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Visit scenic Lewis County, home of the good ol’ boy network

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Despite the efforts of some of its members to change the way the Lewis County Legislature operates, time and again its actions make it obvious that the good old boy network is alive and well in Lowville and around the county.

The latest head-shaker is the news that applications for two of the most important positions in county government — the county manager (post vacant since April) and the county attorney — have been sought, in effect, by having a low-level county employee shout out the vacancies on the street corners of the county’s villages and hamlets at midnight on the full moon. Or at least it might have just as well been done that way.

The county manager’s position has been vacant since April primarily because the first effort to fill it — by hiring Brian Wohnsiedler of Harrisville — fell apart when some legislators and a number of residents raised questions about the applicant’s qualifications in light of his resignation under a cloud from a quasi-government job in Jefferson County. The Legislature at that point decided to leave the post vacant until January, since it would require a reappointment then if someone was seated in the job in calendar 2013. (It apparently never occurred to anyone what a simple probationary period that would have presented the county).

And after that, sometime this fall, some legislators also decided that it would probably be a good idea to seek applications for the county attorney position held for years by Richard Graham. Over the years, Mr. Graham has had a checkered record of defending the county against lawsuits, losing the majority of the challenges thus far adjudicated over the county’s controversial ATV trails system (“Hey, let’s open some roads!”) and losing to Bruce Krug, who acted as his own attorney, in a challenge to a Graham decision not to provide legally sought county records. That mano-a-mano battle went, hands down, to the former county legislator.

So, maybe with these things in mind, maybe not, it was decided the county should seek applications for the attorney position.

The county manager posting has received a number of applicants, even though the deadline is more than a week away. The county attorney position has not. Does that mean no one wants to be county attorney?

Probably not. While the county used relatively standard methods to advertise for the manager position, the attorney position has not yet been advertised — or at least not advertised anywhere that a more or less local attorney would naturally see it, as far as we can tell.

County officials quickly point out that the job is posted on the county website, and on the New York State Association of Counties website. I’m curious how many members of the bar are looking for employment notices on those two sites. I went to the Lewis County site, and after a couple of false starts, I found the county attorney posting. It notes, along with the fact that the county pays competitive salary rates, that the job starts on Jan. 1. A couple of sentences later, it says applications are due Jan. 1.

You have to wonder how serious a job posting is when the job starts the same day the applications are due. I know my immediate thought was, “this is just window dressing — the fix is in.”

You hear a lot of people say that if only government ran like a business, things would be better. In Lewis County, people would be far better served if their government ran like — well — a government. The county should be serious with its hiring practices. It should hire, in every instance, the most qualified people after advertising in the best possible locations. It should follow both the law and best practices (including, I will point out, by advertising in its officially designated publications) in seeking and hiring employees. If the Legislature was serious about getting valid applications for the county attorney position, the way it went about doing so was as frivolous as it comes.

If it wasn’t serious — if this was just window dressing — it’s as clear a case as you can make that the good-old-boy network is alive and thriving in Lewis County. And that just isn’t good government, no matter how you slice it.

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