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Wladis hire questioned

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CANTON — The hiring of a Syracuse law firm by St. Lawrence County to lobby Albany on its behalf has some legislators complaining about the procedure of the vote along with the cost of the contract in a time of fiscal problems.

Legislators voted 9-5 Monday to hire Wladis Law Firm at $60,000 for one year plus expenses and fees. The firm will act as a liaison between the county and state officials, provide information on pending legislation and how it affects the county and advocate on its behalf.

All of the board’s Republicans, with the exception of Alex A. MacKinnon, Fowler — who was absent — and Donald A. Peck, Gouverneur, voted against the contract, partially because the county is contemplating a tax levy increase of 20 percent.

“It sends a message that we find it very easy to spend other people’s money,” Morristown Legislator Joseph R. Lightfoot said. “I think it’s an unwise move.”

Daniel F. Parker, Potsdam, said his opposition was twofold: he did not think the county could afford the contract, and he questioned the value of the work.

“I don’t think an external law firm can fix the problems in St. Lawrence County,” he said.

Although some thought Wladis’s purpose will be mostly to lobby for home rule legislation that would allow the county to raise the local sales tax, Legislature Chairwoman Sallie A. Brothers, D-Norfolk, said the county needs to build its influence in Albany on a variety of issues.

“We have to try something different because things are not working for us on a lot of levels,” she said. “This is not about sales tax. If that was the reason, I wouldn’t do it.”

Mrs. Brothers said she did not want to criticize state representatives or malign high-level deputies, but other municipalities seem to have more direct lines to top officials than St. Lawrence County.

“This is the way it is,” she said. “I simply don’t have a lot of faith in the level of our influence. I’m talking about bureaucratic issues.”

Wladis was hired by Lewis County several months ago to help with a fiscal crisis at Lewis County General Hospital and with redevelopment of Lyons Falls Pulp & Paper. Lewis County Legislature Chairman Jack T. Bush, R-Brantingham, said he has seen a difference in the attitude of state Department of Health officials since the involvement of Mark Wladis.

“He knows all these folks. He’s very well connected,” Mr. Bush said. “I’m very pleased with their performance so far.”

Wladis could help other municipalities with their problems dealing with the state bureaucracy, Mr. Peck said. For example, Wladis could assist E.J. Noble Hospital, Gouverneur, which had its lab closed by the Health Department, if the board made it a priority.

“They could work under our contract,” Mr. Peck said.

Other than the money, some legislators objected to the manner in which Wladis was hired. It was pulled from the agenda of a previous Finance Committee meeting but showed up under suspension of the rules at the full board meeting.

“It was pulled because there was information we wanted to get before we put it out there,” Mrs. Brothers said.

It was brought afterward to the full board rather than the committee so the firm could start work quickly, she said.

The lack of notice did not sit well with Scott M. Sutherland, R-Pierrepont.

“We didn’t have the chance to air it in committee. I think we should have more time to talk about it,” he said. “It was poor timing with a difficult budget and the lack of discussion.”

Mark H. Akins, R-Lisbon, questioned whether the vote was made properly because Gregory M. Paquin, D-Massena, who was acting as the chairman during the discussion, cut off Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction, when he was about to call the question.

“There were two motions on the floor. Greg shot it down right off the bat, so what did we vote on?” Mr. Akins said. “I think you should get it right.”

Mr. Akins is mistaken about what Mr. Morrill said, according to Mrs. Brothers.

“He did not call the question,” she said. “He said, ‘I was going to call the question,’ but he did not.”

Mr. Akins said he realized the vote likely would be the same even if it comes back to the board.

“I’ll be happy to accept the will of the board,” he said. “I’d just like a public discussion about it.”

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