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Councilman says suit didn't prompt change

| Thursday, Dec. 27, 2001

Crafton Council's decision to replace the borough's elected auditors with a private firm had nothing to do with a lawsuit that the Crafton auditors brought against former council members, Councilman Dan Cindric said.

Council hired Estermyer & Sharshan, a North Fayette firm, to audit the borough's financial records. The firm, which will take over Friday will be paid $4,750 a year.

Cindric said at the council's meeting last week that he wanted to correct "misrepresentations" about the matter by former Councilman John Rago.

"There has rarely been a time when blatantly vexatious remarks have been made to this council, such as we heard last week," Cindric said.

Rago has contended that the board of elected auditors was dissolved because of its failed attempt to sue former council members over allegations of misspending. Rago said the current council had direct involvement in the board's decision to try to impose a surcharge, but Cindric disagreed.

"Council had no input into the determination of whether or not a surcharge should be filed," Cindric stated.

The auditors review the borough's spending. If the auditors suspect improper spending, they have the right to impose a surcharge to recoup the money. Those suspected of spending money improperly also have the right, under the borough code, to fight the accusation in court.

The elected auditors were Jim Glaser, Susan O'Connell and Dan Conniff. None could be reached for comment.

In March 2000, the three elected auditors filed a lawsuit seeking a surcharge in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court against the former council, of which Rago was a member.

The lawsuit asked for $25,000 — the amount that the auditors board claimed had been spent inappropriately.

The borough code states that the borough must pay for the auditors' legal fees. But because the former council members challenged the auditors' claims, that matter turned into a lengthy and costly process, Cindric said. The current council realized that the legal fees the borough was paying were about to supersede the surcharge amount.

"We just couldn't afford it. If we would have carried this the whole way through, the legal fees would have been well over $100,000. (The council) just thought it wouldn't be worth it," Cindric said.

The suit eventually was dropped. The borough ended up paying about $40,000 for legal fees — $15,000 more than the original surcharge, Cindric said.

Cindric said the move to dissolve the elected auditors' positions was an effort to move the borough into the 21st century, not a move out of spite.

"You can't run a local government today the same way you did 20 years ago, or even five years ago. Things just change so rapidly. Regulations and rules are constantly different. Now we have a professional firm to keep up on all the regulations that change," Cindric said.

Each of the three elected auditors was paid $1,000 a year.

Rago described council's financial support of the legal fees that the board incurred with regard to the surcharge case as "malicious."

But Cindric pointed to the mandate that council pay the auditors' legal fees, and said, "There has been no malice by this council. This council has followed the rules."

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