Jackson Hole’s new fire chief is being sued for defamation.
Stephen Jellie starts Monday as the new Jackson Hole Fire/EMS fire chief following former Chief Brady Hansen’s retirement. Jellie disputes the claims being made by Gerald Mack, a former New York fire captain, and his wife, Tammy Mack.
“Mr. Mack’s claims against the City of Ogdensburg [New York], the Mayor and myself are factually unfounded and represent only his version of events,” Jellie said in an email. “I stand by my actions and statements in regards to the former city employee that I allowed to retire in lieu of being removed from civil service for acts of violence and insubordination in the workplace. I look forward to presenting the facts and allowing a judicial proceeding to end this matter.”
The Macks are suing Jellie; Jeffrey Skelly, the current mayor of Ogdensburg; and the city of Ogdensburg for making what the Macks say are false statements that Gerald Mack slashed the mayor’s tires. They are suing for monetary damages, claiming that Jellie and Skelly gave false, defamatory statements, according to a summons and complaint filed Oct. 27 in the New York Supreme Court.
According to the lawsuit, Skelly accused Mack of slicing a tire on his Corvette and stalking Skelly at his home. Skelly and Mack were on opposite sides of a bitter debate about cutting the size of Ogdensburg’s fire department when the tire slashing occurred.
At that time the City of Ogdensburg had employed Jellie as both the city manager and fire chief. The lawsuit states that Jellie issued a statement to WWNY-TV that Mack “has had multiple episodes of unruly behavior and now culminating in what appears to be a serious act of vandalism and stalking of the City of Ogdensburg.” This statement was publicized on the news outlet’s website and on television, according to the lawsuit.
Jellie, who is leaving his role as city manager, was met with outspoken criticism during his tenure in which he also acted as interim fire chief.
In November 2020 Ogdensburg firefighters unanimously voted no confidence in Jellie, after Jellie proposed a budget calling for the elimination of 10 full-time positions in the fire department. The union decried the decision, stating it was dangerous to respond to emergencies with four rather than five firefighters, and that it was a “conflict of interest” for Jellie to wear both chief and city manager hats.
“I saved the city from having to declare bankruptcy,” Jellie said in an October interview with the News&Guide. “I was functioning as city manager and fire chief in a small town with a lot of hard decisions to make. I never put anyone in an unsafe position. Most national consensus standards have long argued four was an adequate number.”
A month after the vote, Mack alleged Skelly had knocked him to the ground during a December 2020 incident at city hall. Skelly was charged with second-degree harassment for the incident but eventually found not guilty.
The complaint alleges both Jellie and Skelly made defamatory statements about Mack slashing Skelly’s tires on Nov. 3, 2021, “and at various times thereafter.”
“More particularly ... on or about Nov. 3, 2021, Jeffery Skelly published a statement to the Ogdensburg City Police Department indicating that the plaintiff, Gerald Mack, slashed his tires and stalked his home,” the complaint said.
On May 24 all charges against Mack were dropped due to lack of evidence after video evidence surfaced that showed Mack was at a nearby shop at the time.
In August the St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office brought charges against Skelly after its “investigation revealed Mr. Skelly provided two false written statements to Ogdensburg police officers during a subsequent police investigation.”
These statements were broadcast online and on television by other outlets, according to the lawsuit, as well as the statements allegedly made by Jellie.
Mack claims in the lawsuit that Jellie and Skelly “embarked upon a course of conduct specifically designed to cause emotional damage and financial damage” to Mack.
These actions included ordering the Ogdensburg City Police Department to arrest Mack, attempting to hide exculpatory evidence, Mack alleged.
Mack said in the suit that he has sustained economic damages as a result of the false, “libelous and slanderous” statements.
Mack did not respond to a request for comment by press time Tuesday.