Ethics committee sends complaint to county

GLOVERSVILLE — The Gloversville Ethics Board voted Saturday to refer a complaint from Bill Rowback against Mayor Dayton King, First Ward Councilwoman Marcia Weiss and City Attorney Anthony Casale to the Fulton County Board of Ethics.

Rowback’s official complaint letter to the ethics board was published by The Leader-Herald Wednesday. The complaint by former mayoral candidate, and current city firefighter, Rowback was filed against the three city officials last month stemming from the release of information from Rowback’s personnel file during the 2017 mayoral race.

In his complaint, Rowback alleges that King used his position to gain access to, and review, Rowback’s confidential personnel file and later publicly disclosed that information during a live debate on a local radio station on Oct. 28 for political gain.

According to Rowback’s complaint, the information “related to alleged past discipline and/or performance evaluations” and was required to be kept confidential by law. Rowback further alleged that the information was accessed unlawfully, without a Freedom of Information Law Request, which he says would not have been sufficient to access the file.

King was charged with official misconduct, a misdemeanor, by state police on Dec. 8 after Rowback filed a complaint with state police in Mayfield based on the alleged release of the information. King voluntarily appeared at the Mayfield State Police barracks where he was processed and released with an appearance ticket returnable in Johnstown Court.

King appeared in Town Court with attorney Robert Abdella on Dec. 20 where he pleaded not guilty. King has since had several court dates postponed with his next appearance scheduled for April 4 at 5 p.m.

Rowback filed the ethics board complaint against Weiss based on her alleged sharing of a link to a PDF file containing “what appears to be confidential disciplinary materials from [Rowback’s] personnel file” on Facebook. According to Rowback a third party shared the link on Facebook initially that was later shared by Weiss.

The complaint against Casale was filed due to the possible release of the personnel file through a FOIL request. In the complaint, Rowback states that Casale in his capacity as FOIL officer for the city is responsible for reviewing every request for appropriateness and legality.

“Clearly this review either did not occur or did not occur competently. If this confidential information was released by the city to any party through a FOIL request, it was released in violation of the law,” Rowback wrote.

Rowback went on to request that the ethics board’s investigation start at the time of King’s first contact with the Gloversville Fire Department regarding the information.

“Given the clear outline in the state as well as the local law as to what actions are — and more to the point are not — allowed by city officials and employees, and their obligations to the residents of the city they supposedly represent I am hereby filing a formal complaint with the ethics board,” Rowback wrote.

The ethics board met on Saturday to review the complaints in a closed session, as they involve discussion of personnel matters and materials.

On March 5, ethics board Chairwoman Jo-Ann Clear said that she could not discuss the complaints, but that each one would be reviewed on an individual basis by the ethics board. She noted that the ethics board had met once before in February for a preliminary meeting regarding the complaints.

According to Clear, the ethics board had been unable to meet earlier as one member of the ethics board, Sharon Poling, had resigned due to a conflict of interest related to the complaints, leaving the board at three members. After John Pomeroy was appointed by the Common Council as the fourth member during the Feb. 13 meeting, Clear said the board had been unable to meet prior to Saturday due to Pomeroy’s being unavailable.

Clear noted that all city ethics board members are appointed by the Common Council and once the board makes a decision, the council is notified of any action. Release of the notification letter would be at the council’s discretion.

When asked what actions the ethics board is authorized to take, Clear read the powers of the board from the city’s Code of Ethics.

Those powers include requiring witnesses or others to submit information orally or in writing under oath, conducting hearings on matters under consideration, taking disciplinary action, imposing fines or penalties, recommending or advising that the council take disciplinary action, recommending that fines or penalties be imposed, referring matters to the Fulton County Board of Ethics and reporting information of criminal matters to the Fulton County District Attorney.

During Tuesday’s Common Council meeting it was announced that Clear had submitted her resignation from the board effective Thursday. The council voted unanimously to appoint city assessor Joni Dennie to fill the vacancy effective today.

Prior to the vote, Casale went over the composition of the board as written in the city code, which states “At least one member of the board must be an elected or municipal officer or an employee of the City of Gloversville. The majority of the board shall not be comprised of officers or employees of the City of Gloversville.”

