Monroeville hired private investigative firm long before public knew

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Monroeville in February hired a private investigative firm and was later billed more than $4,000 for 45 hours of work, all prior to any public discussion about the agreement or a vote by council, according to documents obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The paperwork raises questions both about potential violations of the Sunshine Act and public statements made by Monroeville's solicitor in which he denied that any "agreement" or "understanding" existed between the firm and the municipality.

On Feb. 25, Monroeville retained CSI Western PA to "provide investigative services relative to the accuracy and content" of a report compiled by a different private firm, John J. Daley Consulting, according to an employment agreement turned over to the Post-Gazette through an open-records request.

The report was signed by CSI and an attorney for Monroeville.

Monroeville officials said that people interviewed for the Daley report have since recanted their statements. They did not identify those individuals.

The Daley report was commissioned by law firm Dickie, McCamey & Chilcote on behalf of Monroeville -- when it was run by a different council majority and manager -- to investigate problems with alleged data breaches.

The report found that sensitive municipal 911 data were regularly accessed by unauthorized individuals. It blamed police Chief K. Doug Cole, who had been demoted and fired. He was rehired in January by a new council and manager after the political landscape changed in the November election.

Monroeville pursued looking into how the Daley report was put together after council members approached solicitor Bruce Dice with concerns.

Attorney William P. Bresnahan II of Dickie, McCamey & Chilcote on Thursday defended the Daley report.

"All I can say is that John Daley did his due diligence and he reported what the people had told him," Mr. Bresnahan said.

Mr. Dice suggested hiring someone to investigate the probe and recommended CSI Western PA.

Council discussed the matter in two executive sessions, Monroeville manager Timothy Little said last week. He said council authorized him to work with Mr. Dice to move the process ahead.

A CSI invoice shows that it commenced its investigation Feb. 19 -- six days before being formally employed by Monroeville -- when seven hours of work was performed at an hourly rate of $90.

Work continued on three other days that month and then on two days in March before a scheduled March 11 council meeting.

"Should this have been put on the March agenda meeting for approval? Probably," Mr. Little said.

On March 31, CSI sent an invoice to Mr. Dice for $4,334.19 for 45.2 hours of work plus additional charges. Monroeville redacted information about the services rendered in the documents it released to the Post-Gazette.

On April 2, Mr. Little's signature was affixed to a municipal purchase order above the block "approved for purchase."

Mr. Little said the signature was computer-generated and that he later signed off on payment after an April 8 council meeting, when council publicly approved a motion to hire CSI and pay the firm up to $10,000.

CSI will not get any money until May, Mr. Little said.

"I approve dozens of purchase orders before they get to the actual approval of a council meeting," Mr. Little said. "There's scores of pre-paid bills that I sign that come in here that have to be approved for purchase before a council meeting."

Mr. Little said he did not believe the way Monroeville handled the hiring of CSI violated the Sunshine Act.

"Now, am I here to say everything operated the way it should have operated? No," Mr. Little said. "But there was no impediment here. There was no malice here. No violation of the Sunshine Law."

Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, said the process followed by Monroeville in this case seemed to treat the state Sunshine Act as a "mere formality."

"The public meeting, public comment and public voting requirements of the Sunshine Act serve a purpose: to allow the public to witness and participate in agency decisions before the decision is made. This obviously can't happen if the agency makes decisions and treats the public process as perfunctory exercise," Ms. Melewsky said.

"In this situation," she continued, "it appears the decision to hire was made at some point in February, long before the public had an opportunity to comment in April. The fact that public comment was accepted after the fact does not undo the damage."

Mr. Little said the public had a chance to comment. He said the hiring of CSI was disclosed at Monroeville's public April 3 agenda-setting meeting and was on the council agenda five days later.

Mr. Little said that at the council meeting "a gentleman got up and said, 'This is $10,000 we don't need to spend. Let's put this to bed.' Words to that effect. So the public did comment on it then."

On April 3, the Post-Gazette reported that Monroeville had hired CSI. That night during the public meeting Mr. Dice told residents that contrary to the story, it was not true that the municipality had hired CSI.

"That's just not happened yet," Mr. Dice said. "They don't have an agreement with us, there's no understanding, there's been no situation where a contract has been signed by anybody."

Mr. Dice did not respond to repeated attempts to reach him last week.

Jonathan D. Silver:, 412-263-1962 or on Twitter @jsilverpg.

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