The Erie County Water Authority got a surprise Thursday. Republican Commissioner Karl Simmeth submitted his resignation letter just past a year into his three-year term.
ECWA Deputy Director Richard Lichtenthal told WBFO Simmeth submitted his resignation at the end of Thursday's regularly scheduled board meeting.
"Everyone was surprised," Lichtenthal said. "I had an opportunity to tell him that I appreciated working with him, wished him good luck in retirement and the future. He expressed sentiments that he enjoyed what he did with the water authority and who he worked with - and that was pretty much the sum of the discussion."
Lichtenthal said Simmeth, 62, had been one of three ECWA commissioners since spring 2017, but was retiring from public service. Commissioners earn $22,500 a year. State law requires Simmeth be off all public payrolls in order to collect his pension from ECMC.
"He stated it has to do with his retirement from his regular, full-time job with the Erie County Medical Center," Lichtenthal said. "I believe it has to do with the New York State retirement system rules regarding employment at time of retirement and post-retirement."
The Erie County Legislature now has the job of approving a replacement. The two remaining commissioners are Democrats, so Simmeth's replacement is likely to be a Republican. WBFO was unsuccessful in reaching Republican legislators for comment, but the running of the ECWA has become a hot-button issue for some county lawmakers.
In the interim, Lichtenthal said business will continue as usual.
"It's a three-member board, so with two members there's still a quorum and official business will still get done," he said. "So the delivery of our basic service will not be impacted."
Lichtenthal says the ECWA is in the midst of implementing perhaps its largest "capital improvement budget" ever: more than $38 million in infrastructure upgrades to water mains, pumping stations and processing plants to "improve safety and reliability."