UPDATE: 3:45 p.m. Mayor Cognetti directed the legal department to release DeSarno’s “self-audit” today.
Two days after Christmas, the outgoing administration of Mayor Until January Wayne Evans denied a Times-Tribune request for former Scranton Fire Chief Pat DeSarno’s “self-audit” of his abuse of a taxpayer-funded gasoline credit card.
The newspaper did what local newspapers do, and appealed the denial to the state Office of Open Records. The OOR has until Feb. 15 to decide whether Mayor Paige Gebhardt Cognetti’s administration must release the document. Get all the details in Staff Writer Jim Lockwood’s story here.
Everyone involved, including the city, expects the OOR to rule in the public’s favor. The city may release the records before the deadline, Assistant City solicitor Joseph Price said Wednesday. Why not today? For the same lame reason Trump won’t release his tax returns: DeSarno’s gas card use is under audit.
Once the outside auditor finishes its examination of the documents, the city will release the self-audit, Price said. Releasing the documents sooner would be “pre-decisional,” he said, echoing the Right to Know Law exemption cited by the previous administration.
“Pre-decisional” is one of those legal “terms of art” almost no one outside the profession understands. I Googled it and got this definition:
“To show that a document is pre–decisional, the agency need not identify a specific final agency decision; it is sufficient to establish what deliberative process is involved, and the role played by the documents at issue in the course of that process.”
So I still don’t know what “pre-decisional” means, but I can say with absolute certainty that DeSarno’s self-audit was “post-decisional” and should have been released as soon as he submitted it.
DeSarno decided to use his city gas card as his own, including a vacation to the Jersey shore.
DeSarno decided to lie to his boss when he got caught.
DeSarno decided to submit a document claiming $559.19 in personal gas use, a number the outside auditor called into question in an interview with The Times-Tribune. We want a copy of the outside audit, too, and the city says it will release it. That’s commendable, but the hold-up of the self-audit is unnecessary and unacceptable.
The Evans Administration decided to keep the self-audit from the public. The Cognetti Administration decided to stand by that decision and stall the document’s release until it decides to exercise the transparency Cognetti promised.
It’s an unforced error that should be corrected by the end of business today.