Wagner resigns Pennsylvania House seat

| Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner moved from the state's payroll to the county's with her resignation on Monday from her 22nd District House seat, but the two-week delay still doesn't sit well with some government observers.

Wagner, 34, took the oath as the county's chief elected fiscal officer on Jan. 2 while continuing to hold the House seat. The Brookline Democrat, who was elected to three terms in the House, faced more than a week of questions about her dual employment.

Wagner submitted her resignation on the same day that the Tribune-Review reported she missed 26 of 80 master roll calls in the House last year, which her office blamed on district matters, pregnancy issues and "campaign/transition commitment."

Wagner said she decided to resign because she became convinced that lawmakers in surrounding districts will handle the needs of constituents in her district in her absence. Area lawmakers said last week that they were extending service to the 22nd district as it moves to Allentown under a reapportionment plan before the state Supreme Court.

She tendered her resignation from the Legislature at 9:15 a.m. yesterday in an e-mail to House Chief Clerk Anthony Barbush that was copied to House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont, her spokesman said.

Wagner, first elected in 2006, is fully vested in the state pension system after serving for five years.

"They can't run to the trough fast enough once they get elected. Here's another person who came in beating the drum for reform in 2006 and is then running for the trough," said Gene Stilp, a Harrisburg government activist.

Wagner, who declined to respond to critics' comments, begins earning county pay today -- not yesterday, which was a holiday -- though her benefits started yesterday, spokesman Lou Takacs said. State law prohibits officials from drawing checks from two public offices simultaneously.

"It has been a distinct honor to serve the residents of the 22nd Legislative District," Wagner said in a statement. "I am confident that our work together to achieve sustainable results will make a lasting impact on these communities well into the future.

Wagner's state salary was $82,012. As controller, she'll collect a county salary of $89,904, a 35 percent increase over last year's salary because of delayed cost-of-living increases that took effect this year.

"She is by no means the first politician to try to serve a dual role," said Jerry Shuster, professor of political communication and presidential rhetoric at the University of Pittsburgh. "In her case, it's probably more like a triple or quadruple role, because of her pregnancy and her position in a private law firm. She is a very talented young lady, and I think if anything, maybe she took on too much. But I've never heard any criticism that she hasn't served her constituents well."

"The public outrage over this pretty selfish act has caused her to have a change of heart" and resign, said Commonwealth Foundation President Matthew Brouillette. "That's a good thing." The foundation focuses on government and issues of liberty.

Wagner said her former state offices on Brookline Boulevard and in Whitehall remain open with regular hours. Takacs said Wagner's former legislative staffers, who are members of the House Democratic Caucus, will run the offices.

Wagner also announced changes to her County Controller management team.

Amy Griser, 47, of Dormont will join the controller's staff as deputy controller after eight years as the county's director of budget and finance. From 2001 to 2003, Griser led the Controller's Auditing Division and served as financial manager in the Beaver County Controller's office and as a public accountant with the firm Grant Thornton.

Wagner appointed Seth Hufford as chief of staff, a position that oversees strategic planning and organizational development, Takacs said.

Hufford has worked at Carnegie Mellon University directing leadership development programs and ran the leadership program Coro Leadership New York and initiatives at Leadership Pittsburgh Inc. Hufford will "spearhead efforts to expand the role of the Controller's office as a driver of innovative policy."

"I have been talking to county residents for more than a year about bringing increased innovation, transparency and efficiency to the Controller's office and the whole of county government, and I am pleased to be putting in place a management team that I am confident will help us achieve this," Wagner said in a statement.

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