Deputy auditor overseeing Pearce probe is supporter of Wilton’s

Joe Juhasz, the deputy auditor assigned to oversee a probe into Treasurer Beth Pearce’s oversight of the state pension system, made a financial contribution to Wendy Wilton’s campaign last month.

Juhasz today confirmed the donation and said he’s a longtime Republican who’s also written checks this year to Republican candidate for auditor Vince Illuzzi and Republican candidate for governor Randy Brock.

Pearce, the Democratic incumbent, and Wilton, her Republican challenger, have locked horns this fall in what has become one of the more contentious races for statewide office.

Juhasz, who gave $200 to the Wilton campaign on Sept. 13, said his support for the Republican won’t in any way color his inquiry into Pearce’s management.

In a letter to Republican Auditor Tom Salmon earlier this week, Wilton campaign manager Bradford Broyles accused Pearce of “inadequately managing overtime expenses associated with the Retirement System Reengineering Project.”

Wilton has said that the 3,000 hours racked up by a single employee over the last three fiscal years are of particular concern.

Pearce has said that the overtime expenses were offset by savings from a position she opted to leave vacant. She said her office has come in $500,000 under budget in the two years since she was appointed to the post.

According to a piece by Anne Galloway at Vermont Digger, however,(http://vtdigger.org/2012/10/19/wilton-presses-state-auditor-for-probe-into-excessive-overtime-in-treasurers-office/ ) Pearce neglected to mention that the overtime costs were being paid for with “special pension funds” not part of the treasurer’s general fund budget.

According to Galloway, special-fund spending under Pearce has increased by about $325,000.

Pearce’s camp said the Wilton allegations are groundless, calling them “election-year politics at its worst”

Juhasz said he’s unconcerned about even the appearance of a conflict of interest as he investigates Wilton’s claims. He said Salmon is aware of his political contributions.

“I said we will do what we always do – send a letter of preliminary review,” Juhasz said this morning. “And then the normal process is to ask some questions so we understand what the issues are.”

While he’s been responsible for overseeing the inquiry, Juhasz said he won’t be part of the five-person management team that decides whether to launch a formal audit based on Pearce’s response.

“I have no way of assessing whether the charges made in the complaint have any validity or not,” Juhasz said. “So the first thing we want to do is educate ourselves about the project and how the costs are allocated.”

Pearce won’t be required to deliver responses to the inquiry until after Nov. 6.