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County Hall Corner: A Bumpy Year Ahead?

The beginning of a new year is generally a time to make resolutions, but it also should be a time to do a little strategic thinking. All of us would benefit by examining the challenges of the coming year that should be factored into our thinking or planning. This is certainly true for county government as well.

One of the biggest issues will be the election of the three county commissioners. Through a very unusual quirk in the system, all three of the county commissioners — Jack McKernan, Tony Mussare, and Rick Mirabito, will all be up for reelection in 2019. The Pennsylvania primary election will be on May 21st, with the regular election on November 5th. The last day to register to be able to vote in the May primary will be April 22nd.

Candidates will be collecting signatures for their petitions to be put on the ballot of the May primary beginning in March, so obviously a candidate will be announcing their intent to run rather soon to begin gaining some early momentum. The emerging commissioner-wannabes will have a host of issues to pick on, some of which are critical for the county and others motivated by personal preference.

But this also means that the current commissioners (assuming they will run again), will obviously have an eye on the coming election as well, and may not be able to resist commentary on their tenure as part of the commissioner meeting deliberations. If the potential candidates choose to confront the commissioners, it might make for some more contentious-than-usual meetings in the coming months.

While the drama of the election will certainly keep the public’s attention, some other underlying issues might be even more significant. The county had a number of very competent managers that retired in 2018, and they take with them decades of experience. Yes, others will have to pick up the slack, but to use a football analogy, when Tom Brady retires, there will be another quarterback for the New England Patriots — but he won’t be Tom Brady. And with the departure such as those who were mentioned in last week’s article; Mark Murawski, Transportation Planner, James Pfleegor, Department of Public Safety, Scott Metzger, Adult Probation Department and others like them, it cannot help but have an impact on operations and services. The machine will still run, but not at the efficiency of the past, at least, not for a while. It would not be surprising to see some glitches pop up in the coming months through this transition of personnel.

Another big discussion topic on the horizon is one that was described last March by Commissioner Mirabito as “one of the most exciting things we have worked on as a commissioner board.” It is the Early Intervention Program (EIP) of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. It was originally set up to assist local municipalities experiencing financial difficulties but has since been used by some of the healthiest counties in the state to improve their management, operational, and financial practices.

For the past six months, the researchers have conducted a comprehensive study, interviewing all the departments, row offices, as well as the courts. They have looked at personnel and data from these departments to see what the needs are and what they are not getting, what current technology is being used and what the projected technology needs might be.

The final report of the EIP study will be out very soon, and to act on or ignore the recommendations (such as selling Executive Plaza, for example), will be hotly debated. Not only will the three commissioners grapple with the options facing them, but this will also feed into the campaign, giving commissioner candidates more fuel for their fire.

So buckle your seat belts, faithful readers of County Hall Corner, for 2019 promises to be quite a ride.

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