Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner’s Office, in conjunction with County Courts, District Attorney Stephen Zappala’s Office and the Allegheny County Constables’ Association, today will begin providing constables with education and training regarding improved procedures, clearer policies and tighter controls surrounding payment for their duties. Controller Wagner announced the need for training after an audit of the constable payment process found duplicate payments as a result of inadequate internal controls and confusing procedures.
“By working with the Courts, the District Attorney and the constables, this all-hands-on-deck approach will correct and improve the numerous bad practices that our audit identified,” Wagner said. “It is my goal to not just point out what’s wrong, but to find what’s right. Constables are valued enforcement officials who serve a unique and important role. Together, we have figured out how to correct the problem and make improvements so that the constables now have a system that they and the public can trust.”
Wagner’s efforts have recovered nearly $58,000 in duplicate payments to constables due to fee vouchers submitted to both the Court and the County, and a lack of coordination between both computer systems. It was revealed that constables received conflicting directions about how to properly complete the fee voucher and for which services they can and cannot charge the County.
Wagner’s office will provide training to educate constables about which services they can properly bill for and how to complete the payment form, as well as the proper completion of all necessary paperwork to be submitted to the Controller’s Office to process constable payments in a timely manner. Additionally, appropriate sections of the constable handbook will be reviewed, and input will be sought from constables about how payment processes can be improved and automated.
The mandatory training will be held on three different dates in the County Courthouse’s Gold Room from 6 to 7 p.m.: February 19 and 26, and March 5, 2015. Of the approximately 180 constables elected or appointed in Allegheny County, 110 have signed up for a training course. Additionally, Wagner is looking to provide the course to the Magisterial District Justices and their staff at their annual staff training in the spring, in an effort to get everyone on the same page.
Currently, constables are to complete itemized fee vouchers for services provided. These vouchers are then, in most cases, submitted to the applicable court for payment, with the courts collecting and disbursing the funds to pay the constables. If, however, the courts do not collect fees from the responsible parties, constables are referred to Allegheny County for payment. However, the potential exists for constables to submit fee vouchers for payment to both the Court and the County because of the lack of coordination between the computer systems used by both governments.
In an effort to provide better clarification about what can be charged for on the fee sheet, Wagner has worked with the 5th Judicial District to update information and definitions in the constable handbook to ensure that there is no confusion. The training courses are the next step toward all parties being on the same page, improving internal controls and preventing erroneous payments.