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Allegheny controller: SEA, Airport authority barred entry to auditors

Tom Fontaine
| Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014, 12:54 p.m.
Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner speaks during a press conference on Thursday, Nov. 6, 2014.
Aaron Aupperlee | Trib Total Media
Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner speaks during a press conference on Thursday, Nov. 6, 2014.

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner says she's 0 for 2 in her attempts to audit authorities, having been rebuffed by the city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority and the Allegheny County Airport Authority.

Wagner said airport officials, including CEO Jim Gill, agreed in a Dec. 1 meeting to let her office audit the authority's books.

The following Monday, when auditors showed up at Airport Authority offices, Wagner said, “They wouldn't let us inside.”

Gill said he referred Wagner's request to Airport Authority solicitor Mike Wojcik and the authority's board of directors after the initial meeting.

“In my review of the code, I can't find anything that permits her to do these audits. If this were the county department of aviation, it would be a different story. But not here, because it's an independent authority,” Wojcik said. “We have our own auditors.”

Wagner said her office performed airport-related audits in the past.

She accuses County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, with whom she has publicly feuded: “It's clear they're all getting directions not to cooperate.”

Fitzgerald, who appoints authority board members, did not return a call.

Wagner wants to look at contracting issues, including those related to a deal allowing Cecil-based Consol Energy Inc. to drill for natural gas on authority property in Findlay and West Mifflin. Officials, including Fitzgerald, have estimated it could generate more than $500 million for the authority.

Wagner appeared Thursday at an SEA meeting to ask for more cooperation from that authority, which refused to let her audit its books.

Aside from a full-scale audit, Wagner said, she requested information related to tickets the SEA gives public officials for sporting events, concerts and other events at Heinz Field, PNC Park and Consol Energy Center.

She wants details of ticket distributions: the recipients, the number of tickets each received, who actually used the tickets, how much the tickets were worth, and the business reasons for providing them.

The SEA asked Wagner to submit a request for the latter information under the state's Right to Know Law, which would give the authority at least 30 days to respond.

“My office does not operate as the public. I am the fiscal officer of the county,” Wagner said, noting the Controller's Office audited the authority in the past.

James Chiafullo, the SEA's solicitor, said the state-formed authority is not required to let the county controller audit its books. That authority rests with the Pennsylvania attorney general, he said.

Executive Director Mary Conturo said the authority is audited annually by a third-party firm but has not undergone a state audit.

“We have nothing to hide,” said state Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline, the SEA's chairman.

Fontana received tickets to 77 events between January 2011 and July 2014, the most among current or former SEA officials, according to a Tribune-Review analysis. He said the tickets routinely go to corporate executives who might invest in Pittsburgh and tourism groups marketing the region.

An analyst in Wagner's office received tickets during that span, the investigation found. Paul McKrell, a former SEA board member and government relations manager for ex-Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, received free tickets for 25 events, records showed. Wagner hired McKrell this fall.

“He'll be treated with the same level of scrutiny as anyone in the audit,” Wagner said.

Tom Fontaine is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com. Staff writer Bobby Kerlik contributed to this report.

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