Allegheny County executive says controller ignored standards of profession
Controller Chelsa Wagner violates basic accounting standards, degrading the professionalism of her office and the reputation of Allegheny County, county Executive Rich Fitzgerald told the Tribune-Review on Wednesday.
Fitzgerald and his staff said Wagner has used recent audits to gain media attention, not to improve county finances, and has needlessly dragged a national car rental company that operates in Allegheny County through the mud.
Wagner said she will not allow Fitzgerald to tell her how to do her job.
Both are seeking re-election. Their running three-year battle of accusations and recriminations has formed what is arguably the deepest schism between two elected officials in the county’s Democrat-controlled political system.
“You don’t go to the press before you have the conversation with the auditee,” Fitzgerald said about Wagner releasing details of audits before sharing them with the departments being audited. “It would be similar to a doctor violating the Hippocratic Oath or a lawyer violating the confidentiality of lawyer-client privilege.”
Wagner said that’s misleading. She said Fitzgerald and his staff use tactics to delay audits, thus slowing the release of public information.
“There’s nothing that precludes us from releasing information once we find it,” Wagner said. “I am not going to sit on my hands and be dictated to when I’m independently elected.”
Wagner last month held a news conference to discuss the results of an audit of the county’s vehicle fleet before sharing the information with the county Department of Public Works.
Public Works Director Stephen G. Shanley sent his response to Wagner’s vehicle audit Jan. 30. It says the county installed cameras to monitor who uses its fuel tanks and is issuing new fuel-purchase cards to end the lax oversight that allegedly enabled a contractor to steal about $7,600 in fuel.
Shanley’s letter noted errors in the controller’s asset management system of vehicles, which he said should be audited by a third party.
“Trailers are classified as a desk and a laptop, a pickup was classified as building equipment, and a Chevy Impala as ‘not applicable,’ ” Shanley wrote.
Wagner said her office is audited every three years.
Jennifer Liptak, Fitzgerald’s chief of staff, said mistakes by Wagner’s office are a sign that Wagner’s auditors don’t have time to finish their work before Wagner’s “PR machine” feeds results to the media.
“When you start looking at the paperwork, and you realize that this math error doesn’t add up, this one doesn’t add up and this one doesn’t add up, I start to go ‘Hum, I wonder what’s going on?’ I think it’s maybe the, excuse me, the Ravenstahl rejects doing the work,” Liptak said.
Wagner last year hired four former employees of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. The number of auditors in Wagner’s office has dropped from 19 before she took office to 13 at the beginning of 2015, Liptak said.
Wagner said she is the only one who directs the actions of her office.
Fitzgerald said Wagner hastily accused Hertz Corp. of failing to pay county rental car taxes before consulting the company. Hertz later said it mistakenly paid the tax to the state and has since made appropriate payments to the county.
“A good company got their name besmirched for nothing,” Fitzgerald said.
Wagner said the audit was complete when she made the findings public. Hertz had no further comment.
Aaron Aupperlee is a Trib Total Media staff writer.