Turbulent mayoral race, body in a suitcase topped year

The Leader-Herald file photo A water mist is seen over firefighters during the fully-involved structure fire at Mancini Oil Co. in Fonda on July 18. (The Leader-Herald file photo)

Every year has its share of drama, and 2017 was no different. We had raging fires, a man’s body stuffed in a suitcase and transported to Arkansas where it was dumped on the side of the road and housing authority executive director Tim Mattice booted from his position after a contentious term.

There was a building collapse downtown, sewer woes for Gloversville and the announcement from Assemblyman Marc Butler that he was retiring.

We had the unexpected, too — the death of a much-loved and respected police officer and the Mancini fire that destroyed a family business.

And while all of those events were significant and memorable in their own way, one tale eclipsed all and was chosen by reporters and editors as The Leader-Herald’s story of the year.

Incumbent Mayor Dayton King and challenger William Rowback Jr.’s political race for Gloversville’s mayoral position. It was a mayoral race that more resembled a schoolyard taunting session played out on social media than two adult men vying for one of the most important positions in the area.

Beginning on PAGE 7A, you’ll find accounts of our

stories of the year.

At the beginning of the year, during a contentious negotiation with the firefighters’ union, longtime fireman William Rowback Jr. announced his plans to run for mayor of Gloversville.

While King was the incumbent and a Republican, the GOP party endorsed Rowback instead, setting the race up for mudslinging and dirt.

It was a policital race that revealed how low some candidates can stoop with supporters of Rowback following King around and posting photos of him doing everyday tasks, such as grocery shopping or getting in his car, while bemoaning King’s claim he was a “full time” mayor or working in behalf of the city.

On King’s side, he was equally unprofessional. There was the instance where he recorded what Rowback was led to believe was a private conversation and played it on Facebook Live. He also revealed parts of Rowback’s personnel file during a live radio debate.

It was difficult to decide which candidate would win on Election Day as supporters were equally divided.

On Nov. 7, unofficial results showed that Rowback was the winner of the race for the mayor’s seat by 310 votes against King, but things weren’t that simple.

On Nov. 20, the Fulton County Board of Elections announced that a regular recount showed that King had in fact won the election by 28 votes. Fault was blames on poll workers counting some districts twice.

That was not the end of the story.

On Dec. 8, King turned himself into the state police in Mayfield, where he was charged with official misconduct, a misdemeanor.

State police allege King used his position as mayor of Gloversville to gain access to, and review, the personnel file of Rowback a Gloversville city employee, and his opponent in the race for mayor.

Troopers allege King then released information that he found in the personnel file on the air during a live debate on a local radio station.

The matter relates to a discussion during the debate of material from Rowback’s file.

King states Rowback “repeatedly pressured” him to discuss his file on air. King said the discussion came out of Rowback’s insistence on talking about the issue “not because of anything I said or did.” Rowback has maintained he did not give permission for his file to be released.

King has plead not guilty to the charge. He is due back in Johnstown Town Court in February.

King has repeatedly told reporters that he has no plans to resign.

Johnstown police and Arkansas authorities have accused Michael W. Stivers, 42, and his girlfriend, Virginia L. “Ginger” Colvin, 56, both of 329 N. Perry St., of putting the body of Robert Brooks into a suitcase and transporting it from Johnstown to Arkansas in March. Brooks lived at the same address and Colvin was his caregiver.

Brooks, 89, died Jan. 11 of natural causes, but police said Stivers and Colvin drove a pickup truck and transported Brooks’ body stuffed in a suitcase from Johnstown to Arkansas.

Johnstown police Lt. David Gilbo said Arkansas police on March 5 came across a suitcase containing remains of Brooks in a field in Des Arc, Ark. Four people were charged in the case, including Stivers and Colvin.

Stivers pleaded guilty July 18 in Prairie County Court in Des Arc, Ark., to one felony count of abuse of a corpse, according to the Prairie County, Ark. Prosecutor’s Office. Stivers was sentenced later to four years in Arkansas state prison. He is currently serving his sentence at the Ouachita River Unit in Malvern, Ark.

The case against Colvin is pending.

