Struggle for County Weights & Measures Office Continues

May 29, 2012

It seems Allegheny County Council is the rope in a political tug-of-war between the County Executive and the County Controller. A pending Council vote will determine which office will have command of the county's Weights & Measures Division.

County Council's Government Reform Committee voted Tuesday night to hold legislation that would shift the Weights & Measures Division from the Controller's Office to the County Department of Administrative Services. County Executive Rich Fitzgerald proposed the bill to the Council this spring, much to the chagrin of County Controller Chelsa Wagner.

The Weights & Measures function has been under the County Controller's purview since 2008. Prior to that, it had been part of the Administrative Services Department.

In a written statement to Council, Wagner argued that the Controller's office has since introduced efficient computer automation to the Weights and Measures Division, and also made the bureau's yearly reports available to the public.

"In addition to the vast improvements of the Weights & Measures Division since its move to the Controller's office, it concerns me even more that this Administration would propose to move Weights & Measures back to a department that is in flux and severely overburdened in the management of the Property Reassessment and Elections," wrote Wagner.

A representative of the Administrative Services department denied that his office was overburdened, and said the division's three employees would simply switch from the Controller's office to the administrative office. He said the Controller's oversight of the division is "not an appropriate separation of powers." He declined further comment.

Councilman William Robinson made it clear that he would vote in favor of Wagner. "My vote is going to be no. Capital N-O," said Robinson.

However, other Council Members disagreed. Councilwoman Barbara Daly Danko argued that Weights & Measures is a function that belongs under the executive branch of government.

"I mean, the Controller's job is to audit," said Daly Danko. "If you have the Controller performing the audit function initially, then who audits the auditor?"

The councilwoman said the Weights & Measures function has been overly politicized.

"I think almost everybody recognizes those stickers all over the county, and maybe if there weren't those stickers that [former County Controller] Mark Flaherty used, and now Chelsa Wagner uses, I don't think this would be such a hot topic, but it is," said Daly Danko. "I think all of us want to de-politicize the function."

Controller Wagner's letter noted that the Weights & Measures Division represents just .0167% of Allegheny County's budget, spending $250,000 per year on three staff members.