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Onorato, DeFazio eye consolidation of forces

| Friday, Dec. 12, 2003, 12:00 p.m.

Since winning the Nov. 4 election, Allegheny County Chief Executive-elect Dan Onorato has spoken to Sheriff Pete DeFazio several times about possibly consolidating DeFazio's office with the county police, said Onorato's spokesman.

Onorato said last week he intends to replace county police Superintendent Kenneth Fulton with someone willing to look at consolidation. Fulton has said he is against merging his department.

This week, DeFazio threw his full support behind Onorato, saying, "Whatever he's for, I'm going to be for."

Even if that means taking the sheriff off the ballot. "If he wants to make it an appointed position, I wouldn't have a problem with that," DeFazio said.

Kevin Kinross, Onorato's spokesman, said his boss doesn't have specific merger plans yet. Onorato and DeFazio have met twice face-to-face and had a few phone conversations in the last month to discuss whether consolidation would make county law enforcement more efficient, Kinross said.

"As to what the final product might look like, we haven't decided that yet," said Kinross, who also serves on Onorato's transition team.

DeFazio said he'd rather see his position remain an elected one. But if the sheriff becomes an appointee, DeFazio said, "I'm sure he's going to appoint me. I think it's common sense."

DeFazio, 54, graduated from the police academy in North Park in 1972 and started with the sheriff's department as a deputy on the night shift. Since then, he has held every rank in the department and was inducted this summer into the International Law Enforcement Hall of Fame.

His office gets its authority from the Pennsylvania Constitution, so if there is going to be a merger, DeFazio said the county police department -- which was formed by the Allegheny County Board of Commissioners in 1932 -- would have to be folded under his wing. The sheriff has a $13 million budget and 186 employees to the county police department's 290 employees and $20 million budget.

Putting DeFazio in charge of all that would be a very bad move, said current Chief Executive Jim Roddey.

Roddey accuses DeFazio of being unable to stay within his budget. DeFazio says Roddey keeps deliberately shortchanging him to make political hay.

In September 2002, Roddey approved a $950,000 bailout of the sheriff's office because DeFazio was on pace to run out of money. The two just settled a year-long legal battle over the sheriff's 2003 budget last week.

Common Pleas judges determine many of the sheriff's costs -- his employees serve warrants, transport prisoners and provide courtroom security -- but DeFazio has expanded his reach with initiatives such as the county DARE (Drug Awareness Resistance Education) program.

"He is the one person who has proven beyond any shadow of a doubt that he can't manage his budget," Roddey said.

"I believe you've got to fight for what's right," DeFazio said, adding that Roddey tried to "ruin me and ... screw me up and down the line. I never had a dialogue with the guy."

That will change with the new administration, DeFazio said.

"Dan's not going to have a problem with Pete DeFazio," he said.

Though "it's Dan's government to run," Roddey cautioned the incoming county executive against expanding DeFazio's authority -- and budget.

"That would be the single biggest mistake that Dan Onorato could make."

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