THE COMMISSIONER'S ACTIVITIES GAINED ATTENTION WHEN IT WAS REVEALED HE HAD USED HIS OFFICE COMPUTER TO ACCESS SOME
By HAROLD GWIN
VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU
MERCER, Pa. -- The Visa card says "Brian Shipley County of Mercer" but is it Brian Shipley's credit card or a county credit card?
It's going to take a judge to make that determination.
Shipley maintains that it is his card and that he alone is responsible for the charges incurred on it.
County Controller Dennis Songer disagrees.
He believes it is a county card, which commissioners are entitled to when they are elected.
The card is in both his and the county's name, Songer said.
The county doesn't have a copy of the card contract for Shipley or the cards used by Commissioners Gene Brenneman or Olivia Lazor, but Songer said National City Bank, which issued Shipley's card, is sending a copy of the contract to the county.
Songer said the credit card issue surfaced in July at a time when he was already looking into some concerns that some other county employees may have misused cards by making personal purchases with them.
Late payment: About that time, Songer said he got a call from National City saying Shipley was delinquent on making a payment and the county should pay the bill.
Bills for credit cards issued to the commissioners don't come to the county. They go directly to the commissioners, Songer said.
Shipley said the card is in his name, though it does say "Brian Shipley County of Mercer" on it, and that he has always been responsible for the bills.
Any expense he incurred on county business was submitted to the county for reimbursement through proper channels.
The county has never made any payments on the credit card bill, he said, adding that liability is his.
He did make personal purchases with it but generally only when he was on county business, he said. He didn't use it regularly, he said, adding that there were no purchases made that would cause him to be embarrassed.
Nevertheless, he believes it would be an invasion of his privacy to release that credit card's purchase records to the public and that has prompted The Herald newspaper to file a lawsuit against Songer demanding that the records be released.
Lazor and Brenneman have said they have no objections to the release of their card records.
Won't release: Songer has declined to release Shipley's record because of a possible lawsuit against him by Shipley, and the issue will now go before a visiting common pleas court judge.
No judge has been assigned and no trial date has been set.
New scrutiny: Meanwhile, Shipley's activities as a county commissioner came under new public scrutiny Friday when it was revealed he visited several X-rated adult Internet sites using the computer in his county office last October.
Shipley confirmed that he visited what he thought were three or four sites very briefly one evening as a test of the county's new computer system.
He said there were concerns abut how employees might use the Internet and the county was in the process of adopting Internet use policies at the time. As a commissioner, he said he felt a responsibility to test the system and did so.
He said he never discussed it with his colleagues and, shortly thereafter, the county adopted a new Internet policy that included putting safeguards in the system that blocked out X-rated and other adult sites on most county computers.
"I'm kind of taken aback by the whole situation," Shipley said, adding that he never saw this as an issue.