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Fitzgerald gives up Allegheny County-owned Jeep, pays for mileage | TribLIVE.com
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Fitzgerald gives up Allegheny County-owned Jeep, pays for mileage

Tribune-Review
| Wednesday, November 12, 2014 12:05 p.m
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Aaron Aupperlee | Trib Total Media
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald was photographed in November 2014 getting into the county-owned Jeep Cherokee he used during the first three years of his term.
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Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald talks to reporters following a press conference by county Controller Chelsa Wagner where she accused him of misusing his county-provided vehicle. Fitzgerald dismissed the accusations as political.
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Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald hosts a ceremony to mark the start of natural gas development at Pittsburgh International Airport on Pad No. 2 in Findlay on Monday, Aug. 25, 2014.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald handed over the keys to his county-provided Jeep and cut a personal check for about $42,700 Wednesday to put to rest accusations he misused the vehicle, he said Wednesday.

The amount, which equals about half his annual salary, is more than enough to buy a new, mid-range 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee, according to Kelley Blue Book.

Fitzgerald said he will use his own late-model GMC Acadia for all county business and pay for gas, miles and maintenance himself.

“Let’s move on,” Fitzgerald said in a telephone interview.

County Controller Chelsa Wagner last week accused Fitzgerald of using the county’s 2007 Jeep Grand Cherokee to attend at least 100 political and personal events. She demanded he repay the county for miles logged for those purposes. Wagner does not have a county vehicle.

Wagner said Fitzgerald’s repaying the county for miles logged in the Jeep signaled to her that he agreed with the conclusions of her audit.

“With respect to what I announced last week, the findings that he had misused the vehicle and my duty to recover any misused funds, I believe that repayment certainly satisfies that end of it,” Wagner said.

Fitzgerald said he conducts county business at events and called the accusations “calculated political attacks” and “petty political arguments.” He said he could justify each of Wagner’s 100 examples “without any problem.”

Wagner requested “a detailed report” of Fitzgerald’s vehicle use, including dates, times, origins and destinations, and whether each trip was for business or personal use, according to a letter she sent him last week. The report was to include nearly 20,000 miles not included in Fitzgerald’s logs. She said he owed at least $13,000.

Fitzgerald said he realized it would take months and months for him and his staff to sift through the thousands of meetings and events he attended since taking office in 2012.

“It became a distraction,” Fitzgerald said. “My job is to do my job, not to worry about logging miles, documenting every meeting I have and what we’re talking about.”

When Fitzgerald took office, the Jeep, previously used by former county Executive Dan Onorato, had 74,288 miles on it. Wagner said records reviewed from past administrations did not raise concerns.

When Fitzgerald turned in the Jeep on Wednesday, the odometer read 150,605 miles. He wrote a personal check to the county Treasurer’s Office for $42,737.52, or 56 cents — the IRS reimbursement rate — for each mile he put on the Jeep.

The Kelley Blue Book lists the vehicle’s value at about $8,500.

Fitzgerald’s check will go into the county general fund, according to the treasurer’s office.

The check won’t be a significant blow to the Fitzgerald family finances, Fitzgerald said. He wouldn’t say how much he is worth.

As county executive, Fitzgerald makes $90,000 annually. He lists on financial disclosure forms that he gets income from Aquenef, a water treatment and service company he started, but the forms do not indicate how much. His Squirrel Hill home is assessed at $462,300. Campaign finance records show he contributed $800,000 to his own campaign in 2011.

Fitzgerald said he will submit legislation to council to clear up conflicts between county policies regarding take-home vehicles and the county’s ethics code.

County, state and federal prosecutors have said they will not seek criminal charges related to Wagner’s accusations. Fitzgerald said officials in those offices contacted him about Wagner’s accusations.

“And they were laughing,” he said. “This was never a problem.”

Wagner said she and District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. had “in depth” conversations about Fitzgerald’s vehicle use.

Wagner sent information relating to the vehicle to the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission. Robert Caruso, the commission’s executive director, would not comment on whether the commission is investigating. Fitzgerald said no one from the ethics commission contacted him or advised him to turn in the Jeep and pay for the miles.

The commission typically orders public officials found in violation of state ethics rules regulating the use of government resources to make complete restitution, Caruso said, speaking about cases in general.

Fitzgerald started driving his Acadia to events during the weekend, he said. The SUV, with a bike rack attached to the back, was parked at the county courthouse Wednesday. A county police officer will drive Fitzgerald during the day, the same arrangement as with the Jeep, spokeswoman Amie Downs said.

Fitzgerald said his wife, Cathy Fitzgerald, a pharmacist, had been driving the Acadia and will get a new car.

Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-320-7986 or aaupperlee@tribweb.com.

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