Allegheny County Controller Seeks Court Order For Performance Audits Of Four Authorities

Mar 17, 2015

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner maintains that she has the authority to conduct not only financial but also performance audits of ALCOSAN, the SEA, the Port Authority, and the Airport Authority.
Credit Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner on Tuesday announced she has filed legal action against four county authorities that she said are refusing to allow her office to conduct performance audits.

Wagner is seeking to audit the Allegheny County Airport Authority, the Sports and Exhibition Authority of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County (SEA), the Allegheny County Port Authority, and the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (ALCOSAN).

Wagner said she had had cooperative meetings with three of the four authorities — the Airport Authority, SEA and ALCOSAN — late last year and early this year and was under the impression that they would cooperate with the audits.

“Only to have them turn around in a very consistent pattern, each with essentially the same argument, saying that we do not have the authority to audit the authorities, and also consistent claims by the county executive and his solicitor to that effect,” Wagner said.

According to Wagner, the authorities argue that the county controller can conduct only financial, not performance, audits of the authorities, but she called performance audits the “gold standard” of government auditing.

Stephanie Sikora, Wager’s senior communications specialist, said the Association of Local Government Auditors specifically recommended that the controller begin conducting performance audits during their most recent review of the office’s operations in April 2013. Such a review is performed every three years, and Sikora said the controller’s office has since completed training and updated their manual in order to be able to conduct performance audits.

“We’re now able to perform … three types of audits: financial audits, performance audits and attestation engagements,” Sikora said.

Wagner said in the case of the Airport Authority, they had worked with the authority to schedule a date for the audit to begin, and when the auditors showed up at the airport, they were turned away.

“To put it … pretty candidly, I think there’s something that smells funny, there’s something that reeks here,” Wagner said. “If there’s nothing to hide, why are these authorities hiding?”

Wagner was careful not to explicitly say that County Executive Rich Fitzgerald had something to do with the legally independent authorities changing their minds about the audits.

“You also have the county executive claiming that the controller should not be able to audit these authorities, notably the same authorities for which he demanded undated resignation letters,” Wagner said.

Backlash over those unsigned, undated resignation letters became a thorn in Fitzgerald’s side, and in April 2013 he announced that the letters would be destroyed and that he would cease the practice of requesting such letters from political appointees.

County spokesperson Amie Downs said Fitzgerald had nothing to do with the authorities changing their minds about the performance audits, and that he agrees with the authorities that the controller does not have the power to perform such audits.

Spokespeople for the Airport Authority and ALCOSAN said they have no comment regarding the lawsuit. A spokesman for the Port Authority said they were still considering whether they would comment, while the SEA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.