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Lewis County chairman apologizes for trail coordinator computer access, suggests policy

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County’s Board of Legislators chairman has apologized for his part in allowing the fired trails coordinator access to his old computer last week and recommended developing a policy to help ensure it doesn’t happen again.

“In hindsight, I guess we went about it the wrong way,” said Chairman Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan, during Tuesday’s meeting.

Former Trail Coordinator Robert C. Diehl, whom legislators fired in February for alleged misconduct, requested access to logos and posters he had developed and pictures he had taken, said County Manager David H. Pendergast, attending his final regular board meeting before his April 30 retirement.

After consulting with Mr. Tabolt and county attorney Richard J. Graham, Mr. Pendergast said Mr. Diehl was allowed to go to his former office while accompanied by a member of the county’s information technology staff.

“I just innocently thought it would help the guy in future employment,” Mr. Tabolt said.

“It shouldn’t have happened to begin with,” said Legislator Paul M. Stanford, D-Watson, who raised the issue after hearing about it Friday.

Mr. Stanford said he was concerned that such access could affect criminal proceedings against Mr. Diehl, who has been accused of submitting to the county a purchase order and voucher for $3,262.97 worth of gravel that was delivered to his Martinsburg residence for his personal use.

“This could throw an iron into litigation,” he said.

During a phone interview following the meeting, Mr. Diehl confirmed he was supervised the entire time he was in his former office by Buildings and Grounds Supervisor Frank J. Archer.

“He watched everything.He even helped me carry my things out,” Mr. Diehl said.

After six years of employment, he explained, he had many personal items to retrieve, such as books and photos. Douglas Nagy from the Information Technology Department was also present for the majority of the time.

Mr. Diehl has yet to appear in Lewis County Court on charges of third-degree grand larceny, first-degree offering a false instrument for filing and official misconduct.

District Attorney Leanne K. Moser, whose office would handle prosecution of the case, apparently was never consulted about Mr. Diehl’s visit to his office.

Mr. Tabolt requested the Human Resources Committee develop specific protocols for handling fired employees in the future.

“You need a policy that oversees all cases,” he said.

Legislators also narrowly declined to retain Wladis Law Firm, East Syracuse, for continued government relations and grant application work for a set fee of $13,000 per month, or $156,000 annually.

The vote was 5-4 in favor, but six votes are required for passage on the 10-member board. Mr. Tabolt, Mr. Stanford and Legislators William J. Burke, R-West Lowville, and Patrick F. Wallace, R-Lowville, opposed the measure, while Legislator Richard C. Lucas, R-Barnes Corners, was absent.

The county paid the firm $195,000 last year, most of it through an hourly contract, but Wladis helped secure $2.3 million in grant money, according to Legislator Jerry H. King, R-West Leyden.

“We got bang for our buck,” he said. “I think it’s a good investment.”

Getting the firm’s expertise and contacts at a set rate would be advantageous for budget planning, Mr. King added.

However, some legislators were concerned about spending the money without specific projects to work on and suggested other such firms may be available.

“I just don’t know how many rabbits they’ll pull out of the hat,” Mr. Tabolt said.

Opponents first attempted to table to the resolution but couldn’t get the needed six votes.

Legislators by 9-0 votes also:

n Initiated a state Environmental Quality Review process for a proposed dialysis center addition at Lewis County General Hospital and established a capital account for the project.

n Authorized borrowing of up to $3 million for an information management system upgrade at the hospital.

n Approved privatizing the Community Recovery Center, with Credo Community Center for the Treatment of Addictions Inc., Watertown, to eventually take over the operation.

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