This libertarian won his local elections, but the politicians he would audit refuse to give him a seat

Kevin Gaughen is a real estate broker and executive director of the Pennsylvania Libertarian Party. He has lived for 10 years in Silver Spring Township, near the state capital, Harrisburg, and worries about the management of his town’s finances.

In 2021, Gaughen decided to run for township auditor as a written candidate. On Election Day, he mobilized friends to hand out cards to potential voters that read “Write Kevin Gaughen for the listener.” Unlikely, he won. Now, however, the manager of Silver Spring Township won’t let him do his job.

On January 3, Gaughen showed up for the year’s first meeting of the Supervisory Board, a five-person board that “governs[s] and supervise[s]the township. To his surprise, his swearing-in was not on the agenda. According to Gaughen Account, when he raised the matter during the public comment section, the council insisted that it was an oversight and that he would be sworn in at the next meeting. But a few days later, Township Manager Raymond Palmer sent a E-mail stating that in fact the township had retained the services of an accounting firm, Maher Duessel, to serve as auditors and that “the elected auditor has duties waived when a township appoints an auditing firm”. (Palmer did not respond to an email or text message seeking comment).

It is within the authority of a canton to appoint a firm of chartered accountants to carry out the audit function. Silver Spring Township appears to have retained Maher Duessel since at least 2010. (A representative for Maher Duessel did not respond to emails or a voicemail requesting comment.)

Merely hiring an accountant for audits is not, in and of itself, suspicious, says Jennifer Moore, president of the Pennsylvania Libertarian Party, who is also an auditor in the township where she lives. Her local council contracts with an accountant, which she says is necessary for larger townships with larger budgets. But, as she says Raison, “we always have a role to play: we are elected by the people to make sure that everything goes well.” In Moore’s case, the firm compiles the audit, and then the board of elected auditors scours the report for anything that might need further examination.

A Pennsylvania township auditor is not a particularly prestigious or powerful position. Salaries are capped at $2,000 per year, half that of small municipalities. Auditors review their township’s finances and submit an annual report to the state capital. They also set the salaries of the supervisory board. Each canton has three auditors, who serve staggered terms of six years.

In addition to setting supervisors’ salaries and financial audits and reports, township auditors may investigate the “official records of district judges,” similar to small claims courts, “to determine the amount of fines and fees paid. or due to the canton”. If a canton writes too many tickets or imposes an excessive amount of fines, the board of auditors would have the power to investigate. The Board of Auditors also has the power to issue subpoenas to investigate members of the Board of Supervisors and to impose fines on any supervisor who abuses taxpayers’ money. An accounting firm would not be able to perform these functions.

“I see them pitching projects, and I don’t think they’re bidding fairly,” Gaughen said. Raison. “I see them handing out bids” without subjecting them to a “fair bidding process…There are a lot of concerns I see in this township, and I thought to myself, ‘I want to get involved , I want to open the books, I want to start going to these town meetings, and I want to know exactly what’s going on here.'”

It is not clear whether the supervisory board is even permit rely solely on an accounting firm for audits. “They just can’t do that, under election law,” says Moore, also an MBA. “It’s a violation of the electoral code. The electoral code says that they can hire a CPA, but they still must have a board of auditors.” Indeed, state law states that if an accountant or firm is appointed, “the board of auditors shall not audit, adjust or adjust the accounts audited by the appointee but must perform the other duties of the office. (A representative of the Governor’s Center for Local Government Services, which oversees the township’s audit reports, did not respond to voicemails seeking comment.)

Trying to figure out what his next steps were, Gaughen searched for the former job winner. Chris Trafton ran as a Republican in 2019, although he identifies as an independent. In an interview with Raison, Trafton described an experience very similar to Gaughen’s: Tired of seeing “scheming” in local governance, Trafton turned to the role of township auditor and mounted a successful word-of-mouth written campaign. by ear. When he showed up to be certified in his new role, city officials seemed surprised to see him. He was informed that “we intended to close these [positions] in the election” anyway, because with a third-party auditing company, “there’s no point in having auditors”.

Trafton also shared with Raison a copy of an email from the township manager at the time, Theresa Eberly. Eberly’s email used nearly identical language to Palmer’s to Gaughen, stating that “the elected auditor has duties waived when a township appoints an auditing firm.” (Eberly, who has since moved to a position in another city, did not respond to email questions).

Currently on the Cumberland County website, the Township of Silver Spring lists three auditors. Two, Gaughen and Trafton, have yet to be seated; the third, Kathleen Albright, apparently left the township and was not replaced. (Albright responded to a text message, but has so far declined to participate in an interview for this article.)

It’s entirely possible that the Silver Springs Township Board of Supervisors is acting in good faith, but by refusing to seat an auditor and relying solely on its own hand-picked replacement, the board is not only violating the law of the state, but also challenges the most basic principles of good governance. In Gaughen’s words, the auditor is “a citizen’s watchdog,” put in place to “make sure there’s no economic malfeasance. And I don’t think anyone hired , who has a financial interest in the municipality, should audit the people who hired them.”

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