COLONIE — The new deputy supervisor for the Town of Colonie is the lone Independent member on the Town Board and the only one to have served as a justice prior to his political career. Going into his second month in a position he was elected to by his fellow board members, David Rowley says his priorities are simple: low taxes, quality services and smart growth.
“I think most people go the opposite way,” laughed Rowley. “It’s been interesting going from the judiciary to the legislative. In the judiciary, you’re obviously in complete control because you’re the boss, whereas in the legislative branch, you have to have a collaborative and cooperative exchange because nothing will happen unless you can be in agreement with your fellow council men and women.”
Rowley, who grew up in Menands and attended Albany Law School, enjoys being involved in the “minutiae” of running a town. It’s quite a bit different, he said, not just in structure but also in the things he encounters on a regular basis. An interest in the judiciary aspect of criminal justice as an attorney is what prompted him to initially run for Justice in the Village of Menands in 2001. “It wound up being a really enlightening experience. I saw a lot of crimes that I would have to classify as crimes of poverty—a lot of thefts at Price Chopper and people who were just kind of down and out on their luck and just, you know… there, but for the grace of God, go I. I saw a lot of kids who came out of homes that were just dysfunctional and had really tough upbringings, and they kind of inherited the problems of those circumstances. To the extent possible, I tried to keep them out of jail because I don’t think that helps them.” In circumstances where the defendant didn’t pose an immediate threat, he said, he would prefer to sentence misdemeanor offenders to community service or probation.
When, in 2012, a seat opened up on the Town Board with a year left in the term, Colonie Supervisor Paula Mahan reached out to Rowley to see if he was interested in the seat. He said yes, gave up his seat as a judge and waged a campaign to sit on the board for that one year. “And I was elected. And then, in 2013, I had to run again. And I did.”
“David Rowley was a great candidate for Town Board because of his strong background,” Mahan told Spotlight News. “We also shared the same philosophy of government in wanting to work for the people in order to contribute to our community.”
“A lot of this stuff is stuff that people don’t think about on a routine basis,” Rowley said of town governance. “It’s really not a lot of high-charged political issues. We deal with a lot of nuts-and-bolts issues like infrastructure, sewer lines, making sure the proper water service is out there and that the roads are properly maintained. It’s making sure that quality of life services are available to residents while keeping taxes as low as possible—I know that’s a big concern of a lot of folks, myself included.”
Rowley, who practices municipal law as an attorney at Cooper, Erving and Savage, lamented the high taxes in New York State. “It’s a really big issue, “ he said. “This model is just not self-sustaining. Something is going to happen and I don’t think it’s going to be good.” Noting the high property taxes and budgetary shortfall in the neighboring City of Albany, Rowley said, “I don’t know what they’re going to do. If they don’t get funds from the state, it’s unfortunately probably going to be a combination of cuts and increased taxes. It’s not going to be pretty.”
One of his main priorities, he said, is keeping the town under the tax cap. “That’s going to be very difficult,” he said, explaining that due to the inflation rate and other factors it was likely that the cap this year will be set at 1 percent. “Residents benefit from keeping taxes down and, plus, there are incentives from the state and those can be substantial. So the number one goal I have is to make sure that we keep the best possible services but to keep within the tax cap.”
One way to do this, said Rowley, is “smart growth.” “We’re very fortunate in the Town of Colonie in that we have a lot of businesses and homebuilders that want to locate here. As we get those properties on the tax rolls, it helps to pay for the cost of running the town.” That being said, Rowley added that it is important make sure that growth is balanced and that infrastructure needs to accommodate that growth are addressed. The town, he pointed out, has a multi-tiered process through which potential development projects are vetted that includes reviews by town traffic engineers.
As the only Independence party member on an otherwise evenly split seven-person Town Board, Rowley arguably represents the tie-breaking vote in the event that the body is split down party lines. A Republican until around the time he donned justice robes 15 years ago, he seemed to think there won’t be too many occasions when that becomes an issue. “I don’t know how much party politics is involved with the running of the town. I think everyone would agree that we’re just trying to provide the best possible services at the least possible cost. I think that’s what the town wants.”
“We’re trying to be as transparent as possible,” he said. “If anybody has any issues with the town, we always have an open door. I’m available by email and always try to respond within 24 hours. The town is really their town and the more people who get involved in town government, the better. Regardless of what party or affiliation you have, I think when we have a very active and energized community, it can only be for the better. The worst thing in the world is apathy. If people don’t care, then the government they get reflects that.”