November 25, 2014

Elyria
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Longtime auditor riding off into the sunset

ELYRIA — As a large, cowboy-garbed cutout of his favorite actor John Wayne looked on from the corner of his office, Lorain County Auditor Mark Stewart announced his plans to retire after 36 years in the auditor’s department, the last 17 as auditor.

“John and I will get on our horses and go west,” Stewart, 61, said as he termed his years in the job “a good ride.”

Hired by longtime county auditor Jay Pijor in the 1970s, Stewart was elected to the post five times.

After 3½ decades on the job, Stewart said he felt the time was right for a new man, especially one like Deputy Auditor Craig Snodgrass, who is better-acquainted and more comfortable with all of the technological advances that have transformed the auditor’s office, Stewart said.

Stewart’s last day will be Dec. 31.

Snodgrass, 47, is expected to be appointed to the post by the county’s Democrats to fill out the remainder of Stewart’s term, which runs to March 2015.

A CPA by profession, Snodgrass is well qualified for the post, Stewart said, saying that Snodgrass complemented his own background as a real estate appraiser.

“Mark always put taxpayers first and stuck by his convictions, even though his decisions weren’t always popular,” Snodgrass said.

Snodgrass’s ascension to the auditor’s job will require him to step down from Lorain City Council where he has spent seven years as Ward 8 councilman serving the city’s far west side, which has more than 10,000 residents.

“We’re at warp-drive now,” Stewart said of upgrades to operations over the years that have included PCs for all workers, digital mapping for real estate work, and electronic tools such as an ADP payroll system.

“I always tried to give the office the best,” Stewart said, even as he admitted to not being particularly savvy with Twitter, Facebook or You Tube.

The timing for his retirement was due to a combination of factors including the recent retirement of his wife, Sandy, who worked 37 years for Pegg Vanek, a local dentist.

“She would often remind me that she had worked longer than me,” Stewart said.

One of the first things he looks forward to doing after ending his career is traveling to New Jersey to see his eldest of his three daughters, Jennifer, 34, who is expected to give birth to Stewart’s first grandchild in February.

Stewart’s staff didn’t learn of his plans until Friday morning. Prior to that, he had discussed his pending retirement chiefly with his wife.

County Recorder Judy Nedwick, who has worked with Stewart for years, was surprised when Stewart informed her of his decision Friday about the same time he submitted his formal letter of retirement to county commissioners.

“I had no idea this was coming,” Nedwick said. “I knew he had the years in but didn’t think this was going to happen.”

“That’s a lot of respected knowledge going out the door,” Nedwick said. “Everything I learned, I learned from Mark.”

Nedwick recalled Stewart as a problem-solver.

“He always came up with a solution,” she said. “He was the go-to guy and never said no.

“We had our differences but always worked them out,” Nedwick said. “We had a lot of good times. Mark is very well-respected and no one can take that away from him.”

No major changes are planned as part of the transition from Stewart to Snodgrass.

“We’ve got a very busy schedule coming up,” Snodgrass said, noting tax bills go out in January, and the department will gear up for the yearly audit.

Budget cuts about five years ago trimmed the office from the mid-60s to about 50 personnel today, Stewart said.

The auditor’s department works with an annual budget of approximately $3.8 million, which includes $2.5 million, most for contractual services for real estate assessments.

Long active with Kiwanis, Stewart plans to remain active with that organization while he eyes another line of post-retirement work.

“Everything comes full circle,” Stewart said of his desire to work in a supermarket.

“That was my first job,” he said, recalling time spent as a youth in the old Meyer Goldberg grocery stores where he bagged groceries and worked his way up to a weekend supervisor.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.