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Former Soil and Water director slated for Lewis County manager

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County legislators are expected to hire the past director of the Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District as their new county manager, despite his abrupt departure from that job.

Brian J. Wohnsiedler, Harrisville, is to be appointed to the post, effective July 8, as long as he has met all prior employment requirements by then, according to a resolution to be introduced at Tuesday’s Board of Legislators meeting. The appointment would run through the end of the year, with the annual salary set at $70,000, about $14,000 lower than the previous manager’s.

Mr. Wohnsiedler has extensive administrative experience, and “his confidence and honesty mirrored what we were looking for,” said Legislature Chairman Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan.

Mr. Tabolt said he was personally hoping that the chosen candidate would have a strong agricultural background, and Mr. Wohnsiedler “certainly fits that category. He’s an outdoor enthusiast.”

The chairman acknowledged that some legislators expressed strong reservations with the pick, given that in February, Mr. Wohnsiedler left his cash-strapped organization on poor terms.

However, a majority of lawmakers — following a second round of interviews conducted by the full board — felt Mr. Wohnsiedler, who had served at the helm of Jefferson County Soil and Water for 12 years, was the right person for the job, the chairman said.

Earlier this year, the state froze all grant funds to the Watertown-based district following the revelation that the director had been mingling grant funds and borrowing against future revenue sources to stretch a budget that was running at a deficit.

Mr. Wohnsiedler at the time maintained he had done nothing wrong and “using available resources has always been a practice” at the district, but he resigned after members of the nonprofit board indicated they had lost faith in him.

Since his resignation, an audit conducted by Crowley & Halloran CPAs, Watertown, identified several areas where the organization could improve its bookkeeping practices but found no evidence of fraud.

Mr. Wohnsiedler operates a company that manages 3,500 acres of timberland and is a member of the town of Diana Zoning Board of Appeals and the Carthage Federal Savings & Loan board of directors. He also was a past advisory board member for the Jefferson Community College Center for Community Studies.

He served for several months in 1999 as a research associate forester through Colorado State University at Fort Wainwright in Alaska, then worked for a couple of years as a wetland specialist at Fort Drum, also through the Colorado university, before joining Soil and Water.

Mr. Wohnsiedler earned an associate degree from the state ranger school in Wanakena and a bachelor’s degree in resources management from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse.

The county manager appointment runs with the 10 legislators’ terms, all of which expire at the end of the year.

That means Mr. Wohnsiedler, if he is appointed Tuesday, 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 — in early January for two more years.

“We made it very clear that this is a short-term appointment,” Mr. Tabolt said.

Former County Manager David H. Pendergast retired April 30 after five years at the post.

The county received 10 applications during the initial job posting, and lawmakers interviewed four candidates in late April. However, late last month, they decided to readvertise for the post after failing to land a consensus candidate and received seven additional applications, including one from Mr. Wohnsiedler.

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