Gloversville -- Mayor Dayton King pleaded guilty to second-degree harassment, a violation, Monday in Town Court, ending a legal battle that began in December shortly after the end of the 2017 mayoral election.
King had been charged with a misdemeanor official misconduct charge over information he released during a live radio debate with his 2017 mayoral election opponent, William Rowback Jr.
The case had been scheduled to go to trial on Tuesday, but King, his lawyer Robert Abdella, special prosecutor Peter Califano from Montgomery County and Rowback met in Johnstown Town Court before Justice Karen Palmateer Monday and came to a settlement agreement.
"In the 12 years I've been here we've only had one jury trial. We've had a few get close, but they never follow through," Palmateer said.
King's plea agreement included a $250 fine, $125 court surcharge and an agreement that King will write a letter to Rowback and the Gloversville firefighter's union for violating state Civil Rights Law 50-a. King also has to read the letter aloud during the Oct. 23 Gloversville Common Council meeting. Califano must first sign off on the letter and King must write it to comply with his "conditional release" or else face the possibility of re-sentencing.
"Before I accept this plea, there is one more thing," Palmateer said. "I would ask that Mr. King and Mr. Rowback shake hands."
The two once fierce political rivals agreed to the handshake in the middle of the courtroom. King then paid his fine in cash and left.
King was arrested by state police in December after a hotly contested mayoral election that had, at first, saw Rowback declared the winner before an official count of the ballots several weeks later revealed counting errors in one of the wards and that King had actually won a third term.
The charge stemmed from violation of state Civil Rights Law 50-a, which states the personnel files of firefighters and police officers "used to evaluate performance toward continued employment or promotion" of those officers and firefighters ... "shall be considered confidential and not subject to inspection or review without the express written consent of such ... firefighter" except under court order.
During the Oct. 28 mayoral debate aired on radio station WENT, King and Rowback argued over whether Rowback, an active Gloversville firefighter, was ever disciplined or passed over for promotion due to allegations that he went bowling during a sick day from work.
The discussion turned to Rowback's 28-year history with the Fire Department.
"If you looked at my work history at the city of Gloversville ..." Rowback said as King interjected: "I have."
"You have?" Rowback responded. "Oh."
Rowback then paused for several seconds and started pressing King, asking whether he noticed that Rowback had applied multiple times to be a fire investigator, and whether there was a reason why he wasn't appointed.
King referenced "calling in sick" and "going bowling" as potential reasons.
During the broadcast King repeatedly said he believed Rowback's personnel file was subject to the New York state Freedom of Information Law, which is not correct.
Abdella said after the settlement agreement that he still does not believe the dispute between the two men belonged in a criminal setting.
"Nothing has changed my mind about that. I don't think this case belonged in a criminal court, but I can tell you that Dayton is happy to have the case resolved. He has no problem issuing an apology to Mr. Rowback and to the firefighters. He certainly was not aware during the debate that him discussing that incident about Mr. Rowback was a violation of any law," he said.
"Basically if, you look at the transcript, Bill asked him to disclose the information and he did. But that all being said ... that information about Bill probably shouldn't have been discussed, even under the circumstances. His apology will be sincere."
Califano said he was happy to get the plea deal.
"I think it was a good resolution," he said.
Rowback said he's going to reserve comment on the outcome of the case for now. "I'll have a comment on Oct. 23," he said. That's the day King must read his apology.