|ORGANIZATION ISSUES MONEY/POLITICS NEWS INDEX|
State yanks funding from air monitor;
June 21, 1997
The embattled North Ohio Valley Air Authority, or NOVAA, will lose its state funding at the end of its current contract year, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency said yesterday.
NOVAA, based in Steubenville, has been officially in charge of air quality monitoring and enforcement in six eastern Ohio counties since 1967; it has been under contract with the Ohio EPA since that agency was formed in 1972.
The decision to kill its contract is the first of its kind for the state EPA, according to department spokesman Al Franks, and flows directly from a scathing state audit released in March that found spending and payroll irregularities at the agency. NOVAA also found itself in the middle of a criminal investigation last fall that sent one of its former employees to jail for trying to bribe a Jefferson County official on behalf of Gov. George Voinovich's brother.
NOVAA's current director, Richard Canestrero, was out of town and could not be reached for comment.
But Scott Krupinski, the Jefferson County commissioner who taped the bribe offer made on Paul Voinovich's behalf in 1993, denounced the EPA's decision as political retaliation by the Voinovich administration.
"I think the administration's actions speak very loudly," Krupinski said. "This is basic political retribution."
NOVAA is one of 10 local air agencies under contract with the state to monitor air, issue permits and initiate enforcement actions.
The agencies are under annual contracts, which are typically renewed automatically. NOVAA's 1997 contract with the EPA has been in limbo since October. The state signed that contract yesterday, but announced that it would not sign another when the agreement expires this fall.
"We wanted there to be time for an orderly transition," said EPA spokesman Franks.
"We have advised NOVAA that Ohio EPA will not be renewing their contract after September 30, 1997," said EPA Director Donald Schregardus. "To ensure that all funds are appropriately spent, we are also requiring NOVAA to account for all NOVAA employee time worked on contract and non-contract activities and to submit monthly time accounting reports to the Ohio EPA detailing individual efforts and the rates of pay associated with those efforts."
The Steubenville air agency first gained notoriety last fall, when Jefferson County Prosecutor Stephen Stern, as part of his attempted-bribery prosecution of Vince Zumpano, filed records in court showing hundreds of phone calls from NOVAA to Paul Voinovich's office, home and lobbyist. Zumpano, a former NOVAA employee, is the man now in jail for trying to bribe a public official on behalf of the governor's brother.
This year, state Auditor Jim Petro released the devastating special audit of NOVAA.
The audit documented a series of problems at the air agency, including questionable spending practices and the existence of three payrolls for NOVAA employees.
The audit showed that NOVAA employees frequently did work at a party barn owned by the agency's former director, Pat "Patsy" DeLuca, during the hours when they were under contract to monitor air quality for the EPA.
The audit also discovered padded travel, entertainment and restaurant expense accounts as well as a lack of basic accounting policies, and it found that DeLuca had been paid an early-retirement incentive package for a retirement that lasted one week.
Employees were paid by the Ohio EPA to monitor air quality. But they also contracted themselves out for extra monitoring work and were paid out of two extra payrolls, both of them directly funded by the industries they were charged with regulating.
DeLuca told the EPA that the employees did the work for their extra paychecks on their own time.
One of the two extra payrolls was funded by Waste Technologies Industries. WTI operates a highly controversial hazardous waste incinerator in East Liverpool that NOVAA was responsible for monitoring.
Documents turned over to the auditor from NOVAA included contracts for the WTI-funded payroll for every employee.
Two of the contracts were signed by WTI public relations director Michael Parkes.
Parkes has said that his signature was forged, and that he never signed any contracts directly with NOVAA employees.
"That is not my signature," Parkes said. "And I had never seen that document before."
WTI provided the funding for a group called the Tri-Lateral Commission, made up of WTI, NOVAA and a citizens group organized by WTI. The group did monitoring for dioxins in the air and in vegetables and soil, and provided the results to the U.S. EPA.
Parkes said he was in charge of signing disbursement agreements to pay the Tri-Lateral Commission, as well as purchase orders for the commission. He said another WTI employee sometimes signed in his stead when he could not attend commission meetings. But he said no one from WTI signed the individual employment contracts.
Petro's audit of NOVAA played a significant role in the EPA's decision to kill the agency's next contract, Franks said.
NOVAA is the only air agency in the state that is not under the control of a public entity. It is run by a board and is, according to Franks, not accountable to anyone.
"They essentially don't report to anyone but themselves," he said.
But Krupinski, who is a NOVAA board member in addition to being a county commissioner, said he doubts the state audit was the true motivation behind the EPA's decision.
He noted that Petro's audit found the most serious problems occurred under NOVAA's previous director, not Canestrero. He said NOVAA had been cleaning up its act.
"If the governor is insistent on taking something away from Jefferson County," Krupinski said, "I strongly suggest that he take the jail his brother built, rather than the jobs of 12 innocent people and their families."