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Lewis County legislators postpone county manager decision

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County legislators delayed the appointment of a new county manager for a couple of weeks Tuesday to allow more vetting of the top candidate.

Following a more than hourlong executive session, lawmakers voted 6-4 to table the proposed appointment of Brian J. Wohnsiedler, Harrisville, former executive director of the Jefferson County Soil & Water Conservation District, until a special meeting at 9 a.m. July 15.

Legislators Jack T. Bush, R-Brantingham; Charles R. Fanning, R-Copenhagen; Philip C. Hathway, R-Harrisville; and Jerry H. King, R-West Leyden, opposed the two-week delay.

Postponing the appointment will “let us check out references,” said Board of Legislators Chairman Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan, afterward.

Legislator John O. Boyd, D-New Bremen, said board members could then “interview all those people from Jefferson County.”

Legislator Paul M. Stanford, D-Watson, who had previously voiced his displeasure that the majority of lawmakers selected Mr. Wohnsiedler as their top choice last week, indicated he would have preferred a longer delay.

Mr. Stanford, who could be heard several times during the closed session having heated discussions with other lawmakers, had publicly urged his fellow board members to reconsider based on circumstances surrounding Mr. Wohnsiedler’s abrupt departure from his previous post.

In February, it was discovered Mr. Wohnsiedler had been borrowing money against future state grants to continue to pay operating costs. Though no criminal action was found, the former director stepped down Feb. 4 after the board said it had lost confidence in him.

Mr. Wohnsiedler at the time maintained he had done nothing wrong and that “using available resources has always been a practice” at the district.

Since his resignation, an audit identified several areas where the organization could improve its bookkeeping practices but found no evidence of fraud.

However, the district has since been working to eliminate a $175,000 shortfall to lift a freeze on continued state funding.

If appointed, Mr. Wohnsiedler will receive a $70,000 salary, about $14,000 lower than former County Manager David H. Pendergast, who retired April 30.

The appointment runs with the 10 legislators’ terms, all of which expire at the end of the year. As a result, he would have a roughly five-month trial period before having to seek a two-year reappointment from the new board, expected to have at least five new members.

Legislators also heard an appeal from Lowville resident Carmen A. Sweet to reappoint Department of Social Services Commissioner Stacy L. Alvord, whose five-year term expires in the fall.

Mr. Sweet commended Mrs. Alvord for handling a large caseload increase without added staff and receiving a good review from the former county manager.

“She’s proved herself to the community,” he said.

Mr. Sweet said he is concerned members of the legislative Social Services Committee have a “personal ax to grind” against Mrs. Alvord and urged lawmakers to consider letters being written in support of her.

County officials recently advertised the position to consider any interested candidates, as they did five years ago, Mr. Tabolt said. They then readvertised, with the new application deadline set for Monday after Mrs. Alvord was the only one of four applicants to meet Civil Service requirements, he said.

In 2008, lawmakers hired Mrs. Alvord instead of reappointing then-Commissioner Penny A. LaBarge for a second term.

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