Ethics Board member resigns
GLOVERSVILLE — One city Ethics Board member resigned following the board’s decision to dismiss two of the three complaints filed by former mayoral candidate William Rowback Jr. against three city officials, citing reservations regarding the decision and concern over the appointment of new board members by the Common Council in recent months.
Ellen DiScioscia said Tuesday she served on the city Ethics Board off and on for years, but after the decision by the board to dismiss Rowback’s complaints against 1st Ward Councilwoman Marcia Weiss and City Attorney Anthony Casale she decided to submit her resignation effective June 1.
Rowback filed the complaints against Weiss, Casale and Mayor Dayton King in February stemming from the alleged release of information from his personnel file as a city firefighter during the 2017 mayoral race.
The city Ethics Board voted in March to refer the complaints to the Fulton County Ethics Board, citing too many potential conflicts of interest. The county board returned the complaints to the city board in April due to insufficient members to review the complaints and the opinion of that board that the city board should handle the matter.
Ethics Board Chairwoman Helen Thompson said Monday that after the complaints were sent back to the city, the board discussed the matter with board attorney Michael Albanese and determined that the city board could review the complaints without a conflict of interest.
DiScioscia disagreed, saying that the complaints should have been sent out of the area due to the sensitivity of the complaint and the individuals named.
“I didn’t even want to hear it, I still felt it should be referred, which is what originally was going to happen when Jo-Ann Clear was the [Ethics Board] representative. The initial decision was to refer it,” DiScioscia said. “We did refer it and got it back, but I still feel it should have gone further.”
The city code grants the Ethics Board the power to refer “appropriate” matters to the Fulton County Ethics Board and report information on criminal matters to the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office. No other boards or options for referral are included in the city code.
DiScioscia also raised concerns that three Ethics Board members were appointed to fill vacancies by the Common Council and Albanese was engaged as the board’s attorney after Rowback’s complaints were filed.
“They were assigned by those named in the complaint that in itself could become an issue,” DiSciocia said. “That in itself can seem and be unethical.”
Following the resignation of Ethics Board member Sharon Poling due to a conflict of interest, the council appointed John Pomeroy to fill her seat in February. In March after the complaints were referred to the county, Clear resigned from the board saying she was moving outside of the city to Johnstown, making her ineligible to serve.
The council then appointed City Assessor Joni Dennie to fill the vacant seat. According to city code “at least one member of the board must be an elected or municipal officer or an employee of the City of Gloversville.”
In April the council appointed Dr. Jeremiah Ryan to the remaining vacancy on the five-seat board.
“I’ve been on the Ethics Board off and on for many years and there has not been assignment of new people until now,” DiScioscia said.
Weiss in her role on the seven member Common Council is the only individual named in the complaints that is able to vote on the appointment of Ethics Board members. The mayor is able to make recommendations to the council, but does not vote.
Following review of the complaints against Casale and Weiss, the board voted to dismiss the complaints by votes of 4-0 and 3-1 respectively. Pomeroy was absent from the meeting.
Rowback’s complaint against Casale was filed due to the possible release of his personnel file through a Freedom of Information Law Request. The complaint against Weiss was filed based on her alleged sharing of a link to a PDF file on Facebook that appeared to contain “confidential disciplinary materials” from Rowback’s personnel file.
Thompson submitted letters to Weiss, Casale the Common Council, Rowback and the city Ethics Board following the decisions in which she stated that the complaint against Weiss failed to state a violation that she obtained or released information illegally and the complaint against Casale did not present evidence that he acted illegally in relation to his duties as FOIL officer.
The city Ethics Board has not made a decision regarding the complaint filed against King. Thompson said the board will not be discussing or reviewing that complaint until the criminal charges brought against King in December regarding his alleged release of Rowback’s personnel file during a live debate on a local radio station have been decided.
King was charged with official misconduct, a misdemeanor, by state police. King enterered a plea of not guilty in Johnstown Town Court on Dec. 20. A trial date for jury selection has been set for Sept. 11.
DiScioscia said she agreed that the complaint against Casale failed to present any evidence of illegal action, but said the complaint against Weiss provided enough detail to warrant investigation by the board.
“In the complaint it had stated that Mrs Weiss had released information concerning someone’s personnel file and the board was clear that she did post something,” DiScioscia said. “Why she did it and how she did it, that never got answered, where she obtained the information and all that, that’s why I said there were a lot of questions that needed to be answered before making any decision.”
In March, Weiss said that another person had received Rowback’s records through a FOIL request and posted them on Facebook and she had shared that post. She said she did nothing wrong and had not violated any ethics regulations.
“I just pushed the share button. I never made a comment or anything else,” Weiss said at the time.
She noted that she never made any request for the records or had contact with the fire department or city in relation to the records’ release.
“I felt that there was enough in the complaint that it should have gone further, the complaint was not faulty,” DiScioscia said. “I felt there was enough stated in the petition, there was enough evidence to investigate.”
Powers of the Ethics Board as stated in the city code 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 and recommending that fines or penalties be imposed.
“It definitely needed to be looked into further that’s all I’m saying. I’m not saying that [Weiss] is guilty or innocent, I’m just saying it needed to be looked into further,” DiScioscia said. “I do not have the same feelings as the other people on the board.”
To alleviate concerns regarding the board’s review of complaints against city officials, DiScioscia suggested that changes be made to the city ethics code in the future. The city code grants the Ethics Board the power to recommend any changes to the ethics code that it deems advisable.
“Maybe there needs to be some changes within the Ethics Board provisions and how things are handled. It needs to be reviewed so this kind of thing doesn’t happen,” DiScioscia said. “It needs to safeguard what the Ethics Board really is and the whole meaning of the Ethics Board and what our job really is to do.”