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Westmoreland County coroner's social media use probed

| Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Westmoreland County Coroner Ken Bacha on Friday conceded he might have violated the county's new social media policy when he posted a campaign endorsement on the office's official Facebook page.

“It was very complimentary of myself and my office, and that's why I posted it,” Bacha said.

State and local officials said they are investigating whether the posting violated election laws.

“In general, if a public official uses any government resource for political purpose, that could be considered a violation of the Ethics Act,” said Rob Caruso, executive director of the State Ethics Commission.

The posting, a letter of endorsement that asked people to vote for Bacha and District Attorney John Peck, appeared on Thursday morning on the coroner's Facebook page.

Bacha, a three-term Democrat, is being challenged by Republican F. Christopher O'Leath in Tuesday's general election.

Peck, a Democrat, is seeking his fifth term in office. He is being challenged by Republican Peter Borghetti.

The endorsement letter was written by the family of Jennifer Daugherty, the mentally challenged woman who was tortured and killed three years ago in Greensburg.

Daugherty's sister, Joy Burkholder, praised Bacha and Peck for their roles in the investigation and prosecutions of Daugherty's killers.

She urged people to vote for Bacha and Peck.

The letter appeared for about a day on the coroner's office Facebook page, as well as Bacha's campaign website and his personal Facebook page.

Peck posted the letter on his campaign website, which is legal.

By Friday afternoon, once questions about the posting had surfaced, Bacha edited the letter on his office's Web page to redact the section that asked residents to re-elect him.

“Unfortunately, there is one word — ‘V-O-T-E' — that makes it bad,” Bacha said. “There was no intent to make it a political post.”

Bacha said he or a member of his office staff used a county computer to post the endorsement.

Bacha said he initially was not aware of the county's social media policy, which bans political statements and opinions that are in opposition to the commissioners. Bacha said he edited the letter when he learn of the policy.

County officials said the initial posting appears to have violated the social media policy that commissioners approved in September.

“They have to follow the county policy,” said Dave Ridilla, director of the county's computer information systems.

Ridilla's department oversees the county's website and Facebook pages operated by 10 offices, including the coroner's office.

Since the policy was put in place, the computer department has started taking over all elected row officers' Facebook pages.

Web administrator Vicki Ali said that so far, only one department's Facebook page, that of the treasurer's office, is overseen by the computer office.

“We don't have time to monitor every department's site,” Ali said.

She said the computer department should assume oversight of all Facebook pages next year.

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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