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Common Council investigating Rowback

Gloversville Councilman-at-Large William Rowback Jr. is sworn into office by City Court Judge Traci DiMezza at City Hall last year. (The Leader-Herald/Ashley Onyon)

GLOVERSVILLE — The Common Council has opened an investigation into the “affairs and conduct” of Councilman-at-Large William Rowback Jr.

The Common Council held special meetings on Wednesday and Thursday for the purpose of entering executive session under state Public Officers Law to discuss the “medical, financial, credit or employment history of a particular person or corporation, or matters leading to the appointment, employment, promotion, demotion, discipline, suspension, dismissal or removal of a particular person or corporation.”

During each of the meetings conducted via videoconference due to the coronavirus and livestreamed online, the Common Council opened the public session before approving motions to adjourn to executive session, ending the livestream.

But roughly 35 minutes after entering executive session on Thursday, the Common Council briefly reestablished the meeting livestream and resumed the public session to consider a motion to “initiate investigation pursuant to Section C 24 of the Gloversville city charter into the affairs and conduct of Councilman-at-Large William Rowback Jr.”

The cited section of the city charter states, “the Common Council may make investigations into the affairs of the city and the conduct of any city department, agency or office and for this purpose may subpoena witnesses, administer oaths, take testimony and require the production of evidence. Any person who fails or refuses to obey such a lawful order issued in the exercise of these powers will be subject to enforcement of such powers as provided by law.”

The motion sponsored by 6th Ward Councilman Wrandy Siarkowski was read by City Attorney Anthony Casale at Siarkowski’s request to set the language of the action. The motion was seconded by 2nd Ward Councilman Arthur Simonds.

Casale noted before the council voted on the action that Rowback, who was present on the videoconference meetings Wednesday and Thursday, would be required to abstain from the procedure. The motion was approved without discussion by a 5-1 vote, with 4th Ward Councilwoman Ellen Anadio opposing the action.

The council then approved a motion to reenter executive session with Casale and labor attorney Bryan Goldberger. Casale noted that Rowback would not be allowed to participate in the ensuing executive session. The council did not resume public session on Thursday and no explanation for the investigation was provided.

Siarkowski when reached Friday seeking comment regarding the initiation of the investigation said that he could not discuss the personnel issue. Calls to Mayor Vincent DeSantis, Rowback and other members of the Common Council seeking comment were not returned Friday.

City officials similarly could not be reached regarding the sudden job posting listed by the city online Thursday afternoon seeking to hire a Department of Public Works director.

Christopher Perry was selected to become the city’s DPW director early last year with his appointment approved by the Common Council in February before he was officially sworn in on March 10. Perry moved to the area from Ohio after accepting the position with the city, departing from a unit manager position for the Lakewood DPW where he had been employed for 10 years.

The DPW director’s position is appointed annually and Perry was reappointed to a one-year term running through Dec. 31 by the Common Council during the organizational meeting on Jan. 1.

Council members have lauded Perry’s work since he took over leadership of the DPW and Mayor Vincent DeSantis highlighted Perry’s efforts in his State of the City address during the organizational meeting.

Although the city has provided no explanation for Perry’s departure effective Friday or the investigation of Rowback, the two events are apparently linked.

In his letter of resignation, obtained by The Leader-Herald through a Freedom of Information Law request, Perry states that he accepted another position with an undisclosed non-profit organization in part due to the political climate in the city and his belief that he would not be reappointed in 2022 if Rowback runs for and wins the mayor’s seat in November.

“I have residents now tell me, or tell Brittny, I should be fired and/or I will ‘be gone when Rowback is mayor.’ The fact is, Bill Rowback has mentioned twice now to people/employees that I should be fired — which of course he will and has denied,” wrote Perry.

Rowback, a retired city firefighter, was first elected councilman-at-large in November 2019 to the two-year unexpired term formerly held by DeSantis prior to his appointment and subsequent election as mayor. Both Rowback and DeSantis’ current terms in office will expire at the end of this year.

So far neither man has made any formal announcements regarding plans to run again for elected office.

“I have been told and warned by both fellow employees and residents alike that the prospective new mayor will clean house in much the same fashion he was going to do before when he was mayor-elect once for a couple weeks,” Perry continued, referencing the mayoral race in 2017 when Rowback was initially declared the winner before results of a recount found votes from some districts were counted twice and Dayton King was the actual winner.

The letter goes on to allege that Rowback “repeatedly” made insulting and degrading comments to Perry about DeSantis.

“Nearly every discussion inevitably went down the path of Vince DeSantis character assassination — which I found deeply troubling to say the least,” wrote Perry. “The dirty nature and culture of Gloversville politics has been alarming to say the least — knowing now what I did not know a year ago about the local political dysfunction, I never would have taken this position. I regret moving my family here.”

Despite those sentiments, the letter includes recommendations to the Common Council to improve the city and strengthen the DPW by increasing the compensation for DPW workers in future union contract negotiations to prevent turnover and the loss of skilled employees necessary to maintain city services and infrastructure.

Also recommended is the conversion of the DPW director’s position to a four-year appointment to counteract any possible political influence over the position and to attract qualified candidates.

“That will be the only way you will be able to recruit anyone with the necessary skill, background and competencies to effectively do this work in a proactive manner,” said Perry. “The thought of having to deal with the perpetual dread and ordeal of annual one-year appointments is something that I refuse to be subject to any longer.”

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