Is Commissioner Brian Shipley's credit card a private or county card? A judge will decide.
By HAROLD GWIN
VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU
MERCER, Pa. -- Mercer County Commissioner Brian Shipley's decision to release his credit card records makes the need for a trial to determine who owns the card unnecessary.
At least that's the basic argument put forth by his attorney, Miles Karson, in arguments before a common pleas judge Thursday.
The Herald newspaper filed suit against Mercer County Controller Dennis Songer over access to Shipley's credit card records after Shipley initially refused to release them and threatened to sue Songer if he released them.
Ownership dispute: Songer and The Herald maintain that the card is really a county card issued for Shipley, but Shipley maintains it is his private card, even though it has "County of Mercer" emblazoned on it in addition to his name.
Shipley said he has paid all debts incurred on the card except for some expenses paid on county business.
Attorney Mark Longietti, representing Songer, said Karson argued that the question of card ownership is now moot because Shipley voluntarily released the records this week.
However, Longietti said both he and Attorney William McConnell Sr., representing the newspaper, argued that the issue of who owns the card isn't moot and has yet to be resolved. The attorneys said it would be best to do that now rather than be forced to return to the debate some time in the future.
Judge Martin J. O'Brien, senior common pleas judge in Butler County, is hearing the case and gave the three attorneys until Sept. 22 to file briefs on the issue. He will render his decision at a later date.
The practice of county commissioners being issued credit cards in the county's name dates to 1988 and their use has never been questioned before, said Songer.
Heart of debate: The debate over Shipley's card began when he was late on a payment and National City Bank, which issued the card, asked the county to pay the debt, Songer said.
Shipley's records showing nothing particularly unusual but they do show he took $4,600 in cash advances between September 2000 and March of this year.
Shipley has since paid off all debt on the card.
Songer said he questioned the use of the cards when he first took office nearly four years ago, suggesting the county had created a liability for itself that might not be a legitimate county debt.
He noted that Commissioners Olivia Lazor and Gene Brenneman have turned their cards over to the county fiscal office since the Shipley case surfaced and will sign them out only when they need them for county business in the future.
Both Brenneman and Lazor voluntarily released their expense records for the county cards weeks ago.