Will now be considered jointly with previously filed suit against four County Authorities
Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner today announced that she has filed legal action against the County Administration, specifically the County Police Department, so that the case may be combined with her lawsuit against four County Authorities, who are also attempting to prevent her auditors access. Today’s filing resulted from the Order issued by President Judge Jeffrey Manning last month. The law suit will be combined with the previously filed suit against the Airport Authority, Port Authority, Sanitary Authority (ALCOSAN), and Sports and Exhibition Authority (SEA). All five entities have consistently failed to comply with audits, after Wagner has provided each with multiple opportunities to cooperate.
“As Controller, it is my duty to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent efficiently and effectively,” Wagner said. “Neither County Departments, nor County Authorities, may choose if and when they are subject to an audit. These are taxpayer dollars. They cannot enjoy the benefit of those dollars, then escape the responsibilities that come with them.”
The declaratory judgment action requests that a judge step in and adjudicate so that the Controller may perform an audit of the County Police Department and that the Department must comply. It details that the Department is a county-wide policing agency of Allegheny County, organized and operating under the Second Class County Code, and that the Controller, under State law, has “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 shall collect, receive or distribute the public moneys of the county, or who shall be charged with the management and custody thereof.”
At a status conference on March 25, to discuss matters pertaining to the Authorities, President Judge Jeffrey Manning issued an order directing the Controller’s Office to file this declaratory judgment action within 30 days, so that this matter could be considered in conjunction with the suit against the Authorities. Judge Manning further recused himself and assigned Judge Joseph M. James, Senior Judge and President Judge Emeritus to preside over the matters. Since that status conference, Wagner and her attorneys have worked to prepare the action, which was filed today.
Controller Wagner is seeking an audit of the Police Department’s operations and application of resources. The Department includes 220 officers and operates with a $29.4 million budget. Additionally, many employee records in the Police Department remain paper-based. In the audit, the Controller will review internal processes and application of resources.
Until recently, no County department has ever challenged the County Controller’s authority to audit. In addition to the Police Department’s resistance, Wagner has been working for months to initiate audits at the four aforementioned Authorities and has been calling for them to open their books, in spite of their resistance. Wagner filed a law suit last month against the Authorities.
“If there is nothing to hide, why are they hiding?” Wagner said. “These attempts to keep government records confidential are a slap in the face to every taxpayer of Allegheny County. County Executive Fitzgerald, as Council President, called for performance audits, but now wants to stand in the way. For the first time in the history of this row office, the Controller’s Office is empowered to perform all types of audits in accordance to professional standards. Performance audits are the gold standard in auditing and will align the County with the highest standards in government auditing.”
Records show that under the prior Controller, Mark Flaherty, reviews called “performance audits” were conducted of County entities, including authorities, but they were not, in fact, bona fide audits because they were not conducted in accordance to Government Auditing Standards (GAS). When Wagner took office in 2012, improvements included investment in training and updated policies and procedures that enable the Controller’s Office to now perform all audit types, including performance audits, in accordance to GAS.
Under Wagner’s leadership, the Controller’s office has received higher commendations than ever before by the Association of Local Government Auditors for the quality of audits, adherence to standards and professionalism of staff. Moreover, that Association, which conducts outside reviews of the Controller’s Office, in fact recommended that the Controller conduct performance audits.
“We have increased the capability of the Controller’s Office so that now we may perform what I refer to as the gold standard of auditing,” Wagner added. “These audits will bring the greatest value to the taxpayers. I remain resolute in stopping this Administration from standing in the way of transparency and accountability. Secrecy is not an option. This is what taxpayers deserve.”