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280 Kane St. STE #2
South Williamsport, PA
United States

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County Hall Corner: Problems, Pain, and Politics

I remember well my first visit to a Lycoming County Commissioners Meeting in April of 2016. Jim Webb Jr. had asked me to attend to see if covering these meetings could become a weekly column. I had great doubts going in, but I was surprised at the dynamic that took place between the Commissioners at

I remember well my first visit to a Lycoming County Commissioners Meeting in April of 2016. Jim Webb Jr. had asked me to attend to see if covering these meetings could become a weekly column. I had great doubts going in, but I was surprised at the dynamic that took place between the Commissioners at that time; Jack McKernan, Tony Mussare, and Rick Mirabito. For the next six years, I probably went to nearly 400 meetings (they had two a week up to 2020), and I honestly thought at that time that I had seen everything. But the meeting on Thursday, October 20th, was truly unique. I never saw as much frustration and despair as there was that day.

It started with a proclamation on Domestic Violence Awareness. Hardly a meeting goes by without a proclamation for one thing or another, but there was something very different about this one. It was obvious that this issue hit hard, especially to Commissioner Metzger, who commented that while he worked in the Juvenile Probation Office, this was an ongoing problem. He even told a horrendous story of a father who told his son to choose a wall where the blood would be when he shot and killed his mother. The man was arrested and said that the moment he was released, he would fulfill that promise. Mercifully, he died in prison.

The sobriety of the issue seemed to carry on through the meeting itself. A very intense discussion began over an ongoing union contract with correction officers at the county prison. They have been severely stretched due to short-handed staff, which was addressed by a motion to add an additional ten part-time correction officer positions. The tense discussion among the commissioners was evident as they have been struggling through a number of union contracts this fall, and it has taken a toll.

The tension continued to cascade when it came to discussion on the Williamsport Municipal Airport. The commissioners relayed to the public how frustrating this situation is given that the area definitely needs a functional public airport for economic development. Yet there seems to be nothing that they can do beyond what they have done to base an airline carrier here. They even remarked that they did not even care where the route would be — just something that would fly out of here! The commissioners acknowledged the very hard work that the Lycoming County/Williamsport Chamber of Commerce has done to visit the headquarters of the various airlines, but to no avail.

And yet, through all of this, the worst was yet to come. It was not on the agenda, but the subject came up of securing a working location for Coroner Chuck Kiessling. He has been seeking a facility for in-house services for a number of years now. This would allow him and his staff to provide autopsies and other forensic pathology services, not just for Lycoming County but also for eleven surrounding counties. This has been a stone in the shoe of the commissioners for years, and both Commissioners Metzger and Mirabito made a strong case for a viable location for the coroner facility. It turned out that these were polar opposite ideas, and the discussion became somewhat heated. In fact, to be honest, it was hard to remember an issue that was as openly argued about in public. Yet, it should be considered that the reason why this was so heated was because these men cared so much about trying to find a viable solution.

The takeaway from all this is very sobering. Anyone with any kind of a heart at all would be hurting for the three men sitting at the front of that room. For all their authority, there are times and issues that go beyond an official’s ability to resolve. The torrent of trouble that is facing the county at the moment is possibly unprecedented. These issues do not have easy answers. There is no way to go back in the past and prevent what has grown into a huge problem today. And it is not just one problem — but many!

If ever divine help was needed, now would be a good time. “Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free.” (Psalm 118:5)