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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Audit Man Out: Dispute over press release points to increasingly fractious mayoral campaign

Posted By on Thu, Apr 18, 2013 at 4:55 PM

The mayor's race has taken a somewhat sharper turn in recent days. City Councilor Bill Peduto has suggested that Jack Wagner is the new face of the old guard, while Wagner has suggested that Peduto was part of a dysfunctional city government that enabled the errors of outgoing Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. Today, state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale ended up in the middle of the fracas.

Earlier today, DePasquale issued the kind of back-patting press release that usually doesn't raise an eyebrow: a boast that, in the first three months of his term, he'd cleared a backlog of some 1,500 incomplete audits left behind by his predecessor ... Jack Wagner. DePasquale also boasted of economy measures like reducing the size of the car fleet auditors use to visit the municipal agencies, volunteer firefighter departments, and other agencies whose books they review.

DePasquale's release didn't mention Wagner by name, and spokesperson Susan Woods said the release wasn't meant to be a slight on his predecessor. "The auditor general has been talking about this since Day 1," she told me.

But a reporter's tweet about DePasquale's accomplishment was recirculated by Peduto fans, including his longtime lieutenant Dan Gilman. And this afternoon, Peduto's camp released a statement so het up about Wagner's record that it actually chopped off a sentence:

The department that Jack Wagner vacated so that he could move on to his next political ambition had a backlog of 1,500 audits and Wagner wants Pittsburgh voters to believe that he is the leader who can turn around our government. It took current Auditor General Eugene DePasquale a mere 90 days to clear up the mess that Wagner. This proves that Wagner is not the kind of leader Pittsburgh deserves or needs.

This, of course, prompted a salvo from Wagner's spokesman, JJ Abbott:

"Once again, it is disheartening for the people of Pittburgh to see Bill Peduto laser-focused on scoring political points. Bill Peduto's campaign lacks an understanding of state government or how a major government organization works. Jack Wagner stands by his record as Auditor General, completing 25,000 audits in his tenure even with serious budget cuts and staffing reductions. Jack was term-limited, audits are cyclical, and backlogs are a natural part of the transition process. Jack remains focused on the critical issues in this race, including ending the petty politics that have plagued City Government."

Woods acknowledged that it's not unusual for an official to leave work undone for a successor. (The office handles about 4,000 audits a year, she says.) She said that the audits were "in various stages of completion," and were made up largely of routine financial audits of government agencies. Finishing them, though, was "labor-intensive," she said. "The staff really had to work hard to get this out the door." And she touted various innovations that DePasquale had made, like sending audits out via e-mail, rather than printing them up.

It may be worth noting here that DePasquale is a Pittsburgh native whose father was a City Councilor himself, and that Peduto was an early backer of his bid for auditor general. But DePasquale has ties to the Wagner camp too: Khari Mosley -- the husband of Wagner's niece, County Controller Chelsa Wagner -- organized an early fundraiser for the auditor general campaign. DePasquale also supported Chelsa Wagner's own election contest. (Though he backed Dan Onorato over Wagner himself during the 2010 gubernatorial primary.)

Either way, when I asked Woods if any of this had to do with Pittsburgh politics, she all but groaned. "I don't want to get in the middle of that," she said.

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