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Column on Brian Wohnsiedler had errors

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I am legal counsel for Brian Wohnsiedler. Please accept this letter in response to Perry White’s Outside Looking In column on Aug. 19, titled “Good decision, wrong reason.” Mr. White’s column makes several factual misstatements that should be corrected.

First, Mr. Wohnsiedler was not “asked to step aside by the [Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District]’s board of directors.” Mr. Wohnsiedler resigned voluntarily to spare the district any harm.

Like all prior coverage of Mr. Wohnsiedler’s resignation, Mr. White’s column ignores the fact that the directors of the district and any treasurer they appoint are responsible by law for the financial management of the district. Under Section 8 of the New York Soil and Water Conservation District Law, any treasurer appointed by the directors shall have the duty “to receive and have the custody of the funds of the district and to disburse the same for authorized purposes on the order of the directors.” Under Section 9 of that law, directors are required to “annually expend in such district the actual and necessary expenses of maintaining and continuing the New York soil and water conservation district’s association and any of its activities” “[w]ithin the limits of appropriations made available for such purposes.”

Just as certain directors of the district seemed oblivious of their own legal duties in blaming Mr. Wohnsiedler for the district’s financial troubles, Mr. White seems not to understand how the district is legally required to operate.

Mr. White quotes an anonymous source about “[s]tandard operating procedure” of Soil and Water Conservation districts. The anonymous source’s claims are contradicted by Feb. 14, 2013, meeting minutes produced by the district in response to a Freedom of Information law request. Those minutes quote a New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets employee stating that his agency has seen other districts that maintained their grant and operational funds in a single account. Had Mr. White sought comment from Mr. Wohnsiedler for his story, he could have discovered this information.

There is no scandal here. The audit conducted after Mr. Wohnsiedler resigned was remarkably clean.

It did not turn up so much as a missing shovel. The audit’s findings in this regard belie Mr. White’s claim that Mr. Wohnsiedler could not handle a budget. To the extent the audit makes suggestions for better financial controls, the district’s Board of Directors should adopt them. This was their obligation all along.

Finally, Mr. Wohnsiedler has not deflected blame for his role. He resigned, after all. However, his reputation should not be continually damaged by careless reporting.

Gabriel M. Nugent

Syracuse

The writer is a partner at Hiscock & Barclay.

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