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Fees mounting for Monroeville taxpayers as investigation draws to close

| Wednesday, June 12, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

An investigation of potential privacy law violations will cost Monroeville taxpayers more than $26,000, as council awaits the results.

Municipal officials retained Dickie, McCamey & Chilcote to investigate the potential violation of federal and state privacy laws through the Monroeville dispatch center's computer database.

The results of the investigation are scheduled to be released to council on June 20.

To help pay for the internal probe, council voted Tuesday night to use $35,000 budgeted to pay an assistant police chief this year.

There currently is no assistant police chief after a series of personnel moves in February.

Municipal Manager Lynette McKinney demoted then-police Chief Doug Cole to sergeant and elevated then-Assistant Police Chief Steve Pascarella to the position.

Council voted 4-3 to transfer the funds. Council members Nick Gresock, Steve Duncan and Jim Johns voted against.

“The bigger issue I have, personally, is that we are spending money on special legal counsel for this endeavor, so to speak,” Gresock said.

The law firm was hired in March, in response to a federal investigation by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

A letter from HHS to the municipality listed the necessary information that the municipality was to provide in order for the federal investigation to move forward.

“The solicitor himself has told us on more than one occasion, that his recommendation is that we have special legal counsel for this situation,” Councilman Bernhard Erb said.

“But it's been investigating — in my opinion — more things than it was supposed to investigate,” replied Johns.

The law firm is investigating a potential violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which provides the right to privacy for an individual's health care information.

The law firm also investigated a potential violation of state privacy laws as it relates to the computer system at the dispatch center, attorneys have said.

An invoice from the law firm, based Downtown, shows fees of about $26,000 for the month of April and part of March.

The invoice does not include the cost of a private investigator, a forensic computer investigator and attorney fees for May.

There is $15,000 in the budget for special legal counsel, which also can be used to pay for the investigation, McKinney said.

Kyle Lawson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8755, or klawson@tribweb.com.

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