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Opioid trust transparency questioned after accounting firm choice

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(The Center Square) — The Pennsylvania opioid trust recently chose an accounting firm to steward the money dedicated to assuaging the impact of drugs and addiction in the commonwealth.

Some of the trust’s board members, though, voiced concern over how the firm, Pennsylvania-based Maher Duessel, got chosen.

Ratified in a vote during the Nov. 30 public meeting of the trust, Duessel will provide accounting services and relieve the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania from those duties. Association officials were anxious to end their accounting responsibility for the trust before Dec. 15, when money will be sent out to county governments and other localities.

Criticism of the accounting change wasn’t specific to Maher Duessel’s qualifications but to the selection process itself.

When Board Chair Thomas VanKirk brought it to a vote, Sen. Greg Rothman, R-New Bloomfield, was the lone opposition vote.

“I do not support the process by which the firm was selected and recommended to the trust, and believe there needs to be greater transparency and oversight,” Sen. Greg Rothman, R-New Bloomfield, said. “We have a duty to victims of the opioid crisis to ensure good stewardship of these monies is followed.”

VanKirk declined to comment separately from trust officials.

Trust officials called Maher Duessel “the best fit” among the four firms interviewed, and rates were “so close that, from the standpoint anticipated costs, they probably would be pretty much indistinguishable going forward — the rates were that comparable.”

The trust, however, shared little information about the process, the cost, or how long trustees had to review the selection before a vote was held.

When asked by The Center Square for details such as how many people were involved in the interview process, trust officials avoided the question. Officials said Trust Chair VanKirk, trust counsel, and association representatives participated in the interviews, but would not clarify further.

Nor did the trust say how many days board members had to review the interviews before voting to approve Maher Duessel on Nov. 30. The trust held an informational session in mid-November for trustees about the accounting firms, but again, did not offer more information.

When asked how much Maher Duessel would be paid, the trust again avoided sharing that information.

“Costs relating to professional services provided by Maher Duessel will be based on work which is requested by the Trust and rates provided in the approved engagement letter,” officials said.

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