Colvin, currently incarcerated in Arkansas, has a court date on Jan. 17 in Prairie County Court. It was unclear this week whether she will be entering a plea or be sentenced that date. She too has been charged with a felony count of abuse of a corpse.

Others charged in the case were Leeann N. Sager, 35, of 329 N. Perry St., Apartment 2; and Sager’s boyfriend — Aaron M. Rulison, 25, of 9 Eighth Ave., Gloversville. His case is pending.

The motive for the transporting of Brooks’ body has been listed as possible insurance fraud, but details have not been divulged by law enforcement.

Sager pleaded guilty Sept. 25 in Fulton County Court before Judge Polly A. Hoye in satisfaction of two different arrests, according to the office of Fulton County District Attorney Chad Brown.

She pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree criminal contempt, as part of a plea arrangement, in connection with her March 13 arrest by city police. She was charged initially with felony concealment of a human corpse, felony third-degree criminal possession of a weapon and misdemeanor second-degree criminal contempt.

Sentencing was adjourned a later date, but Sager is expected to receive one year in the county jail.

The death of Brooks, a World War II veteran, was eventually recognized with full military honors in April. A five-state, military-style procession was conducted from Arkansas to South Carolina. His son, North Carolina resident Jay Brooks, was presented his father’s ashes.

On April 21, a resident living on River Street discovered something wrong with the waters of the Cayadutta Creek that runs behind his house.

A sewer line break lead to a discharge of untreated sewage into the creek.

It was later discovered that a 2 1/2 foot long and 15 inch wide break in the 1903 vitreous clay trunk sewer occurred in an exposed section of pipe. Chad Kortz of C.T. Male Associates in Latham said in May that the break likely occurred sometime around February 23 during a period of heavy rains.

The city worked with outside agencies to install 1,000 feet of new pipes, work that was finally completed in September.

A four decade old family business was left in ruins following a July 18 fire at Mancini Oil Co. in Fonda.

The flames engulfed the main building, sending smoke and flames hundreds of feet into the hot July sky.

At the height of the fire, smoke was visible as far north as the city of Johnstown to motorists going south toward the state Thruway.

No injuries were reported from the accidental fire, but the main building with an apartment and repair shop was destroyed. It is not known how a gas leak at the shop was ignited.

In an tense, five minute exchange on July 20, the Gloversville Housing Authority Board of Commissioners suspended their executive director and lost two members following months of turbulence at the federally-funded agency.

Executive Director Timothy Mattice was place on administrative leave following a more than three hour long executive session.

Former executive director, Daniel Towne, as interim executive director. Towne worked for the GHA for 31 years, retiring in 2015. Another change saw Frank DeSantis appointed as temporary building maintenance supervisor.

Once all those resolutions had passed, then Board President Michael Ponticello announced his resignation from the board, telling the crowd: “With that, unfortunately I can not be a part of this any longer. So I am tendering my resignation immediately.” Shortly thereafter board member Bernard Manzer stood and announced that he would also be resigning.

The resignations meant that with the exception of resident commissioner Jason Sweeney, the entire GHA board have been replaced since April.

Mattice and the GHA reached a settlement in September that released him from the agency.

At around 9:45 a.m. on July 5, the rear of what was once known as the Littauer Building collapsed, creating a messy situation.

Piles of bricks and twisted metal lay in the rear of the building after a portion of the back section near 12-14 S. Main Street collapsed in on itself.

No injuries resulted from the incident, in part because the building has been vacant for a number of years.

The front of the building and the connected sections at 12-14 remained intact following the incident.

The collapse did take down some wires near the building and bricks fell on the uncollapsed portions of the roof at a neighboring building.

The city had to close a section of South Main Street from Washington Street to the Four Corners until they got confirmation the building would not suffer further issues.

Since then, the city has secured a deal to take over the building, along with four adjoining properties at 20, 22, 24 and 26 S. Main St. from Two Great Guys Corp. of Saratoga Springs.

The city is currently planning a project that will see the front of the building stabilized and a section of the rear portion demolished.

Northville Police Officer Robert Johnson was killed July 3 when he was struck by a vehicle on Route 30 while he was off-duty.

