Marino. He contends there was disagreement over whether the city should use Community Development Block Grant money to fund the new position, or if the city should fund it another way.