Dennie is the only city employee on the ethics board.

Afterwards, Casale noted that he, Weiss and King were subjects of complaints under review and the board met on Saturday. As of Tuesday’s meeting, the three had not been notified of any action taken by the board as a result of the meeting.

“Speaking for myself, I know I would like to see that matter concluded sooner than later. So, I’m hopeful that they do something soon,” Casale said.

When reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, Clear said that the board had voted on Saturday to refer the complaints to the Fulton County Board of Ethics and she had sent notifications to the three complainees and the Common Council a few hours earlier.

Clear said that she still could not discuss the complaints, but that the board felt there were too many potential conflicts of interest involved for the city board to resolve the matter. When asked if the vote was unanimous, Clear said that she could not discuss it.

“There were so many concerns and questions, we agreed that it needed something more where you were butting against all of those conflicts of interest,” Clear said.

When asked why she had resigned from the board, Clear said that she and her husband bought a home in Johnstown and would be moving in a few weeks. She said that the board knew for some time that she would be resigning at some point, as the move out of the city would make her ineligible to serve.

Clear said she decided to set the date for her resignation after Saturday’s meeting, so that the board could move on and the council could seek a replacement.

In conversation last week, Casale had questioned Clear’s role on the board due to her standing as an officer in the local Republican Party.

Clear said that she was unaware of any issue and that she currently serves as treasurer for the Women’s Republican Club of Fulton County. She added that she had joined the ethics board over four years ago at the request of council members.

According to Clear, it was known by the council that she was an officer at the time of her appointment. She said that the board had been having trouble finding people who were interested in joining the board at the time and the board is still functioning with only four members out of a possible five.

“Then my question to you is why did they appoint me to begin with,” Clear said. “This has never been an issue before now.”

When reached for comment following news of the complaints’ referral to the county ethics board, Weiss said that she was fine with the county handling the matter. She added that she was offended by her inclusion in the complaint and that in his letter Rowback made “innuendos that are not true.”

Weiss stated that she did nothing wrong and has not violated any ethics regulations. She said that another person had received Rowback’s records through a FOIL request, posted them on Facebook and she shared that post.

“I just pushed the share button. I never made a comment or anything else,” Weiss said.

She noted that she never made any request for the records or had contact with the fire department or city in relation to their release.

“It’s like a smear campaign,” Weiss said of the complaint. “Once the facts come out that will pretty much clarify everything.”

Weiss said that she worked in property management for 35 years before running for the Common Council, that she had a good reputation among associates and was known to be ethical. She said that she joined the council to try to help the city and the complaints have distracted the council from their regular business.

“I’m tired of it all. Let’s do what we have to do and get me cleared up or do what they have to do and move on,” Weiss said. “It seems like it will never be over.”

When asked if she felt the complaints represented a conflict of interest to the ethics board, Weiss said the role of the board was to consider matters related to the city and officials.

“If that is the case why have a city ethics board,” Weiss asked.

King and Casale did not return requests for comment following news of the ethics board’s referral.

Speaking last week, Casale said that the complaint was “nothing more than sour grapes by the Rowback camp.”

Casale said that he had done nothing wrong in his role as FOIL officer, but he could not discuss any requests he had received in that capacity.

“I have no regret about what I did and I’m confident the law is on my side,” Casale said. “This is a political witch hunt I somehow found myself in the middle of. It’s much ado about nothing.”

For his part, Rowback said that it doesn’t matter if the complaint is referred to the county ethics board or beyond, so long as justice is served.

Rowback holds firm in his position that the three city officials violated ethics code and that King broke the law.

“I just want every public official held accountable,” Rowback said. “If I break the law I’m held accountable for it. Just because you’re a politician, that doesn’t mean you can get away with things. You should be held to the highest standard.”

Rowback disagrees with people that have told him he should let the issue go or it is slowing down progress in the city. He added that he will explore all legal avenues if his complaints are not reaffirmed.

Rowback, Casale and Weiss all said that they believe the complaints will ultimately be decided in their favor.

By Kerry Minor

Leave a Reply