County Executive, Judge In Assessment Standoff
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Call it a standoff between senior Judge Stanton Wettick and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald over property assessments.
“It looks like now we have a judge who is trying to take it over,” says Fitzgerald. “Basically, demanding that employees under the executive branch now become part of the judicial branch.”
The court order issued by Wettick essentially instructs four of Fitzgerald’s appointees to ignore their boss and obey the judge.
Those employees are County Manager James Flynn, Chief Assessment Officer Deborah Bunn, Director of the Department of Administrative Services Timothy Johnson and Michael Suley, manager of the Office of Property Assessments.
“It appears that Judge Wettick has made a conscious effort to focus on the people who actually produce the work product that he desires and he’s sort of singled them out. He’s called them out,” Duquesne Law professor Joseph Mistick told KDKA Political Editor Jon Delano.
Mistick says this is not uncommon, but Fitzgerald calls it judicial activism and over-reaching.
“The functions of the employees are under the executive branch,” says the county executive.
Fitzgerald questioned what was next for Wettick in usurping power.
“Is the judge going to find out a road that is not paved properly in Allegheny County? Is he going to say, ‘Well, I’m going to have the public works folks pave this road because that road is not equally paved like that road over there?’”
But Wettick was clear that if the four county employees disobey his orders, he may find them in contempt and obeying their boss, Fitzgerald, the judge says would not be a defense.
That bothers the law professor.
Delano: “Do you find that troublesome?”
Mistick: “Yeah. It’s America. You get to raise the defenses you think are in your best interests.”
Obviously, the four county officials are between a rock and a hard place.
Fitzgerald says he expects his employees to carry out what he says taxpayers elected him to do which is to block reassessment here until all counties are reassessed.
In the meantime, don’t be surprised if the county appeals Wettick’s latest order.
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