Sherman press conference

Republican Nick Sherman, far left, prepares to address supporters at a rally Thursday in front of Washington County Courthouse.

A Republican running for Washington County commissioner, flanked by three GOP row office hopefuls, called out his Democratic opponents Thursday morning over an audit, released in July that revealed $96,000 missing from the clerk of courts office. 

"You haven't heard an outcry from Democratic incumbent Harlan Shober or Larry Maggi," said Sherman of the men who comprise the majority on the board of commissioners. "You haven't witnessed any robust discussion after an incident like this. They'd like it to go away. It's awkward to go after a member of your own party, I suppose."

"What about Diana Irey?" interjected Cliff Cochran, former Democratic state committeeman from Washington, inquiring about Sherman's Republican running mate.

Sherman, a Republican committeeman from North Strabane Township, chose to ignore Cochran's question during the rally, but he said before departing that he and Commission Vice Chairman Diana Irey Vaughan had discussed the situation in the clerk of courts office.

"She's the minority commissioner," Sherman said. "What we're asking for is change in county government." He said he envisions Irey Vaughan to be chairman of a GOP-led board of commissioners "with me by her side."  

Irey Vaughan was not present at the GOP event Thursday morning.

"Electing the same group of people year after year creates a kind of cozy atmosphere in which someone thinks they can get away with stealing or carelessness or incompetence," Sherman said from a podium placed in front of the courthouse steps.

Cochran said after Sherman left for Pittsburgh, "There's three people sitting at the table out there and what are we saying? The Democrats are all wrong and the Republicans are all right? I want to know where that money went, too. I'm a taxpayer." Cochran called for Clerk of Courts Frank Scandale to also hold a similar news conference. 

As Sherman spoke on South Main Street, Scandale was on the job inside his courthouse row office. 

As an elected official, Scandale is not appointed by the county commissioners. An elected row officer can, by law, hire and supervise his own staff.

Any candidate nominated in the primary had until Aug. 12 to step aside, allowing his or her party to name a substitute. Scandale, seeking a second, four-year term, remains on the ballot. 

Asked about Sherman's remarks Thursday, Scandale called it "clearly a political stunt" and declined to add to the statement that he gave when county Controller Michael Namie released the clerk of courts audit: 

“I try to run the office like an efficient business and sometimes best practices must be revised and revisited; however, I categorically deny that any wrongdoing was committed in this matter.

“I welcome any investigation that may take place, and I intend to fully cooperate with the same."

Brenda Davis, former Washington mayor and Democrat, is the Republican nominee for clerk of courts. She stood with Sherman Thursday but did not address those present. The clerk of courts elected position in Washington County carries an annual salary of $85,258. 

The county commissioners turned the investigation of what happened to fines and costs from criminal cases, paid to the clerk of courts office but never deposited, over to state police in July.

"I don't know until I get an answer as to who's done what up there (at the clerk of courts office)," Shober said. "There are no politics being played, no friendships." 

Shober said of the clerk of courts investigation, "I want it resolved as soon as possible, and I want to take the action that's appropriate as soon as possible. This is something we've been struggling with since it was brought to our attention."

Prior to the release of the audit in July, Washington County Finance Director Joshua Hatfield, a commissioners' appointee, has been providing additional oversight of the daily receipts of the clerk of courts office.   

"This is an investigation. We're not allowed to be involved in it. We've done everything we can do," Shober said. 

"To oppose corruption is the most important duty of a public servant," Sherman said, later adding, "The only remedy within the grasp of the citizens here is the ballot box."

Washington County, once solidly Democratic when union members who toiled in mines and mills made up a large part of the workforce, has gone increasingly Republican as New Dealers died off and suburbanization supplanted former farmland. 

The last Democratic presidential candidate to carry Washington County was John Kerry in 2004, by a mere 552 votes out of tens of thousands cast.

In 2016, Republican Donald Trump garnered 60% of the vote in Washington County to Democrat Hillary Clinton's 35.5%.  

Scandal surrounding use of a county cellphone dogged Commissioner Metro Petrosky and helped catapult Diana Irey into a Republican majority on the board in 1995, enabling her to join Commissioner Joe Ford of Peters Township on the seventh floor of Courthouse Square. 

Ford later resigned, and Democrats regained a majority they have held on the board of commissioners since those elected in 1999 took office the following year.

Shober won a second, four-year term as a county commissioner in 2015 by a mere 35-vote margin over Republican Mike McCormick of Peters Township, who had defeated Sherman in the GOP primary the previous May.

Democrat Larry Maggi, former sheriff and state trooper, has led the ticket since being elected to the board of commissioners in 2003, with Irey Vaughan finishing second.

In the Nov. 5 election, voters can choose two candidates for the board of commissioners, and the top three vote-getters take office to ensure minority party representation. 

  

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