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Stanford urges board to reconsider appointment

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County legislators will decide tonight whether to name Brian J. Wohnsiedler, Harrisville, former executive director of the Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District, as their new county manager.

While discussion last week showed legislators likely would approve Mr. Wohnsiedler, Legislator Paul M. Stanford, D-Watson, is vocal about his opposition to the action.

“There’s no facts here that lead me to believe this guy can run 27 departments if that’s how he ran one department in Jefferson County,” Mr. Stanford said, referring to Mr. Wohnsiedler’s abrupt departure after a $175,000 shortfall left his former employer scrambling to keep the district from sinking.

In February, it was discovered that Mr. Wohnsiedler had been borrowing money against future state grants to continue to pay operating costs when a “whistle-blower” came forward to testify against him.

Though no criminal action was suspected, the board said it had lost confidence in Mr. Wohnsiedler and he stepped down Feb. 4.

A subsequent audit cited seven “material weaknesses” in the district’s internal controls, including not keeping cash from grant funds in separate bank accounts, not enforcing the district’s policy governing equipment use, not having a formal process in place to develop a budget and not segregating certain financial duties.

The audit also identified two “significant deficiencies,” which are less serious than material weaknesses but still worth noting, according to the report.

They included weaknesses in internal controls in the payroll process, including instances in which the former executive director signed his own payroll checks; irregularities in the signing and submission of employees’ time cards, and weaknesses in internal controls governing the cash disbursement process.

The errors were attributed to lack of internal controls and oversight.

Jefferson County Legislator Michael W. Behling, R-Adams, who is also a district board of directors member, said, “What we found in the audit was nothing illegal as far as a crime, but it is illegal to use grant money for other things than what it’s intended for.”

To repay the grant, the district had to make aggressive moves.

Gary D. Eddy, the district’s full-time forester, joined his former employee, Leonard N. Tibbetts, laid off months earlier, on the unemployment roll.

“We’ve sold off equipment,” Mr. Behling said. The sale of a truck, boat and trailer netted the district $27,365.22.

With approximately $85,000 still lacking to replace the funds, the Jefferson County Board of Legislators is expected to vote tonight to approve a resolution to provide that amount to cover the outstanding shortfall.

“We can’t do this to the taxpayers,” Mr. Stanford said. “We had far better candidates.”

He noted Mr. Wohnsiedler previously applied for and was passed over for the Lewis County recreational trail coordinator position.

Mr. Stanford said Mr. Wohnsiedler was questioned about his departure from Jefferson County during his interview.

“He downplayed it,” Mr. Stanford said, “I had no idea it was this in depth until I did more research.”

Mr. Stanford also expressed concerns that Mr. Wohnsiedler, after resigning his position with the district, retained an attorney and has since requested meeting minutes, contracts and other documents from the district.

“He gave us a story that he had no wrongdoing,” Mr. Stanford said. “It’s all said and done in Jefferson County. They aren’t going after him, so why get an attorney?”

If Mr. Wohnsiedler is appointed tonight, he would have a roughly six-month trial period before having to seek reappointment by the new board which is expected to have at least five new members.

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