(Pittsburgh) September 20, 2018 Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner announced today that her office will undertake a review of public records of the Allegheny County Airport Authority in response to revelations of potential conflicts of interest among board members.
“It is vital to remember that authorities are public bodies and stewards of public funds. While transparency and accountability from these bodies have been lacking, and reforms are sorely needed, our existing public records laws do provide some recourse for us to examine their actions,” Wagner said.
“In the wake of revelations of two board members having made financial investments in an airline which received funding from the authority, and as the airport embarks on a $1 billion building project that could present ample opportunities for self-dealing and favoritism, we must use the tools at our disposal to shine light on this authority’s actions.”
Last month, Wagner called for the resignations of board members Robert Lewis and Jan Rea, who each made financial investments in OneJet, the airline being sued by the authority for breach of contract after reneging on the conditions of a $1 million incentive payment from the airport. OneJet has since suspended all flights from the airport.
While the airport board announced it will consider instituting a new policy banning airline investments, Wagner said one policy does not negate the need for reforms and increased oversight.
“The fact that a policy banning such a textbook example of conflict of interest has to exist at all indicates that the culture of this board has not been one that emphasized ethical practices,” Wagner said.
“While changes to state law may be necessary to create the level of transparency that should be expected from public bodies, I believe that it is necessary to show those who have been entrusted with these positions and those who hope to do business with them that someone is, indeed, watching.”
Wagner’s records request includes:
– Authority board and committee meeting minutes dating to 2015. These minutes may reveal whether board members have in fact recused themselves from votes in which they may have a personal interest.
– Statements of Financial Interest filed by board members and employees dating to 2015. The Tribune-Review reported that Lewis failed to submit a legally required financial disclosure form for 2017 until after his investments were reported by the media.
– Contracts with airport vendors dating to 2015.
“I look forward to the authority’s timely provision of these documents as provided by law,” Wagner said.
In 2015, a judge ruled against Wagner’s lawsuit seeking to audit the authorities, finding that state law provides sole authority to independently examine the books of most authorities to the Pennsylvania Attorney General, which does not have an auditing division nor employ auditors.
Wagner said that requests for further documents from the airport going forward, and for similar information from other authority boards, may follow. She also reiterated her longstanding call for the authorities to voluntarily open their books to her team of auditors.
“There is no reason to keep public business behind closed doors, especially as the propriety of board members’ actions is called into question. Government secrecy is in the interest of no one but entrenched insiders seeking personal gain.”