Chris Crossing York: Watch where you're stepping in York County politics

York Dispatch

I know better, but I was still surprised by Sen. Scott Wagner's "dog poop" metaphor on the phone Thursday night.

But that's the eye-in-the-sky perspective of his aerial highness — the chopper-riding businessman/senator/analogy peddler — as he hovers over York County's political inroads and assesses the investigation into Commissioner Chris Reilly, his friend and campaign donation recipient.

"Chris Reilly let his dog poop on the sidewalk," Wagner said. "It's not like he murdered somebody. He took his dog out for a walk and he let his dog poop on the sidewalk and he didn't clean the poop up."

Ah, there's that plain-spoken charm.

Let's just hope the county taxpayers aren't the ones left scraping off their shoes in the grass.

A seasoned Republican politician, Reilly is under investigation for allegedly allowing and/or authorizing his former campaign treasurer (who was and is still the county-paid secretary for the two other commissioners who are among his competitors in the coming election) to do his campaign work in the county office and on the county's dime.

She has admitted to doing at least a small amount of Reilly's campaign work in the county office during her taxpayer-paid day job.

York County District Attorney Tom Kearney has forwarded the investigation to the office of state Attorney General Kathleen Kane, according to Kyle King, spokesman for Kearney's office. He declined to elaborate.

Kane spokesman Jeffrey A. Johnson also declined to comment, but said, "generally speaking," Kane's office can assume an investigation if a county DA makes a formal referral citing, for example, a conflict of interest or a lack of resources.

I'm going to read between the lines and give Kearney two thumbs up for recognizing the peril of investigating a man he has supported politically and who is one of three commissioners who control his budget.

Kane apparently sent a couple of investigators to county offices a few weeks ago to interview at least one commissioner, Democrat Doug Hoke, who said he saw some of Reilly's campaign mail in one of the county's outgoing mail bins.

Hoke said yesterday the investigators showed up during a week when Reilly was on vacation.

They asked Hoke about what he knew of the alleged campaign activities in the office and went on their way.

Yesterday, Democrat Bob Kefauver, the chair of the Democratic Party of York County, filed a complaint against Reilly with the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission.

Now I just mentioned two Democrats, and I bet I know what you're thinking.

But both Kefauver and Hoke have disavowed partisan play in their pursuits of the truth surrounding this potential campaign law violation.

You don't really have to believe them, though. Just look at the reality of York County politics, where the real vitriol, the real brawlfest, is pure GOP vs. GOP.

The Democrats are standing on the playground nervously eyeing the tetherball while the centrist and tea party Republicans are off in the sandbox pulling out each other's hair. These days, there's not much bulk left in either side's pigtails.

President Commissioner Steve Chronister, one of Reilly's opponents, was a Republican until forced to run as an independent because, as Chronister said, his petition was challenged by a "group of Republicans including (Reilly)."

Republican Zack Hearn, who filed the initial complaint with Kearney's office to investigate Reilly, ran unsuccessfully against Wagner for Senate.

Hearn noted the two wings to the Republican party in York: the Wagner wing and the Wilson wing, named after moderate York County Republican chair Bob Wilson, who was overthrown by Wagnerians for control of the local party.

Reilly is aligned with Wagner and primary tea party candidate Kelly Henshaw.

Commissioner candidate Susan Byrnes is a moderate Republican whose campaign was led by former Wilson wingman Joel Ogle.

Chronister doesn't fit in with either side, and he likes it that way.

If it's not apparent, the stuff that comes out of the dog got real in this commissioners race long before the public even knew anything about Reilly's erstwhile campaign treasurer.

And whether you believe Reilly's actions amounted to no more than a pile of canine feces or something far more nefarious, this county's taxpayers deserve an honest investigation into exactly what happened — an inquiry performed by someone who (though facing serious battles of her own) is more removed* from the greatest political influence in York County: Scott Wagner.

Such an investigation would not have occurred if people hadn't pressed this issue.

Before the public got word of the potential campaign violations, the decision not to investigate had been months-settled by county solicitor and Common Pleas judge candidate Mike Flannelly.

I've enjoyed my years of professional discourse with Flannelly, and I would love to just trust his judgment. Reilly said Friday morning he considered the issue resolved months ago, after Flannelly decided not to pursue it.

But my peace of mind is disrupted by the whirring blades overhead.

Wagner has given Reilly thousands of dollars, and he also gave Flannelly more than $130,000 for his last judge campaign two years ago.

That's more than the median sale price of a house in many parts of this county.

It's the kind of money that causes justifiable suspicion with the perceived alliances it creates.

*Wagner also donated to Kane's campaign.

— Christina Kauffman writes Chris Crossing York, an occasional column, and is the managing editor-news at The York Dispatch. Reach her at, @ChrisCrossingYork on Twitter, or 505-5425.