Gloversville ethics board gives clearance, not Fulton County

GLOVERSVILLE –The city Ethics Board dismissed two of the complaints filed by former mayoral candidate William Rowback Jr. against 1st Ward Councilwoman Marcia Weiss and City Attorney Anthony Casale after the three complaints referred to the Fulton County Ethics Board in March were sent back to the city.

City Ethics Board Chairwoman Helen Thompson said today that the county ethics board referred the complaints filed by Rowback against Mayor Dayton King, Weiss and Casale back to the city board in April.

The complaints by former mayoral candidate, and current city firefighter, Rowback were filed against the three city officials in February stemming from the alleged release of information from Rowback’s personnel file during the 2017 mayoral race.

In March, then city Ethics Board Chairwoman Jo-Ann Clear said the board voted to refer the complaints to the county ethics board as they felt there were too many potential conflicts of interest involved for the city board to resolve the matter.

Fulton County Ethics Board Chairman Jason Brott said today that the county referred the complaints back due to the city’s ability to handle their own complaints and an insufficient number of members on the county board to review the matter.

“The city has an ethics board and there is no reason for them not to handle it,” Brott said. “Secondly, there’s been some resignations so we’re attempting to get some members to the board.”

Brott said the board currently consists of only three members out of a possible five including himself, Lisa Queeney and Shelley Yerdon, Marcia Weiss’ sister. Brott noted that one member of the board recused themselves from reviewing the complaints due to a conflict of interest.

“There was a recusal by some members of the [city] board due to relationships to some of them,” Brott said. “But there were some recusals on our end where we didn’t have sufficient numbers to make a decision.”

After the complaints were sent back to the city, Thompson said the board discussed the matter with Ethics Board attorney Michael Albanese and determined that the city board could review the complaints without a conflict of interest.

Since the initial referral of the complaints, the composition of the city board has changed. Clear resigned from her position on the board in March, saying she was moving outside of the city to Johnstown and would be ineligible to serve.

Following Clear’s resignation the Common Council 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 a vacant seat on the board, bringing the city board to a full five members including Thompson, Dennie, John Pomeroy and Ellen DiScioscia.

Upon review of the complaints against Weiss and Casale, Thompson said the Ethics Board voted to dismiss the complaints.

“We read through the complaint and [Rowback] had in the complaint the laws he was saying they were violating and there was no evidence, there was no proof given to us. There were a lot of assumptions on Rowback’s part,” Thompson said.

The vote was 4-0 to dismiss the complaint against Casale and 3-1 to dismiss the complaint against Weiss.

Thompson declined to say which board member voted against dismissing the complaints against Weiss, but said the individual said they wanted more information. Ethics Board member Pomeroy was absent from the meeting.

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 page. Rowback said 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 Freedom of Information Law Request. In the complaint, Rowback stated that Casale in his capacity as FOIL officer for the city is responsible for reviewing every request for appropriateness and legality.

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 fails to state a violation that she obtained or released information illegally and the complaint against Casale does 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 regarding his alleged release of Rowback’s personnel file have been decided.

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 Town Court.

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.

In his complaint to the ethics board, Rowback said 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 FOIL Request, which he says would not have been sufficient to access the file.

King appeared in Johnstown Town Court with attorney Robert Abdella on Dec. 20 where he pleaded not guilty. He is due back in court on Wednesday.