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Erie County Water Authority turns to a pro, not a pol, to run itself

A local chief financial officer and engineer with no political background, no history of campaign contributions and no history of prior public employment applied to be the new executive director for the Erie County Water Authority.

And in a departure from past practice, commissioners gave him the job.

H. John Mye III, an Amherst resident, was the only local candidate to apply. In regard to the politics that infuses agency's employment culture, Mye said he's committed to ethical compliance and will not be intimidated by political influences.

"The issue will come up – I know it will come up," he said. "But I can only be straightforward with the other people who sit on the other side of this and say I won’t be influenced in that way."

Mye starts work Feb. 4 and will earn an annual salary of $175,000. That is the highest amount the Water Authority has ever paid to an executive director, though veteran Deputy Director Robert Lichtenthal remains the highest-paid Water Authority employee at $206,103.

The licensed professional engineer most recently served as vice president and chief financial officer for Ecology and Environment, an international environmental consulting firm based in Lancaster. He served in that position for a decade before retiring last April.

In another departure from past practices, Mye was hired without an employment contract, though the authority board created a new job group and changed its vacation policy to allow Mye to be paid a higher salary and receive two weeks of vacation upfront. He is otherwise an at-will employee.

"There’s no payouts. There’s no buyouts," said Chairman Jerome Schad. "There’s no special balloon payments of any sort."

Mye, 66, said he aims to restore the authority's credibility with the public, to be a transparent and open communicator, to develop a strategic plan to address the authority's aging infrastructure, and to build future authority leadership through succession planning.

"The authority needs to embrace our customers, and the public in general, in a way that gives our customers confidence," he said.

Three semifinalists were interviewed by authority staff, but Mye was the only candidate authority commissioners interviewed, partly because the other candidates dropped out.

The Water Authority's new board leaders had pledged to set aside politics and seek the most qualified candidates it could for its executive director post after firing former Executive Director Earl Jann in June. The board developed a more rigorous job description and posted the position with four national industry associations.

Commissioners were eager to avoid a repeat of the kind of public criticism that surrounded the hiring of Jann, the former director who had work experience in pharmaceutical sales and was a Republican donor, former elected official and former authority board chairman.

Mye previously served as vice president of finance for Vishay Intertechnology, which manufactures semiconductors and electronics. He holds a bachelor's degree in civil engineering and a master's degree in business administration. He told The News he cut his teeth on public water projects in the 1970s.

Mye, a registered Republican, has no history of campaign contributions, based on a review of state campaign finance records.

He touted as assets his experience managing people, running a highly regulated company, prudence in managing financial and project risk, and the ability to handle strong public scrutiny. He also said he'd like to stay with the authority for at least five years.

Mye's post is not the only one that authority leaders are taking a politics-blind approach to when it comes to hiring. Authority Secretary Terrence McCracken, who also serves as chairman of the Town of Lancaster Democratic Party, said the organization has taken the same approach in hiring two new professional engineers overseeing plant production of water.

"These technical jobs are important," McCracken said. "If we have a problem, I don’t want it to be on me because we didn’t hire somebody because of their party affiliation."

Read John Mye's resume and cover letter:

John Mye Resume (Text)

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