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Conner: DeFabo hiring a 'backroom deal'

Rich Cholodofsky
| Monday, May 14, 2012, 4:01 a.m.

Westmoreland County Commissioner P. Scott Conner claimed county residents were "severely damaged" Thursday by the 11th-hour appointment of Salem Township restaurateur Jerry DeFabo to the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County.

"It's all smoke and mirrors to hide a backroom deal," Conner said yesterday after voting against DeFabo's appointment.

Commissioners Tom Balya and Tom Ceraso tapped DeFabo, 56, owner of Rizzo's Malabar Inn in Crabtree, to replace Leonard "Skeets" Paletta on the board for a five-year term.

The appointment came after Richard Troiano, who Balya and Ceraso first approached for the job, withdrew his name from consideration on Wednesday. Conner had for months proposed his own candidate to replace Paletta.

Conner said he knew very little about DeFabo and knew nothing about his appointment until it was proposed during yesterday morning's business meeting. He accused Balya and Ceraso of orchestrating the appointment in secret.

Balya countered that Conner would only agree to support his candidate and was unwilling to compromise on a selection.

The appointment of DeFabo was not included among the five other authority positions that appeared on yesterday's agenda.

Ceraso conceded that he and Balya agreed on DeFabo late Wednesday. Ceraso also defended the selection, saying that DeFabo would be a calming influence on the board, which in recent years has become embroiled in a political dispute involving the hiring of Resource Development and Management Inc. to a 14-year, multimillion-dollar management contract.

Board member Art Boyle, Balya's appointment to the authority in 2000, has sued to terminate the management firm's contract and has at least twice tried unsuccessfully to fire the firm.

"It is my hope to put somebody on there so we can move to some type of settlement and this lawsuit goes away. Somebody needs to run the authority, and RDM is doing a good job," Ceraso said.

Balya said he was confident DeFabo would support his agenda for the authority.

"It's the same objective I've had. I want to see a shorter contract and the place well run. Everybody would like to see the contract redrawn to a shorter term," Balya said.

After the authority meeting, DeFabo said he had no preconceived views on the RDM situation. "It's something I'll have to look at," DeFabo said.

Commissioners did unanimously agree on several other authority appointments yesterday morning:

  • Jim Gebicki and state Rep. Tom Tangretti, a Hempfield Township Democrat, were reappointed to serve five-year terms on the county's transit authority. North Huntingdon Township funeral operator Jim Shirley also was tapped for the authority to replace James Solomon, who was not reappointed after serving 15 years on the board.
  • Commissioners appointed James Brown of Rostraver Township and Ron Balla of New Kensington to replace Philip Morrow and J. Clifford Naugle on the Westmoreland County Airport Authority.

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