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Republican councilmen Monday night created an outside panel to screen candidates for the job of Amherst sewage treatment plant superintendent, but Democratic Supervisor Daniel J. Ward said he's sticking by his nominee, no matter whom the panel recommends.

"If I need a panel, I'll pick my own panel," Ward said in one of several testy exchanges with councilmen over the $55,000-a-year post, which has been vacant all year.

The appointment is Ward's as supervisor, subject to Town Board confirmation.

"And that's the rub," remarked Councilwoman Jane S. Woodward, engineering liaison, noting the board's unwillingness to confirm Ward's nominee, Anthony R. Canna.

The issue has developed in recent months into a power struggle between the Democratic supervisor and GOP councilmen over appointments within the supervisor's executive branch of town government.

"This may well end up in some form of litigation," Ward told the board Monday night. The appointment as plant superintendent would be provisional, subject to finishing in the top three on a Civil Service test.

Councilmen allege that although Canna, a veteran chief operator, technically meets Civil Service requirements for the job, he lacks the education, experience and background town engineers believe is necessary to run the $117 million plant on Tonawanda Creek.

Ward wants to promote from within the plant, arguing that Canna is Civil Service-qualified and has the support of the men he would supervise. Ward told The Buffalo News that he "will go to the mat" on Canna's appointment.

Over Ward's dissenting vote, councilmen approved creation of a panel of experts in the wastewater-treatment field to interview qualified town residents interested in the position.

Mrs. Woodward said panel members will have no connections to town government. Members will be announced in two weeks, she said.

In response to a statement by Mrs. Woodward that councilmen and the supervisor don't have the "expertise" to select the best person for the job, Ward said:

"I'm expert enough to know the powers and prerogatives of the supervisor's office.

"This is a continuing attempt at an end run around the authority of the supervisor and the Civil Service system," Ward told councilmen.

Ward argued that he, as supervisor, "is the appointing authority, with the power to call for the appropriate exam."

Councilmen want a Civil Service exam open to any qualified town resident, while Ward wants the exam to be "promotional" in nature -- restricted to qualified plant operators and assistant superintendents.

The GOP majority Monday night approved a resolution calling on the county personnel commissioner to schedule an "open" exam "at a later date upon request of the Town Board."

Ward wants the promotional exam scheduled promptly. "I've been informed the personnel commissioner will honor my request," he told the board.

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