GLOVERSVILLE — A records request in Gloversville is believed by city officials to be politically motivated and related to this year’s mayoral election, according to remarks made at a Common Council meeting Tuesday.
Brandon Rowback, the son of a mayoral candidate Bill Rowback, recently filed a request under the state’s Freedom of Information Law for emails between Mayor Dayton King and the city clerk. The move prompted King to ask Brandon Rowback directly what he’s after.
“What do you want to know specifically?” King asked Brandon Rowback at the council meeting. “Let’s save some taxpayer money. I’ll answer any question you have for me right now.”
Bill Rowback, a city firefighter, is running for mayor against King.
City officials initially believed the Freedom of Information Law request was for all incoming and outgoing emails from the mayor’s and city clerk’s email accounts in 2016 and 2017, but Brandon Rowback clarified Tuesday that he’s only interested in emails between the two accounts.
“All I want is the interaction between the clerk and yourself…nothing specific, I just wanted to do some research for myself,” Brandon Rowback told King at the meeting Tuesday.
City records show Brandon Rowback clarified his request Wednesday, narrowing the scope to emails between the mayor and city clerk from Nov. 1, 2016 to Feb. 1, 2017. The FOIL also asks for King’s financial disclosure forms and mileage reports from 2015-2017.
City attorney Anthony Casale said what was thought to be the initial request would have involved thousands of emails and cost the city an estimated $15,000. He said the city would likely have to use taxpayer funds to hire an outside attorney to review the emails, as well as hire additional manpower to fulfill the request on time.
“I’m connecting some dots here and I’m assuming there’s a political element,” said Casale Tuesday, of his inference that Brandon Rowback would like to see the request fulfilled before the election occurs in November.
Bob Freeman, director of the state Committee on Open Government, said that while asking for two years’ worth of emails on two municipal email accounts would be a ridiculous FOIL request, the city would not have had to hire an outside counsel or spend thousands of dollars fulfilling it.
“There’s no need to hire anybody to review them,” said Freeman, noting that provisions in FOIL law allow for governments to take extended periods of time to fulfill extensive records requests.
Under FOIL law, governments have five business days to acknowledge that they received the request, and 20 business days to fulfill the request.
“If the request is valid but extensive, towards the end of the 20-day period the agency has the ability to take a second extension,” said Freeman. “If that’s so, the law requires an explanation to be given in writing and for the municipality to set a self-imposed deadline.”
Freeman added that Gloversville would be under no obligation to fulfill such an extensive request by the November election. Casale did not return a request for comment Friday.
In an interview Friday, Brandon Rowback said his FOIL request has nothing to do with his father’s candidacy for mayor.
“I’m doing research because I feel like something happened as to why the previous city clerk was not reappointed,” said Brandon Rowback. “I wanted to see if there was a link between the theory that I have and what actually transpired.”
Brandon Rowback declined to elaborate on why he thinks former city clerk Susan Semione was not reappointed to her position. Jennifer Mazur was appointed city clerk in January.
He added that his request was not made in a bid to get his father elected, and said if he were playing “dirty politics” he would have had someone else file the records request.
Brandon Rowback said regardless of who wins the election he will continue to seek information from City Hall.
“I’m not going to stop because I do believe in full transparency,” he said.
King said Friday that the city plans on complying with Brandon Rowback’s revised request.
“I can tell you the council appoints or doesn’t appoint the city clerks. And they chose not to reappoint [Semione],” he said.
King said the city does not comment on personnel matters.
“We don’t talk about any of that stuff,” he said. “We never have and I don’t think it’s appropriate.”
He added that there’s nothing in the emails that will be disclosed that will shed light on why Semione was not reappointed. Semione could not be reached for comment Friday.
Bill Rowback said Friday that he was unaware his son was filing such a request.
“Tuesday night was the first I heard of that, I was a little shocked,” said Bill Rowback.
He added that he took personally Casale’s suggestion that his son’s request was politically motivated.
“I think it was a political ploy and a dig at me,” said Bill Rowback. “Why didn’t the city attorney or city clerk call Brandon up and say, ‘Hey this is going to be very extensive, is there something you’re looking for?’”
Bill Rowback added that he spoke to his son after the meeting Tuesday and respects his quest to get information from City Hall.
“He just came out and said, ‘Dad, we want transparency. It’s not just me, it’s not just you or a few friends, the city residents want transparency,’” said Bill Rowback.
City records show Brandon and Bill Rowback have made six FOIL requests between June 30 and Aug. 23 asking for King’s emails, time and mileage records, financial disclosures and annual dog licenses, among other items.
Bill Rowback, a 28-year veteran of the Gloversville Fire Department, has criticized King on the campaign trail over King’s employment as a real estate agent. Rowback said previously if elected he would be a full-time mayor.
King, who took office in 2010, has said previously that his status as a real estate agent does not interfere with his duties as mayor, and that he’s accessible on social media and email and regularly gives out his mobile phone number. King’s annual salary as mayor is $42,000.
Both King and Bill Rowback are running on the Republican and Independent party lines. They will face off in the primary election Sept. 12 and again in the general election Nov. 7.
Bill Rowback has been endorsed by the Fulton County Republican Committee.