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Lewis legislators vote to fire Diehl

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LOWVILLE — The Lewis County Board of Legislators voted Friday evening to fire trail coordinator Robert C. Diehl for misconduct, dismissing a judge’s recommendation that he be suspended for two months for allegedly billing the county for gravel delivered for personal use.

Emerging from an hourlong closed-door meeting, the nine legislators present agreed on the resolution to fire Mr. Diehl. Legislator Richard C. Lucas, R-Barnes Corners, did not return from recess for the vote.

“It’s our duty to evaluate all the charges to do it justice,” Chairman Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan, said after the meeting. “We took our time and came up with a consensus and a course of action.”

Mr. Diehl, who did not attend the meeting, said Friday evening: “I did the best I could for the county. I’m sorry the legislators didn’t see it that way.”

He was accused of submitting to the county a purchase order and voucher for payment in late October for stone products from V.S. Virkler & Son that included $3,262.97 worth of gravel that was delivered to his Martinsburg residence for his personal use. The discrepancy was discovered after payment was made.

Mr. Diehl was suspended without pay Nov. 13. Because he is a civil service employee, his pay was reinstated after 30 days, but he remained off the job.

A criminal case is pending. Mr. Diehl is charged with third-degree grand larceny, first-degree offering a false instrument for filing and official misconduct. He has not yet appeared in Lewis County Court.

At a Dec. 26 administrative hearing presided over by retired state Supreme Court Justice John S. Parker, Mr. Diehl admitted receiving the gravel at his residence; however, he testified that the purchase order he submitted for payment was made in error.

According to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation, Judge Parker found Mr. Diehl not guilty of gross negligence but guilty of incompetence, and recommended that the county reprimand him and suspend him without pay for 60 days.

Judge Parker’s recommendation, along with a 206-page transcript of the hearing, were considered by the legislators during an hour and 40 minutes of discussion in executive session Monday evening that had to be continued after it yielded no resolution.

The unusual Friday night session capped a three-month process that exposed tensions among county leaders. Mr. Diehl, hired by the county in 2006 for the newly created job of recreational trails coordinator, became the focus of investigation in November when the county paid V.S. Virkler & Son for the gravel and the business notified the county that the gravel went to Mr. Diehl’s property.

Before entering executive session Friday, Legislator Jack T. Bush, R-Brantingham, told fellow board members he was “deeply troubled” by recent information leaked to the media, saying it was “published long before it should have.”

Still other information, he said, “appeared on Facebook for all the world to see.”

Mr. Bush warned that if he finds out who dispensed the information, “I will start impeachment procedures immediately.”

County attorney Richard J. Graham expressed similar concern about personnel information reported in both “traditional and social media,” adding, “public opinions of these procedures are totally irrelevant.”

Legislator Paul M. Stanford, D-Watson, directed his response to Mr. Bush, referring to previous information he claims was leaked during Mr. Bush’s tenure as chairman.

“Stuff’s come out of here, Jack, and it came from up here,” he said, pointing to Mr. Bush’s former seat.

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