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Lewis trail coordinator probe mostly done but pending review

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County officials next week could either fire or reinstate their recreational trail coordinator after they review a recently completed investigation of alleged misconduct by Robert C. Diehl, who remains suspended without pay.

Dale W. Roberts, senior investigator at the Sheriff’s Department, said Friday he had “completed a large part of the investigation” and turned his findings over to Sheriff Michael P. Carpinelli, District Attorney Leanne K. Moser, County Manager David H. Pendergast and County Attorney Richard J. Graham.

Lawmakers at a budget work session Tuesday decided they would restrict the trail coordinator from taking a county-owned vehicle home with him, although they could take no formal action because it was not a regular board meeting. Later that day Mr. Pendergast suspended Mr. Diehl without pay, but made no public announcement until a Times reporter asked him about the matter Wednesday.

According to a legislator, the proposed vehicle restriction was for a separate issue not related to the allegations that led to the suspension.

County officials will not say whether the allegations involve equipment, money or job performance, although Sheriff Carpinelli on Thursday characterized the alleged offenses as more “stupid” than severe.

The district attorney will determine if any criminal prosecution is warranted, while the county manager and county attorney will review Mr. Diehl’s employment status.

Mr. Diehl, who was appointed by legislators six years ago, is expected to soon be granted a civil hearing to defend himself against the unspecified allegations and seek reinstatement to his job.

Mr. Diehl has not returned calls seeking comment, and was not home Friday afternoon when a Times reporter went to his town of Martinsburg residence.

Mr. Diehl was hired as the county’s first trail coordinator in mid-2006. He oversees the county’s permit-based all-terrain vehicle trails program, handles applications for state reimbursement for snowmobile trail grooming by local clubs, seeks other grant funding for trail work and organizes several events each year, including snowkiting, a mountain bike race and canoe and kayak events.

Mr. Diehl is the second Lewis County employee suspended without pay in the last year. The county manager in late December took a similar action against then-Democratic Election Commissioner Elaine McLear on allegations that she had authorized her daughter to be paid for election inspector work that she did not do.

Mrs. McLear sued the county seeking reinstatement and back pay, and a state Supreme Court judge ruled in her favor, agreeing that election commissioners can be removed from office only by the governor. However, the county appealed the decision, keeping Mrs. McLear from returning to work until that process is completed.

That likely won’t happen until after the commissioners’ terms expire on Dec. 31, allowing the county Democratic Committee and county legislators to appoint a new commissioner. Lindsay I. Burriss has served as interim commissioner for the entire year.

State police investigated that case, and findings were turned over to the state attorney general’s office. No criminal prosecution has taken place.

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