For the second time in the past year, Monroeville has hired a private investigator to conduct an internal probe of the municipality’s turbulent affairs.
Interim Manager Timothy Little on Wednesday confirmed the existence of a broad and comprehensive investigation that will address, among other issues, recent personnel upheaval that involved his predecessor, the current police chief and several 911 dispatchers who were fired.
“We just want to get to the truth of what occurred here, that’s all,” Mr. Little said.
CSI Western PA is conducting the investigation. Its managing director, Joe Bellissimo, declined comment, citing client confidentiality and the ongoing nature of his work.
Several municipal officials interviewed Wednesday — including Mr. Little — refused to disclose the investigation’s cost, specifics about its scope, exactly when CSI was hired or even how it was retained.
Mr. Little was evasive when asked in what forum council made the decision to retain CSI. Despite the fact that the firm has been working for several weeks, Mr. Little said the “actual ratification” of its hiring will occur Tuesday at a council meeting.
Councilwoman Linda Gaydos said the hiring decision was made in an executive session, although Councilman Tom Wilson said that was not the case.
“I would think it was discussed in executive session but it would have to be voted in public for it to be legal,” Mr. Wilson said. But, he added, “There was no public discussion whatsoever.”
Solicitor Bruce Dice could not be reached for comment.
“We will make everything public as soon as the investigation is complete — the reasons why, what the findings are,” Ms. Gaydos said.
Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, said if the hiring was done in executive session it was a potential violation of the state Sunshine Act.
“It doesn’t sound kosher to me at all. That’s not the way the Sunshine Act works,” Ms. Melewsky said. “The law does not ever authorize official action to take place behind closed doors. They’re not allowed to say, ‘This is the contractor we agree on, this is how much we’re going to pay them.’ ”
Appellate court decisions have held that agencies can sometimes “cure” a Sunshine Act violation by holding a public vote at a later public meeting.
“But those are not in the public interest. That’s the method agencies use to correct a mistake. They shouldn’t be doing that knowingly avoiding the Sunshine Act,” Ms. Melewsky said. “If they’re intentionally avoiding the Sunshine Act and saying, ‘We’ll ratify at a later time,’ that’s problematic.”
Mr. Little said no board packet had been prepared for council for Tuesday’s meeting, and since CSI’s work is considered a professional service it did not need to be put out for bid.
Neither Ms. Gaydos, Mr. Wilson nor Councilman Paul Caliari would divulge how much council authorized CSI to be paid.
Mr. Wilson said he was told by Mr. Little that the investigation was meant to address claims that an earlier report compiled by John J. Daley Consulting was not entirely accurate.
That report, which cost about $10,000, was given to council in July. It found that Monroeville volunteer firefighters and other unauthorized individuals were able to access sensitive information from calls to the municipality’s 911 dispatch center, including details about a rape.
The report placed ultimate responsibility on police Chief Doug Cole, who was demoted from police chief, fired and ultimately rehired.
“I was told one or two individuals came forward after they read the report and said this isn’t exactly what I said,” Mr. Wilson said. “What I guess this investigation is is to finally get to the truth of what was really said by the people that Mr. Daley interviewed.”
Mr. Daley said he could not discuss his findings because they were compiled for attorney William P. Bresnahan II on behalf of the municipality. Mr. Bresnahan could not be reached for comment.
“I stand by what I wrote and what I reported,” Mr. Daley said.
Jonathan D. Silver: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1962 or on Twitter @jsilverpg.