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County Hall Corner: Tour Guide Edition

Welcome, everyone, please come in. I see you remembered what I said about coming in the door from the parking lot located on the Court Street side. I know that is a little confusing with the sign above the entranceway door saying “Executive Plaza Building, 330 Pine Street.” Follow me as we are going to

Welcome, everyone, please come in. I see you remembered what I said about coming in the door from the parking lot located on the Court Street side. I know that is a little confusing with the sign above the entranceway door saying “Executive Plaza Building, 330 Pine Street.” Follow me as we are going to Room 103, the first room on the right. The regular Thursday session of the Lycoming County Commissioners Meeting is about to start. You can hang up your coats here at the entranceway if you want, the room is generally warm enough so you shouldn’t need them.

Okay, everyone in the room now? Good. As you can see, there is nice comfortable seating for about 50 people or so, and yes, there are times when every seat is taken, and there will even be those who have to stand on the sides and in the back. This might be because the commissioners are recognizing a county employee for an employment award or retirement and their colleagues are there to share in the moment, or it could be because a group of people are upset about something and just want to pack the house. The key thing to remember is that just like church, those who arrive first get the best seats…those in the back of the room.

Note the long front podium with the county seal in the middle, raised on a platform to make the five people sitting up there clearly visible. What’s that, you ask, why five settings for only three commissioners? Well, as you can see from the nameplates on the podium, the far left is for Mr. David Smith, the County Solicitor, who the commissioners will turn to when there is a legal question, and the far right is for Tonya Anderson the Administration Manager, who will be reading off the agenda items one by one during the meeting. Commissioner Jack McKernan is the chairman, so he will sit in the middle, Commissioner Tony Mussare sits to his right, and Commissioner Rick Mirabito will sit to his left.

Now, you will notice at the back wall there is a long table here, and this is used on the Tuesday morning work session. Those five up front will sit back here, and the rows will be turned around to face them. Yes, I see all your hands up, you want to know why everything is backwards on Tuesdays, right? Well, the Tuesday meeting is more informal, there is much more question and answer feedback going on, and the commissioners like to be eyeball to eyeball during these discussions rather than sitting on Mount Olympus looking down like they do in their regular session meetings.

Notice here on the table is a copy of today’s agenda. Yes, you all can have one, which is what they are there for. Looks long, doesn’t it? Ironically, there is no correlation between length of the agenda and the length of the meeting, because many of these items might be quite rudimentary and quickly reviewed, whereas one item on the agenda might result in an hour’s debate.

How long are we going to be here, you ask? Well, that depends. I used to try to guess by looking at the agenda, but I stopped doing it because the staff began calling my predictions the “Stout Curse.” When I would review the agenda and comment, “looks like this will be a short meeting,” it almost guaranteed that it would turn out to be a marathon session. Meeting length often depends on how much the public gets involved.

Yes, ma’am, you have a question? How does the public get involved, you ask? Well, by law, the public must be given the opportunity to make comments concerning any decision the commissioners will make. This is known as the Sunshine Law, and it states that the public must be given an opportunity to comment on an issue before the commissioners would take a vote on that matter. This is why Commissioner McKernan will begin every meeting, right after the opening prayer and flag pledge, with a statement, “Are there any public comments on agenda items only?” You will see a small podium with a microphone in the middle of the room on the left, and this is where the people who wish to address the commissioners must come to speak. They are asked to give their name and address (to ensure they are county residents), and this and their comments will be included in the official minutes.

I’m sorry, what was that you asked? Oh, you noticed on the agenda an item at the end labeled “Public Comment” and you want to know the difference, right? Well, the best way to describe it is that the first public comment can only be about what is on the agenda, whereas the comment time at the end is completely open. People step to the podium and complain (they never compliment) about something going on in the county and ask what is going to be done about it. This can get dicey, and if it does, more often than not it ends up in a lengthy debate.

Oh, the commissioners are coming in now, so the meeting is about to start. Here we go. You never know what is going to happen here at the Lycoming County Commissioners Meetings, but it almost always is interesting!

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