Recording shows city’s ARP funds ‘legally authorized’

Current City of Cortland mayor Scott Steve (left), and former city mayor Brian Tobin (right).

A recorded video from a Common Council meeting last year shows that City of Cortland’s American Rescue Plan (ARP) spending breakdown was “legally authorized,” in spite of opposition.

A couple of weeks ago, the local paper, the Cortland Standard, reached out to former city mayor Brian Tobin about Cortland’s ARP funding. According to Tobin, the reporter was “surprised” the city used $10,000 from sales tax revenue toward events, when there was $50,000 (in ARP funds) set aside.

Tobin wondered the same thing, and questioned the city’s current administration as to why the money hasn’t been spent yet.

Then, Tobin realized the problem: the minutes from the Nov. 16 meeting last year – the same meeting where the ARP fund spending was approved, had an error.

According to the minutes under Resolution No. 291, there are two parts to the spending: One for $1.158 million and the other for $765,000. The minutes show that the first part was approved, however, the second part is noted as “this leaves out,” indicating that this part was put on hold.

“It sounds like there’s some foot-dragging in city hall about spending the money because there are questions about whether or not (these funds) are legally authorized. It’s based upon someone reviewing the minutes,” Tobin said.

The paper quoted current city mayor Scott Steve as saying “Based on this resolution, he (Tobin) did it illegally.”

“There’s different ways of phrasing things, and I don’t think that was a great way to phrase that,” Tobin said of Steve’s comment.

“It’s in the minutes on what was paid and what wasn’t,” Steve told The Cortland Voice. According to Steve, he was interviewed by the paper due to Tobin “making allegations about $50,000 that hasn’t been spent yet.”

“It specifically says in the minutes that (the second part of ARP funds) are not covered,” Steve said.

Tobin continued, saying “The paper basically said there’s nothing that says all of the funds were approved.”

From there, Tobin took advantage of hands-on resources. He proceeded to look up a video recording of the Nov. 16 Common Council meeting, which was provided by The Cortland Voice.

Starting at the 2:09:00-mark of The Cortland Voice’s recorded video, Tobin suggested to the council to approve the first part of ARP funds, then “hold off” on the second part of funds.

Former councilperson Bruce Tytler, however, made the motion to approve the ARP fund spending in its entirety, which meant the approval of both parts on the same night. Former councilperson Sam Adams seconded the motion.

“I looked up and went right to the discussion,” Tobin said. “About 3-or-4 minutes into the discussion, Bruce Tytler makes a motion to accept everything as is. Sam Adams seconded it, and it passed.”

Of the six council members in attendance at the Nov. 16 meeting, current council members Bill Carpenter, Troy Beckwith and Tom Michales (also the current deputy mayor) approved the resolution. Mary Clare Pennello, who is currently in her first year with Common Council, was present at the meeting.

The minutes from the Nov. 16 meeting, with the error included, were approved at the Common Council’s Dec. 7 meeting.

“I can confidently say the minutes are not correct, but this was legally authorized,” Tobin said.

According to Steve, Carpenter, Beckwith or Michales did not speak to him about the approved ARP funds from the Nov. 16 meeting, and that they can be spent.

In fact, Steve is unsure if The Cortland Voice’s video can be used as a source.

“I don’t know if that’s a legal document,” Steve said of The Cortland Voice’s recorded Common Council Nov. 16 meeting video. “As a media recourse, how do I know if anything’s been edited or not edited?”

(Note from The Cortland Voice owner and publisher, Timothy A. Bennett: The Cortland Voice filmed all Common Council meetings from 2019 to the end of 2021).

Steve doesn’t recall if he watched the Nov. 16 meeting or not, but reiterated that “I have the minutes. Those are the legal documents I have to go by.”

“(The City’s ARP funds were) an agenda item for multiple meetings, and was discussed at nauseum,” Tobin said. “I have no reservations about the wording of the resolution.”

Tobin noted the “difference of opinion” between him and Steve is one thing, and the minutes from the Nov. 16 meeting are indeed incorrect, but added the minutes are “pretty easy to rectify.”

“They can go back and say we want a correction to the minutes because this is what the minutes say, but this is what was actually voted on. There are mistakes in minutes all the time,” Tobin said.

Steve mentioned that at the Aug. 2 Common Council meeting, the ARP funds will be reviewed and be put together in a full report so “everyone can understand everything and where it’s at, what’s been spent, and deal with it from there.”

Steve also told The Cortland Voice that Pennello is working on an audit to “look at what the numbers were, what was spent on it and what’s left, what can be allocated on, what was approved and what’s been paid.”

“Until I get things cleaned up, I’m not going to use (the ARP funds),” Steve added.