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South Williamsport, PA
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County Hall Corner: Two Choices to Get it Right

On Tuesday, May 21st, one of the most important elections in years will be held here in Lycoming County. Though all elections are important in some respect, this one has the potential of changing the direction of county government for many years to come. Though voting for mayors, borough council members or township supervisors are

On Tuesday, May 21st, one of the most important elections in years will be held here in Lycoming County. Though all elections are important in some respect, this one has the potential of changing the direction of county government for many years to come. Though voting for mayors, borough council members or township supervisors are certainly significant, it is the county that runs many of the operations that impact our lives. These include, among other things, the sheriff’s department, the courts, the row offices, children and youth, the landfill, and a host of departments that relate to roads, bridges, flood control, conservation efforts, community development, and much, much more.

Overseeing the 500 plus employees and a $100 million budget are three county commissioners. All three are up for election this year, two of which are from the Republican Party and will face the electorate for reelection on May 21st. There are seven challengers for these two slots, and the Republican voters could chose the two incumbents, choose one of them and select one of the alternatives, or reject both incumbents and select two new commissioners.

As an observer of 95% of the commissioner meetings since 2016, and as one who has interviewed nearly every department head and many other employees in the county, I believe I have some perspective on who would be the “ideal” county commissioner. We will work under the assumption that the person has management ability, understands budgets, and has the energy to work hard at the job. Three other intangible qualities are sometimes overlooked.

First, a county commissioner should work well and communicate well with their colleagues and subordinates. Studies show that 80 percent of management problems revolve around communication issues, and communication is a two-way street. Employees need to believe that management listens and responds to them. Recognition, appreciation, mutual trust, all work toward motivation, which is essential for maximum effort from employees. Good leaders focus on these aspects, and not just the bottom line.

Second, a county commissioner ideally should have a diversity of engagement areas in their community. These are often viewed as extra-curricular, but where a person gives their extra time is generally where their heart is. Some officials are more passionate about farmers, or senior citizens, or troubled youth, for example, and their nose is only pointed in that direction. They enjoy being a champion for that cause. But there are many people groups and focus areas that are critical to the life and vitality of this region. The best possible county commissioner is one with a broad profile or at least an awareness in a wide variety of interest areas. Everyone has a particular special focus, of course, but it is not a good sign if their button is stuck on that one alone.

And last, a county commissioner must — absolutely must — have a thick skin. Many a commissioner meeting has featured highly disgruntled people who present their concerns in a rather unpleasant manner. It is vital to keep your head when others are losing theirs. And as the saying goes, if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.

There is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ candidate, but in this election, the county is blessed with a number of candidates for county commissioner that go a long way toward matching the qualities listed above. Albert Einstein was approached in 1947 and asked to consider being prime minister for the new nation of Israel. He declined, and stated, ”Politics is more difficult than physics.” Einstein was right; governing is very hard, even at the county level. On May 21st, Republican voters will have two choices for the right person for that job.

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