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North Huntingdon commissioners want WWMA to hand over requested documents

| Tuesday, May 8, 2012, 4:40 a.m.

Some North Huntingdon Township commissioners are willing to do whatever it takes to receive requested documents from the Western Westmoreland Municipal Authority.

Commissioners voted Thursday night to ask township Manager John Shepherd to verify dates of letters requesting that information, check with solicitors to see if the WWMA is outside the timelines set forth in the state Right-to-Know Law, and if so, take whatever steps necessary to compel WWMA to supply the requested documents.

It was a meeting during which the last 30 minutes mostly featured Commissioner Richard Gray peppering fellow Commissioner John Thornton with questions. Thornton is the chairman of the WWMA.

North Huntingdon Township is one of a few entities — including the North Huntingdon Township Municipal Authority, Penn Township commissioners and the Penn Township Sewage Authority — that have asked the WWMA for information on several matters, including a $10 million bond issue and a planned $3.65 per month rate hike.

"They have borrowed money before for projects, and we want to know the status of what they did with that money and how far along the projects are, and now they're refinancing and borrowing $10 million more," Gray said after the meeting.

Last night's motion passed by a 5-1 vote. Commissioner Donald Austin cast the negative tally, while Thornton abstained.

Thornton said the WWMA is gathering the necessary information.

"That's being handled by the office staff and the attorney. I have no idea why it hasn't been completed yet, other than it's a big list of what she had to do and what she had to fill out, and she's one person," Thornton said.

Last week, the North Huntingdon Township Municipal Authority decided to provide an update to the commissioners on where its request for the information stood.

Solicitor William McCabe said the deadline is today for the WWMA to supply the requested information.

Before last night's vote was taken, Gray fired several questions at Thornton dealing with issues ranging from WWMA's hiring practices to expense accounts.

Salaries and benefits at WWMA have been a bone of contention for some time.

Relatives of three current WWMA board members and a North Huntingdon Township commissioner work at the authority.

Some of Gray's questions dealt with attendance at a conference in New Orleans, and if the WWMA paid for spouses to attend or what was done with a spending allowance.

Thornton said WWMA does not pay for spouses and there was a spending allowance, but money not used had to be returned.

"You deny what's been rumored in the community, and quite frankly it's been admitted by your own board members, to be a $2,500 spending allowance each member is given to attend that conference," Gray said. "The rumor on the street, according to some of the other board members, is you're given $2,500 with which you do not have to account for any of it."

"You have to turn in receipts for every bit of it, and you have to fill out an expense report," Thornton responded. "I don't know where you're getting your information."

Gray finally asked Thornton if he knew when the township or its municipal authority would receive the documents requested.

"The only thing I know is that they're working on it," Thornton said. "I can't give you any further explanation without talking to them to find out where they are on the cycle. With everything I've had going, I haven't talked to them about it other than the fact they were going to provide it."

WWMA was formed in 1972 under a state mandate to provide sewage treatment to areas in six municipalities where there was no service. It serves about 17,000 customers in Irwin, North Irwin, Manor and portions of North Huntingdon, Penn and Hempfield townships.

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