The Observer Publishing Co. has filed an appeal in Washington County Court of a decision made by the state Office of Open Records denying reporters a copy of a Cecil Township special audit that prompted a criminal investigation of the former police chief.
The appeal comes a month after the office backed the township’s original decision to deny access to its 2013 special audit of the local police federal account because it was linked to an investigation. The Observer-Reporter newspaper also has petitioned the Office of Open Records to reconsider its decision in the case.
“The newspaper continues to maintain that the public has the right to know the contents of the audit,” said Observer-Reporter Editor Liz Rogers. “The taxpayers are entitled to know how township money – their money – is being managed.”
The independent audit concerns the township police department’s equitable sharing account, established in 2009, which was used for sting operations and to purchase equipment. When the special audit was conducted by accounting firm Cypher and Cypher Public Accountants of Canonsburg, it uncovered discrepancies under $10,000 through unauthorized deposits and withdrawals for extra duty expenses.
Cecil Township, in its June response to the newspaper’s appeal to the Office of Open Records, confirmed the audit led to a criminal investigation into former Chief John Pushak because of the way in which the account was handled. The board accepted Pushak’s resignation in April after he had worked for the department for 38 years. Prior to his resignation, he had been on paid administrative leave since February.
After Cypher & Cypher presented the township’s 2012 regular audit at a supervisors’ meeting Monday, Supervisor Elizabeth Cowden questioned why the discrepancies in the federal police account were not reported by the auditors to the supervisors. “That information has been provided to the board,” Cecil attorney Brendan O’Donnell said. “It’s the subject of continued litigation and investigation at this point, such that it would be inappropriate for the board to make any comments that may prejudice the board or any other party, at this point, until a court essentially tells us that we may do so.”