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County lawmakers to interview Water Authority board candidates Thursday

For the first time in two decades, Republicans are poised to assume the majority on the three-member Erie County Water Authority Board of Commissioners.

Five candidates are seeking appointment to the seat currently held by Water Authority Board Chairman Francis G. Warthing, a Lackawanna Democrat whose second three-year term on the board expires in April. Interviews with the candidates to replace him will be conducted during the Legislature’s Energy & Environment Committee meeting at 02 p.m. Thursday in Legislature chambers on the fourth floor of Old County Hall, 92 Franklin St.

Historically, the party in power in the Legislature controls gets to fill two of the three seats on the Water Authority board once there is a vacancy. With a Republican-aligned majority having taken control of the Legislature in January 2014 for the first time since 1992, Republicans will –for the first time in a very long time – get to make a second appointment to the Water Authority board.

The authority has long been viewed as a haven of political patronage and appointments to the board are viewed as plum assignment in which members get to control hiring at the authority.

Among the five candidates who met Monday’s deadline to apply for the vacancy, former Amherst Town Highway Superintendent Robert N. Anderson is believed to be the likely choice of the Legislature’s GOP-aligned majority to replace Warthling. The other four named candidates are Peter Grollitsch, Dale Miklas, Joanne Panek-Hortman and Gerald Reinhard.

Legislature Majority Leader Joseph C. Lorigo, C-West Seneca, on Thursday will take over duties as chairman of the Energy & Environment Committee in the absence of Republican Legislator Ted B. Morton, who has been hospitalized since falling ill on Feb. 18 at his Depew home.

“Tomorrow (Thursday) is just interviews and we won’t vote on any appointment,” Lorigo said.

Even though both the majority and minority caucuses have the same number of votes – five each – in Morton’s absence, it is anticipated that there will be enough votes in the Legislature to approve the Republicans’ choice to fill the vacancy on the board. At least one member of the Democratic minority said it would be unprecedented for the minority caucus not to follow the “honor of the house” when it comes to such appointments.

The eventual pick of the Legislature’s Republican-aligned members will eventually join Vice Chairman Earl L. Jann Jr., a Republican from Marilla, and Treasurer Jerome D. Schad, an Amherst Democrat, on the Water Authority board.