GLOVERSVILLE — The Common Council on Wednesday night voted 5-2 to adopt the conclusions of the Special Investigation Committee report on the conduct of Councilman-at-large William Rowback Jr. — including that he exceeded his authority in threatening to fire city employees, exposed the city to potential lawsuits and was “untruthful” to the committee when giving testimony under oath.
The report states that it is the committee’s “opinion that Rowback’s responses were untruthful and that the information provided by the other witnesses was credible.”
Although the report is based on sworn testimony, the investigation was not subject to the evidence standards of a criminal probe, and appears unlikely to result in criminal charges.
The allegations against Rowback are occurring as he makes his second attempt since 2017 to be elected mayor as the Republican Party candidate, this time running against incumbent Democratic Mayor Vince DeSantis.
Sixth Ward Councilman Wrandy L. Siarkowski, a Republican, who chaired the three-member investigative committee, read the committee’s 10-page report aloud to the Common Council during a special meeting Wednesday night.
“Based upon the credible evidence, the Special Investigation Committee has unanimously determined that Rowback acted outside the scope of his authority as councilman-at-large and engaged in conduct which was harassing, intimidating and threatening to city employees,” Siarkowski said.
Rowback offered no rebuttal.
The Special Investigative Committee of the council was formed in January after city Department of Public Works Director Chris Perry submitted a resignation letter that alleged Rowback had created a hostile work environment for him and other city employees. The council rehired Perry by a vote of 5-2 a week after his resignation, with Rowback and his staunch political ally 4th Ward Councilwoman Ellen Anadio voting against the move.
In his resignation letter Perry said politics in Gloversville is dirty and dysfunctional and that Rowback was contributing to the negative environment.
The letter alleged that Rowback has made insulting and degrading comments about Perry and others. Among other accusations, Perry said Rowback had told others he would fire Perry if he were elected mayor. Rowback in the past has disputed the accusations in the letter.
The probe into Rowback’s conduct in office was conducted under a seldom-used city charter section that gives the council the power to subpoena witnesses, administer oaths, take testimony and gather evidence into the conduct of any city employee or elected official.
The report cited witness testimony from Perry, his secretary Brittany Harding, City Clerk Jennifer Mazur, Commissioner of Finance Tammie Weiterschan, Deputy Commissioner of Finance Mary Ann Reppenhagen, and Rowback.
Harding and Perry told the committee Rowback was very upset Perry had not told Harding about a chicken barbeque event organized by Rowback on Oct. 23, 2020 and that Rowback had told Harding Perry should be fired. The two also said Rowback was upset Perry had traveled to Ohio on Nov. 17, 2020 to facilitate the relocation of his family to Gloversville, but had not told Rowback he was going. Harding alleges Rowback told her that “Perry would have to suffer serious consequences for his failure to personally notify Rowback that he took time off.”
“Perry also stated that around this time, he fielded an unusually high number of phone calls from residents with the same theme: The caller would make a request of the Department of Public Works to perform services on privately owned property,” reads the report. “Upon indicating that DPW could not accommodate such a request, the caller would tell Perry that he was going to be out of job once Rowback is elected mayor.”
Mazur testified to the committee that Harding had told her about Rowback’s threats against Perry shortly after the October chicken barbeque incident.
Harding alleges she “was shaken” by Rowback’s reaction to not being “personally informed” that Perry had taken time off to go to Ohio and that he had shouted at her saying: “This is not how it done.”
Perry and Harding testified Rowback went to her office after Perry came back from Ohio to apologize for the incident, saying “he was sorry she misunderstood his comments.”
“Rowback then began telling her a story about an unrelated incident which occurred while he was working at the Gloversville Fire Department,” reads the report. “Rowback became emotionally upset and started to cry. Harding said that this incident left her feeling very unsettled and uncomfortable.”
Weiterschan and Reppenhagen testified that in the spring of 2020 they had both heard Rowback talking in City Hall near the city clerk’s office saying that if sales tax revenue didn’t improve he was “going to have lay people off,” a power not granted to a member of the Common Council.
When Rowback testified to the investigative committee on Feb. 3 with his attorney Connor Brownell present, he denied all of the allegations by other witnesses, but offered no witnesses to support his account.
In its findings, the Special Investigation Committee, which also included Republican 2nd Ward Councilman Arthur Simonds and Democratic 1st Ward Councilwoman Marcia Weiss, chastised Rowback for being hostile and unforthcoming during his testimony to the committee.
“What the committee received from Rowback and his representative was a threat to sue the city if the outcome of the Committee’s investigation was not acceptable to him and summary, one-word denials of the allegations,” reads the report.
The Special Investigation Committee, and the 5-2 majority of the council, concluded the special meeting by calling on Rowback to “take full responsibility for his words and actions” and issue a formal apology, reviewed and approved by the council, to the city employees who testified against him. The report also calls on Rowback to “undertake more comprehensive training regarding harassment in the workplace and workplace bullying.” The council is also requiring him to apologize to the rest of the council.
What legal sanctions, if any, the council has to enforce the requirements of the report on Rowback were unclear Wednesday night.
Only Councilwoman Anadio defended Rowback during the meeting and joined with him in voting against adopting the report. She said she believes there is no way Simonds could act in an unbiased way as a member of the committee because Simonds has declared himself a candidate for city councilman-at-large and has stated he is in the race to rally Republican support for DeSantis.
Simonds said his decision to run for office was motivated by the city Republican Committee choosing not to ask any of the elected Republicans on the council to run for councilman-at-large. He said the probe into Rowback’s conduct is separate from the future election.
“I like Bill as a person, and my being selected for the investigation, I was unbiased and open to anything being said,” he said. “As far as Bill Rowback is concerned, my hand is always open to Bill Rowback. If he becomes mayor I’ll support him like anyone else.”
Weiss objected to Rowback voting against adopting the report, calling it a conflict of interest. City Attorney Anthony “Tony” Casale would not comment on whether he thought it was appropriate for Rowback to vote on the matter.
Rowback refused to answer questions after the meeting, but made one statement during the meeting regarding his name having been misspelled in the report and in the subpoena used to summon him to testify.
“My name is William A. Rowback, not [William] J. [Rowback], please correct that,” he said.
“Absolutely,” Siarkowski replied.
After the meeting Siarkowski said the council will not pursue perjury charges against Rowback, although the report concludes that his sworn testimony was “untruthful.”