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Politics & Government

In Seeking County Controller's Office, Flaherty Says He'd Restore Professionalism

Ryan Loew
90.5 WESA

Since 1999, every four years the voters of Allegheny County cast ballots for the four row offices. Those races are usually overshadowed by the race for the county executive.

But this year there is only one candidate for the county’s top slot, and the fight for county controller started early, intensified quickly and shows no signs of stopping.

The race is also unusual in that it pits two well-known political families, the Flahertys and the Wagners. On top of that, both of the candidates have held the position. Mark Patrick Flaherty was the Allegheny County Controller from 2004 to 2011 when the voters gave control to now incumbent Chelsa Wagner.

Wagner has been a thorn in the side of Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald for much of the last four years, launching audits of his use of a county-owned car and publicly questioning his administration’s use of county tax dollars and staff. Since then Wagner has had difficulty in getting the information she says she needs to properly audit county spending.

Fitzgerald endorsed Flaherty at the time he launched his campaign and has helped to bankroll his efforts.  Flaherty said he is running for office because the controller’s office is currently “in a state of chaos.”

“Unfortunately they (Wagner’s staff) have thrown too much politics into a very professional process,” Flaherty said. “When the controller’s office can’t do their (sic) job anymore, you need somebody to come in and point the office back in the right direction and fix it.” 

Flaherty believes he ran a “very professional” staff and he thinks the future credibility of the office is on the line in this election.

90.5 WESA’s Mark Nootbaar had a chance to speak to both candidates this week asking them a series of similar questions. Below are responses from Flaherty. An interview with Wagner will follow on Friday.

On why the race became so intense so quickly:

“The current controller’s office likes to play politics. The Government Accountability office tries to take politics out of the auditing process so they have a set of standards that they issue, and you are supposed to follow those standards to make sure all your audits are fair and equitable so you don’t have these, but unfortunately they (Wagner’s staff) don’t follow those standards … But we need to hold county government and the authorities accountable so we need somebody to go in there that will follow the standards.”

On what he would change upon returning to office:

“I would first and foremost restore the professional staff that has been eroded over the last three years.  When I was there we had 15 CPAs, now they are down to almost half that. I had 19 auditors, now they are down to 10. Instead of replacing those people with professional CPAs and professional accounts they replaced them with professional politicians.”

On the fight over the legal authority of the office to audit county authorities and to conduct performance audits, both of which has been contested by the Fitzgerald administration:

“We had no trouble auditing the county authorities when I was controller, because we followed the auditing standards. We had no trouble doing performance audits because we followed the auditing standards. So it's not merely a question of the authorities not wanting the controllers office to do it, it's the authorities and other people not wanting this controller to do it because of the political nature of the way they do audits.”

Responding to being called a “lap dog” by Wagner, who claims he is too close to Fitzgerald to do the job effectively:

“When I ran for the office eight years ago, I ran on a ticket with [former County Executive] Dan Onorato, and during those eight years I was very independent, I did a lot audits, I did a lot of critical audits … So when you are running a campaign and you are running with somebody it is totally different than when you are doing your job as an elected official.”

Flaherty often returns to what has almost become a mantra that the controller’s office must hold the county government accountable; find efficiencies in government and “making government good again.”