MERCER COUNTY Commissioner resigns in wake of scandals

The growing list of scandals made it impossible for Brian Shipley to remain in office.
MERCER, Pa. -- A promising political career crashed and burned in the Mercer County Courthouse assembly room Monday.
Brian W. Shipley, a freshman Republican county commissioner, resigned and said that mistakes in his personal life forced his decision to give up the seat he won two years ago.
Commissioners Gene Brenneman, a Republican and chairman of the board, and Olivia Lazor, a Democrat, called a press conference for 12:30 p.m. to announce they had asked Shipley on Thursday to resign in light of recent scandals involving his office. Shipley asked to make a statement instead and walked in to make his brief resignation announcement to reporters and county staff and officials.
Shipley, 30, had a promising political career ahead. Even Democrats said the young man from Greenville showed a lot of promise.
On school board: The personable Shipley served a term on the Reynolds School Board right out of high school, getting elected at 18, making him one of the youngest school directors in the state at the time.
He served as school board president for part of his term.
Shipley, who is married but has no children, suffered a setback when he lost a close primary race for the 17th District state house seat in 1996, but he came back onto the political scene in 1999, winning one of three county commissioner posts in a close election.
Some saw potential: Some saw him as an up-and-coming star in the local Republican Party and expected him to eventually make another bid for state office.
That isn't likely to happen now.
"In consideration of my family, I find it necessary at this time to step down as Mercer County commissioner," Shipley said in a prepared statement.
"I am thankful to the citizens of Mercer County for giving me the opportunity to serve. However, the mistakes that I made in my personal life have made it impossible for me to continue to effectively carry out my duties. I have always wanted to be a public servant, but it is now time for me to step out of the public arena," he said.
"I apologize to my family, friends and the citizens of Mercer County," he said.
Shipley later declined to elaborate on what those mistakes were, telling The Vindicator that getting through the resignation "has been tough enough."
Actions were criticized: He had been drawing increasing criticism regarding his use of a county credit card and a county cellular telephone as well as for using his office computer to visit X-rated Web sites.
Both Brenneman and Lazor said there is another issue that prompted them to request Shipley's resignation, but both refused to reveal what it is. They will meet in special session at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday to formally accept Shipley's resignation.
Shipley used the credit card for personal expenses and made frequent cash advance withdrawals with the card. He said he believed the card was his alone and the county bore no liability for any charges incurred. He paid off all charges on the card.
Shipley said he visited X-rated Web sites as part of his duty as one of the county's chief executive officers. The county was putting in a new computer system and he needed to determine how far into forbidden sites employees could go, he said.
Shipley never offered explanations for his personal use of a county cell phone, an issue that surfaced last week.
County records show Shipley used the card to make numerous calls to escort services, adult alternative lifestyle numbers and similar organizations, though most of the calls incurred no direct charges to the county.
Attorney general's office: Atty. James Epstein, Mercer County district attorney, said the credit card and cell phone matters have been forwarded to the Pennsylvania attorney general's office, which is investigating.
However, the worst-case scenario would likely be a theft charge for Shipley, if any crimes were actually committed, Epstein said.
Epstein said he is unaware of any other allegations against Shipley.
The resignation "was the best thing to do," said Controller Dennis Songer, whose office uncovered the credit card and cell phone irregularities.
'Dark cloud': "This has been a dark cloud hanging over everything," Songer said, explaining that the scandal involving Shipley has had a wide impact across the county as well as in the courthouse.
"I think a lot of people had a lot of faith in him." Songer said.
"Morale has never been lower in the courthouse," said John G. "Jerry" Johnson, a former county commissioner and current mayor of Mercer.
"They [the commissioners] haven't been able to do anything for two months," he said, adding that the remaining commissioners must get back to the business of running the county.
Getting a replacement for Shipley is a priority, Johnson said, noting the person selected must be someone who knows the county and can jump right into the budget process now under way. Johnson, a Republican, said he might be interested in the appointment.