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Sheriff blamed over purchase of pricey shades

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Thursday, June 13, 2013, 7:38 p.m.
 

Westmoreland County commissioners on Thursday said Sheriff Jonathan Held was to blame for 14 members of his staff purchasing expensive designer sunglasses with taxpayer money.

Commissioners unanimously voted to remove the $112 Oakley shades from a list of uniform items and equipment that sheriff's deputies are permitted to purchase with an annual allowance.

Commissioners said Held should have prevented the 14 deputies from buying the sunglasses.

“The sheriff should be ashamed of himself, and we had to put a stop to it,” said Commissioner Ted Kopas.

The purchases came to light last week when Controller Jeff Balzer discovered that deputies had bought the expensive sunglasses.

Held said then and reiterated on Thursday that he had no authority to stop the purchases.

“They can purchase whatever is on the list,” Held said.

The sheriff suggested the fault lies with the commissioners, who also approved the list of items that were eligible for purchase.

“Maybe they voted on something they didn't read,” Held said.

Commissioners, though, said Held should have been more vigilant in reviewing the items his staff purchased.

“It's the responsibility of the department head to watch what their people are using the (uniform) allowance for,” said Commissioner Charles Anderson. “Just because they have the allowance doesn't mean they can abuse it.”

Sheriff's deputies' duties include providing security in courtrooms, transporting inmates and serving arrest warrants throughout the county.

Each deputy has an annual $450 uniform allowance to purchase items such as pants, shirts and other necessary gear.

Sunglasses have been part of the eligible purchase list for a number of years, but the Oakleys were added this year, Balzer said last week.

Deputies can still purchase two sets of Wiley sunglasses, which cost $65 each.

“You can make an argument that sheriff deputies need protective eyewear,” Kopas said. “I've heard from a number of taxpayers who were offended the county was paying for expensive sunglasses.”

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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