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Bullskin solicitor defends supervisors

| Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Bullskin Township's solicitor on Tuesday defended two township supervisors and a former supervisor who each paid $4,000 to settle a state ethics inquiry over a monthly vehicle allowance they had been collecting.

Solicitor Donald J. McCue said former supervisor William H. Geary, 62, and supervisors Walter “Deb” Wiltrout, 67, and Thomas Keefer, 58, agreed to settle the case before the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission in October rather than burden taxpayers with more legal fees to fight the case.

“I told (supervisors) I felt we could win it in Commonwealth Court, but they did not want to spend any more taxpayers' money on legal fees,” McCue said.

The commission reported on Monday that Geary, Keefer and Wiltrout made the payments in October under a consent agreement.

Under the agreement, the three did not admit any wrongdoing. The commission said there were no findings issued against them.

Each reimbursed the township $3,000, along with $1,000 paid to the commission for costs incurred during its investigation, according to the commission.

In an unrelated case, Geary, Wiltrout and Keefer were accused of election fraud violations on the recommendation of a county investigative grand jury. They waived their rights to a preliminary hearing in December.

In the ethics case, the commission said, the men set monthly vehicle allowances under their capacity as roadmasters after the township board of auditors abolished the payments in 2012.

Under the agreement, the supervisors agreed to be reimbursed at the federal Internal Revenue Service rate of 55.5 cents per mile in 2012 as approved by auditors. At the same Jan. 4, 2012, meeting, auditors had abolished the monthly stipend in favor of the mileage rate.

Supervisors voted 3-0 at a meeting on Jan. 25, 2012, “to continue the longstanding practice of paying the township supervisors/roadmasters the sum of $250 rather than incurring the cost of buying vehicles for the township supervisors/roadmasters.”

McCue said he recommended that policy, which complied with the Pennsylvania Second Class Township Code. He received a collaborating opinion from the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, McCue said.

“There is nothing in the Second Class Township Code that authorizes township auditors to establish the mileage rate and, to the contrary, township supervisors have the specific authority to establish the mileage reimbursement,” McCue said.

McCue claimed that after the reimbursement change to a mileage-based payment, it cost taxpayers more.

He said the township reimbursed the supervisors “$3,800 more” that year than they would have received under the roadmaster allowance of $250 per month.

“The decision and requirement to use the federal reimbursement will be very costly to the Bullskin Township budget in future years until it is changed to comply with the Second Class Township Code,” McCue said on Tuesday.

Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reachedat 724-850-2860 or ppeirce@tribweb.com.

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