ONEONTA _ A Hartwick College fraternity showed up at the Common Council meeting Tuesday _ and promptly got an earful from Mayor Dick Miller.
Miller, a former president of the college, said Alpha Sigma Phi operated its house at 71 Spruce St. illegally last year and was not anywhere near being done with the appropriate paperwork and inspections to allow legal operation this semester.
The city requires special-use permits to allow more than three unrelated people to live in a Greek house.
"The city did not enforce that," Miller said.
The students, numbering about 20, thought they would be on the agenda to get formal approval to allow just the three occupants, the group's adviser, the Rev. Paul Messner, said Thursday. But Alpha Sigma Phi was not on the agenda.
"I had no idea they were coming. They had no reason to believe they were on the agenda," Miller said.
All of the Greek groups that have off-campus houses were asked to reapply last spring for special-use permits for the current academic year, Miller said.
"They just completely ignored the rules," he said.
The fraternity is a long way from getting approval, Miller said during the mostly one-sided exchange.
"You have a long list of violations that have not been dealt with," Miller said. "I cannot make it anymore clear."
At one point, he addressed an Alpha Sigma Phi brother directly: "Take that smirk off your mouth, young man."
At the same time, Miller said he had a longstanding relationship with the group.
"I love you all as individuals," he said.
When it became clear there was no action to be taken, the fraternity and Messner left the Common Council meeting.
"Bottom line, it was a big misunderstanding," Messner said Thursday.
He said he and the group are going over correspondence with the city to determine how that misunderstanding occurred.
The students acknowledge there are longstanding code issues and want to correct deficiencies with the house, which is owned by the fraternity, but have "monetary issues," Messner said.
He said that although the brothers who attended the meeting bore the brunt of the mayor's criticism, they were not responsible for events at the house over the past decade, which led to the current situation.
"It's not their fault," Messner said. "It was not our intent to waste anyone's time. They showed up and had good intentions."
The group has corrected some of the deficiencies, but others, including a costly fire suppression system, remain, he said.
"The bottom line is (the fraternity is) at fault and we're working on it," Messner said. "We have nobody to blame but ourselves."
Mike Lynch, alderman for the Fourth Ward, where the house is located, said he supports the mayor's tone toward the fraternity.
"I think the mayor hit the nail on the head. The house is either safe or it's not. And that house is not safe," Lynch said Thursday. "If that house burns up, the neighbors' houses have a chance of burning up, too."
The fraternity ran into trouble April 14, 2007, when police encountered a party of about 200 people concentrated in the basement and first floor.
"They think they can do whatever they want, and that's not appropriate," Lynch said.
But he also said it hasn't been all bad.
"Some of the residents of that house have been generally good kids," he said.
No one answered the door at the house Thursday afternoon.
The president of the fraternity and two members currently live there. The home can house about 10 fraternity brothers. The others that would be living there have found alternative housing, Messner said.