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Chelsa Wagner wary her ex-district will lose voice

| Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012, 12:00 p.m.

HARRISBURG -- One of the main reasons that state Rep. Chelsa Wagner says she is not resigning her House seat after taking office as Allegheny County controller this week is she does not want constituents in her 22nd District to be without representation.

They won't be, Sen. Wayne Fontana said on Friday, even though Wagner's district is being eliminated and moved to Allentown under a reapportionment plan, pending review by the state Supreme Court.

Fontana represents most of the area within Wagner's House district and has three district offices. In fact, his Brookline office is less than a block from Wagner's.

"It isn't like they aren't being represented," said Fontana, a fellow Democrat. "The implication is no one else can represent them but her. My motto is: 'We solve all problems.'"

Wagner said the quality of service that her district offices provide makes it a place "of last resort" for people who cannot get their issues addressed in local, even state, offices.

"I understand my office to be the highest volume in the county," said Wagner, who is collecting her $82,000 state salary rather than her $65,000 county salary.

The Tribune-Review reported yesterday that Wagner plans to hold both offices for the near future. Her state term expires at the end of the year.

In addition to juggling the controller and legislative jobs, she is expecting her second child in early February. In December, she joined the law firm of Leech Tishman as "of counsel" attorney.

If she resigned the House seat, her constituents would "be without service from the House of Representatives, which would mean less service," said Wagner.

Wagner said she wants a commitment from Democratic leadership in the House that constituents' services will continue and that proper notification will be made to people about the redistricting changes.

House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont, said Wagner's offices will remain open.

"There will be no disruption of service to constituents in that district," he said.

Taxpayer-paid mailings to people in new districts or portions of districts being absorbed cannot be made until the Supreme Court approves the maps, according to a memo from House Speaker Sam Smith, R-Punxsutawney. Members are allowed to send mailings in their current districts, he noted.

Rep. Bill Kortz, D-Dravosburg, whose district will pick up Castle Shannon from Wagner's district under reapportionment, said he's moving "full speed ahead" to represent people there.

"If someone needs help, we're going to give them help," Kortz said.

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