Fulton County sheriff’s deputies say Johnson, 60, had stopped to assist after a motorist struck a deer with their vehicle. Johnson was walking to the north on Route 30 to dispatch the deer, which was still alive, when he was struck by a vehicle. The Washington County motorist whose car struck him was tested for drugs and alcohol and not charged.

Johnson was buried on July 9 following a funeral at the Gloversville Middle School with full police honors.

Johnson’s funeral was attended by more than 100 people, including fellow police officers and first responders from across New York.

“Bobby was a community police officer, before we created a community police force. He knew everyone and they knew him, from seven-years-old to 87 years old,” Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino said of Johnson at the funeral.

Johnson served as a Gloversville Police Officer for 20 years, where he retired from in 2006. He later worked part time for the Fulton Co. Sheriff’s Dept. and at the time of his death worked part time for the Northville Police Dept. and GS4 Security, as well as assisting his wife, Lorna, with Blinds by Elmendorf. He was the past President of the Gloversville PBA.

After more than eight years of planning, the Gloversville Public Library began its transformation of its more than 110 year old building in April.

Changes at the library will include new meeting rooms, additional niches for reading, installation of air conditioning and new handicapped accessibility, including an elevator.

Even with all of the changes, the historic aspects — with the exception of the boiler and radiators — will be staying. This includes the distinctive, curving grand staircases.

New spaces and accommodations are being made for families as well. The basement will be transformed into a children and teen space. Stroller parking will also be added to help parents who are visiting.

The library packed up much of its collection and moved it to the Fulton County for Regional Growth at 34 W. Fulton St.

On April 24, the library opened its temporary location to the public.

Since then, workers have been making their way along the exterior and interior of the building, including getting the elevator shaft ready and restoring some of the historic front facade.

Assemblyman Marc Butler announced in August that the 2018 term will be his last.

A resident of Newport in Herkimer County, the 65-year-old Butler represents the 118th Assembly District, a five-county district that includes the northern portion of Herkimer County, Fulton and Hamilton counties, nine towns in St. Lawrence County, and several Oneida County towns.

He was first elected to the 113th District of the Assembly in 1995.

Butler told The Leader-Herald in August that the demands of the job are difficult on family life.

Butler will end his term on Dec. 31, 2018.

In an event that likely made Bonnie Tyler proud, sky watchers rejoiced as a total eclipse of the sun made its way stateside.

Locally, a partial eclipse brought out glasses-equipped watchers on a sunny August day to observe the phenomena.

Peoples could be seen from Canajoharie to Amsterdam gathering to check out the site with the help of pinhole viewers, cameras and special glasses.

While the sky never really darken, the light did become softer as the moon moved more in front of the sun, appearing as an orange crescent through the viewers.

Other top stories of the year:

∫ Gloversville settle a union contract with Firefighters Association Local 719 in May.

∫ Joshua McSpirit, 25, of Gloversville died on Aug. 1 after he was pinned under the water near lock 13.

∫ In November, Montgomery County was authorized to begin the process of removing debris piles and asbestos at the former Beech-Nut plant in Canajoharie. The county received a grant of $300,000 from National Grid to go toward the clean-up. There also has been an investor, Joe Marino, who is interested in buying Beech-Nut to turn it into a local filming studio.

∫ Downtown’s revitalization continued with the start of construction on the Estee Senior Housing complex, new businesses like Cravings Bakery and Arcadian Pastures butcher shop and several new downtown events put together by Downtown Development Specialist Jennifer Jennings.

∫ The case of Rachel Mattice came to a close this summer with a guilty plea to a misdemeanor count of falsely reporting an incident, a month of weekends in jail, three years probation and 100 hours of community service.

∫ In August, a city police officer who deemed a loose pit bull a threat, shot and killed the animal on South Chase Street. The incident launched an internal investigation. .

∫ First responders from Gloversville and Johnstown were recognized on the floor of Congress in November following their actions that saved lives during a fire at Oct. 20 in Gloversville.

∫ Three people were arrested in a city burglary ring in Caroga that targeted seasonal homes.

Reporters Michael Anich and Briana O’Hara contributed to this story