Quick Questions with George Bower
Former town judge, current county legislator ready to close 45-year run in public service
HOLLEY – George Bower says he’s been fortunate to live in Holley – as a kid, a young parent and a grandparent who is steady presence at many Holley soccer games and other youth sporting events.
Bower also has been a mainstay in public service for the community, serving as a Murray town justice for 21 years before joining the County Legislature nearly 24 years ago. He won’t be running again, and will retire Dec. 31.
Bower, 76, grew up in the hamlet of Brockville just outside Holley. He married a Hulberton girl, Sandy. They have four children and 11 grandchildren who all live nearby.
He worked at Kodak, starting as a draftsmen and working his way up to head of patent researching, a job that took him to Washington, D.C. monthly for more than 25 years.
The following interview was conducted at Sam’s Diner:
Question: Did you always have an interest in the justice system?
Answer: Especially justice. Having four children and going to all of the events, I saw some of the young people who really weren’t acting as well as they should. They needed a little extra guidance. It worked out and it was really interesting for me for 21 years.
Question: Was being a justice different then? Did you have more latitude because nowadays you hear judges complain about all of these mandatory sentences?
Answer: It was different then. You could sentence to community service, which I did quite often. Students used to get ticked at me because of some of the jobs I created. They didn’t have to take the jobs. They could have gone to jail. They had the choice.
You could counsel young kids. You could take time with them then.
That’s where I got the idea for the welfare-to-work crew (at the county), which is still going on. I had all of these people coming into court and I wanted to do more for them, but I couldn’t. I tried to come up with creative ideas for them where they could work.
At the county I had this in the back of my mind. Many of these people are downtrodden. There is a reason they are and we wanted to get to it. We first had a garden and they could work on it and see something materialize, and take some of the fruits of their labor home. A lot of them got off of welfare.
Question: You don’t see too many county legislators with a background as a town justice. It seems like as a judge you would make a lot of enemies?
Answer: I made way more friends than enemies. I always worked with everybody who came into my court. I took time with them. But it started to get where there wasn’t enough time to work with them because the state started to meddle into what you could do and what you couldn’t do with them. It started to get ridiculous where court was another way for the state to raise money. It became all about money. I wanted to be able to work with people to improve their lifestyle, because they weren’t getting that at home.
We had a lot of bars in the village back then, I think there were six. Every weekend I had to get out of bed to do arraignments for drunk drivers. That gets tiring but you have to do it because it’s all part of being a judge.
Question: Why retire this year from the Legislature?
Answer: My wife and I talked about it. It’s really a family thing. We went to a baseball game last night in Attica. My grandson went 3 for 4, drove in two runs. We miss some of the games, but very few. We really believe in family.
Question: People may just see the Legislature as twice-a-month meetings. But I know there are a lot of committees and other meetings with the job.
Answer: There are a lot of committees. If you’re interested, you got to go to things. There’s a youth recognition awards banquet coming up. I believe I should be there. I have always gone. Holley kids will be there with their families. From the sporting events, I know a lot of people.
If you want to be a good legislator, you have to work.
Question: You’ve always an advocate for the nursing home.
Answer: Redoing the nursing home was a battle I fought because I believed we should have had a better nursing home. We could no longer (about a decade ago) attract our own people because the nursing home was so bad.
That was my first committee, the nursing home, and it was a long battle to get it done. Now we’re in the throes of maybe losing it, which I think would be a mistake, but I’m the only one (on the Legislature).
Question: When they talk about the big deficits, $2 to $4 million a year at the nursing home, it seems speculative.
Answer: It is. We also really promised the people we wouldn’t touch it until January 2015. (The Legislature, in a 6-1 vote in February, voted to transfer the nursing home to the local development corporation that has been tasked with finding a buyer for the 120-bed nursing home.) With that resolution we lost control of it. Now we can pawn it off.
I’m there a lot at the nursing home. I gave tours for about six months, trying to bring back the numbers. A lot of people don’t know it’s out there. We have a rehab center there, as well as the nursing home.
It’s not just the downtrodden in the nursing home. We have some of our top-notch citizens in the nursing home. A lot of people want to know what they can do to keep it county-run. That nursing home touches thousands of people in the community. It’s such a great place right now.
Question: You don’t see too many people these days grow up in a little town and stay there forever like you have.
Answer: It’s about the jobs. You see it in our schools. Our schools are going down because the people of child-bearing age are leaving. I think it’s going to force some of the school districts to merge.
Question: It seems like the American Dream to grow up in a small town, to stay here and be involved.
Answer: I think it’s been wonderful. I’m lucky because my family has stayed here. They have good jobs or they’re in college.
This is a nice place to live. We have nice people here.
Question: How do you think your life would have been different if you didn’t get involved in the community 45 years ago? You wouldn’t be as well known in Sam’s Diner, that’s for sure.
Answer: It’s funny because I come in here most every morning. I know everybody in here. I see county workers in here. It’s been rewarding for me. This is who I am.
Question: I have to think you’re one of the most accessible legislators.
Answer: I play cards once a week with people from Albion. They all go to diners. Around that card table, we’re all older and there’s a vast amount of knowledge. Around that table, you can pick up things. There’s one Democrat. We have a good time. I can mix those things and athletics with politics.
Question: What are some things you’re proud of as a public official?
Answer: I look back at some of the things I’ve accomplished, with the help of others of course, and we’ve accomplished a lot in the county over the years. The public safety building was a battle when we did it because it was an old store (on Route 31 in Albion). People thought the roof would leak. I was chairman of the Public Safety Building when we did it (in the late 1990s). I sat in on every meeting.
It was a battle to get into a new shelter. The work crew, I helped push that. A lot of things have gone on in the last 24 years. We redid the courthouse so it can last another 50 years so it can house what we need.
The nursing home was the biggest battle we had, and now it’s a battle again because we might lose it. People don’t understand, they say we’ll get the same care (under private ownership). But everyone I talk to say there’s no comparison when you compare it to Brockport, Medina or Batavia. There’s not the quality of care.
Our nursing home is clean and there’s almost never, ever a smell. There’s beautiful artwork in the dementia ward. There’s music.
Question: Are you really retiring or do you have other projects in mind?
Answer: I’m going to stay involved in Holley. I like to walk the canal and in Holley we have an old canal bed by the falls. About five years ago the county workers cut down a lot of trees so you could see the bed. Now, I’m working with them and the village of Holley to get down there and clean the 100 feet or whatever it is because the stone is on both sides on the canal bed. I want to bring it back, I really want to do it. We should bring it back and flood it.