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Common Council Upholds Decision to Part With DEA Task Force

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(Chief Catalano addresses council [10/1/2019])

At last night’s Cortland Common Council meeting (October 1), city leaders moved to reconsider their decision last month to pull the city police department from a DEA federal drug task force, to which its belonged since 2016.

However, they would later ended up affirming their decision in a much closer tally.

Beforehand, Police Chief Frank Catalano addressed council from a podium to make his final stand on the issue.

“Police can’t  fight this opioid crisis alone,” Catalano said. “There has to be a multipronged approach in order to solve this problem. We’re trying both to stop drugs from coming here and reach those addicted for their recovery. That’s why I first decided to have us join this task force.”

In the audience for the duration of the meeting were several parents from a local opioid overdose grief group called “607 Hearts.”

One of its members is Dean O’Gorman, who lost his son, Spencer, to an overdose at the age of 22 back in 2017.

O’Gorman also addressed the council before their vote, during the public comment portion at the beginning of the meeting:

(O’Gorman stands as council takes their vote.)

“The DEA is important. My son’s case is still open after two years and they continue to be actively involved,” O’Gorman said. “Without a direction connection to them, things like this may be further delayed and we [Cortland law enforcement] may not be called about something until the last minute – if the DEA has time to call at all. You still have time to fix this.”

Concerns from those who voted to leave the task force included the use of one full time city officer, who frequently commuted to and from Syracuse to participate in proceedings as needed.

They argued it would be better use of taxpayer dollars to have that officer fighting drugs in the city of Cortland, rather than Syracuse.

Catalano responded by saying he still had the unilateral ability to pull the officer at any time, should there be a greater priority in Cortland.

He also argued that the DEA has reimbursed much of the travel and associated costs with being a member on this regional task force.

An official motion required to reconsider the previous decision made last meeting.

Ward 2 Alderwoman Kathryn Silliman made that motion. She spoke from the dias earlier in the meeting about what drove her to change her mind:

“I’ve received countless phone calls about this from residents of the second ward,” Silliman said. “I think this is a good example of the people having a say in the legislative process – and they have clearly spoken. I hope we get a chance to reconsider this.”

This time around it was a much tighter vote, but Council upheld its decision not to renew the city’s task force membership. The 4-3 tally was a stark shift from a 5-1 margin at the last meeting.

On a motion to reconsider the previous vote and effectively reinstate membership on the drug task force, the “ays” included Silliman, Ward 1 Alderwoman Kat McCarthy and Ward 8 Alderman Tom Michales.

The “nay” votes came from Ward 3 Alderman Gary Thomas (absent at last vote), Ward 4 Alderman John Bennett and Ward 7 Alderman Troy Beckwith. Ward 6 Alderman Carlos Ferrer was absent, who voted not to renew the task force membership at the first vote.

Also at the meeting, the city’s first official budget workshop session was set for tomorrow night (October 3) at 6:30 p.m.

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