Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner is calling on County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and his staff to cooperate with her auditors and cease obstructing efforts to examine the Sports and Exhibition Authority of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County (SEA), and their distribution of tickets to sporting and entertainment events.
Controller Wagner initiated the audit with a letter to Fitzgerald and the SEA on October 17, 2014. Since that time, for more than a month, Fitzgerald and staff have delayed the audit process and have mounted a legal effort to deny the Controller access to those records. After failing to respond to requests for a meeting to begin the audit, an attorney for the SEA delivered a letter to Wagner on November 17, 2014, claiming that Wagner does not have the authority to look at the SEA’s books. The attorney erroneously and flippantly claimed that Wagner may have access to that information that was “shared with the news media.” Wagner’s office noted that public records are governed by the State Right to Know Law, whereas Wagner’s authority as Controller, governed by State Law for County Controllers, is much broader and more expansive, and not limited only to the records that are discoverable under the Right to Know Law.
“My role, to provide checks and balances, is a fundamental role in government,” said Wagner. “The Stadiums and Convention Center were built and operate with taxpayer money. To claim that the Controller may not see government records involving use of taxpayer dollars signifies a serious misunderstanding of public accountability.”
Wagner called the obstruction a “slap in the face to the taxpayers of Allegheny County,” and called on County Executive Fitzgerald to ensure that books and records are opened fully and immediately. Wagner also noted that she will use her subpoena power to get any relevant records if Fitzgerald and the SEA do not cooperate.
As the customary first step in the audit process, Controller Wagner sent an engagement letter on October 17, 2014 to Fitzgerald and SEA Executive Director Mary Conturo informing them of the audit of SEA records. After numerous attempts by the Controller’s office to schedule an initial meeting over the course of the month were met with no response, an attorney for the SEA sent a letter to Wagner, dated November 17, 2014, claiming the Controller does not have the authority to audit the SEA, but that the SEA would “voluntarily provide” the limited information regarding ticket usage that had been shared with the news media. Wagner’s office responded immediately on November 18, reiterating Wagner’s authority, as County Controller, to conduct the audit and the need to meet with SEA and County officials to obtain records, and indicating that the meeting is woefully past due. Today, Wagner instructed Fitzgerald and staff that the meeting must occur before Wednesday, November 26.
“These games have no place in County government or in our authorities. It is imperative that Executive Fitzgerald put an immediate stop to this obstruction and respect County taxpayers. To do otherwise is antidemocratic and unethical,” Wagner said.
The Pennsylvania Second Class County Code governs the authority of the Controller, and gives the Controller authority for general supervision and control of the fiscal affairs of the County and of the accounts and official acts of all officers or other persons who collect, receive or distribute public moneys of the County. Additionally, the Administrative Code of Allegheny County specifically grants the Controller with the right to audit County authorities, including the SEA. The SEA, as a recipient of County funds, including sales and hotel tax revenue and gaming money, is fundamentally subject to the Controller’s audit authority. The SEA and County Administration control and distribute tickets to sporting and entertainment events at SEA venues, which are valuable taxpayer resources, also within the authority of the Controller to audit.
The Controller routinely audits authorities. Wagner’s office is also currently in the process of auditing the Airport Authority and just finalized an audit of the Redevelopment Authority. Wagner’s office also will be auditing the Port Authority and Alcosan in the coming months.