After a long and difficult search, the Erie County Water Authority has promoted its own executive engineer to become executive director.
Russell J. Stoll, 63, was unanimously appointed as executive director and chief operating officer at Thursday's board meeting. In his new role, which starts immediately, he will be expected to help stabilize the authority and clean up its image after leadership shakeups and high-profile water main breaks.
The Amherst resident has worked as an authority engineer since 2012 and has been executive engineer since 2016.
"He answered some very tough questions," said authority Chairman Jerome Schad. "I’m confident he’s really going to do well by us so we’re just remembered as the people who supply water and that’s all."
Stoll will earn $175,000 a year, roughly a $10,000 increase from his pay as executive engineer.
Unlike Earl Jann, the last executive director to permanently hold the post, Stoll received no employment contract and will serve as an at-will employee serving at the pleasure of the board.
Stoll said his competence as a professionally certified engineer in both the public and private sectors speaks for itself.
"Quite frankly, I’ve been an at-will employee for the past 38 years," he said.
Stoll assumes the top job after a lengthy and often frustrating search. In February, the board hired H. John Mye III for the job. But the former chief financial officer for the Ecology and Environment consulting firm quit after four days.
Then the Water Authority hired Amherst-based head hunting firm AP Professionals, which received $35,000 for its executive search services. The firm produced 26 candidates, which was whittled down to five finalists, four of whom were local residents, Schad said. Stoll was selected from two candidates who were personally interviewed by all three commissioners.
He said he was interested in Stoll because of his qualifications, temperament and commitment to executing a strategic plan for the authority. He also said the other commissioners had a similarly strong preference for Stoll.
"It wasn’t particularly close," he said. "There was a lot of discussion."
Stoll did not apply for the top job when the board conducted its first search and hired Mye, believing the board was focused on outside candidates. He will now serve as the head of water operations, though his duties will be more limited than his predecessors.
In May, the ECWA commissioners restructured the authority to diminish the sweeping authority of the executive director, requiring more department heads to report directly to the board. The change was made, in part, because of the state Authorities Budget Office's scathing report last year, which criticized how the authority was governed, with commissioners serving as "rubber stamps" complicit in promoting a culture of secrecy.
Under the new organizational chart, Stoll will be responsible for direct water production operations such as engineering and water safety, Schad said. Prior executive directors also had financial oversight over the agency.
Stoll is a Republican who has made more than $20,000 in political contributions since joining the authority seven years ago. Schad, who also serves as chairman of the Amherst Democratic Committee, said politics played no role in Stoll's selection and will not play one going forward.
"It’s not a concern and not a consideration," Schad said. "The call I wanted made here is someone who can do the job right. My questions were, 'How do you make this place run and run well?' "
Stoll said he supports the board's vision of openness and transparency. He said his politics and personal life will have no bearing on the work he does, the policies he pursues or the people he hires.
"I’ve had no input in that in the past, and I won’t have that in the future," he said. "Customers should have no concerns along those lines."
Read Russell Stoll's resume here: