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County Hall Corner: Civility is Not Dead — Yet

I am old school when it comes to politics, and I can remember the day when Republicans and Democrats could disagree on issues and still find places where they could agree. These would include areas such as our nation’s safety and security, the environment, law and justice, etc. Politics were politics, of course, and every elected official generally had one main concern they wanted to promote — and that was another term of office!

But somewhere in the past couple of decades, the parties have become more and more partisan and do not seem to find much of anything they are able to agree with from the opposite party. In fact, they not only differ but go to extremes to derogate their rivals, as they are just one step down from describing them as Neanderthals whose knuckles drag the floor when they walk and have one eye on their forehead. The immense downside to this demarcation of the two parties is a growing number of the electorate that finds itself struggling with no options, given they cannot agree with either side.

I have seen this even at the local level.

A few years ago, I was a training presenter about leadership for PSATS (Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors) at their annual conference in Hershey, PA, as well as a number of the regional conferences throughout the state. One of the most often asked questions to me had to do with fellow supervisors who were defiant and obstinate. If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, what happens when fellow supervisors are not even in the same galaxy?

All this is the background to help understand my admiration for the current board of Lycoming County commissioners. Scott Metzger is the chairman and keeps a firm hand throughout the agenda process. Before the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, Metzger always begins the meeting with a prayer. The prayer almost always includes recognition of an upcoming activity or event and has a way of helping all those at the meeting remember that more things are going on in the world than what would be discussed in the conference room that morning.

Scott Metzger’s leadership is exemplified in his election as President of the 2024 SEDA-COG Board of Directors. SEDA-COG stands for the Susquehanna Economic Development Association-Council of Governments, which promotes economic development and regional cooperation among eleven counties in northern central Pennsylvania. Being at the top of that regional organization is quite a plum.

The two new commissioners are Vice President Marc Sortman and Secretary Mark Mussina. Despite their names, Marc and Mark are quite different. Like Metzger, Sortman is from the Republican Party, where he was a Loyalsock Township Supervisor for fourteen years. Given that Loyalsock Township is arguably one of the most important townships in our county, if not the whole region, Sortman’s experience has been invaluable in his present position. One aspect of Marc Sortman’s character is somewhat hidden but especially appreciated by me. He is a man who shows self-assurance to the point that he does not need to comment on every agenda item.

This trait he shares with Commissioner Mark Mussina, even though this Mark with a ‘k’ is a horse of a different color. He is a Democrat who came to politics out of being a realtor, a property manager, an equity partner at NCPA Media LLC., an active participant in the artistic/creative world, and a passionate sports coach for young people. He brings to the table a very different outlook. Like Marc with a ‘c,’ he does not need to hear his voice to be valued. When he adds something to the conversation, it is worth hearing.

These three men, as very different as they are, somehow have already developed a symmetry that many have noticed and that many staff members appreciate. In every meeting I have attended since this board began in January, I have found that all three have an honest passion for improving Lycoming County. To that end, they listen respectively to one another and often build on what another has offered.

From a writer’s point of view, these three guys are sort of boring. Where are all the knock-down, drag-out, and go for the jugular-type scraps that we used to have on Thursday mornings? Where are the dramatic surprises that would pop up out of nowhere? All these guys seem to do is — well, do their business. And they also do it with civility, graciousness, and respect for their colleagues. As Benjamin Franklin advised us so well so long, long ago, “Be civil to all, sociable to many, familiar with few, friend to one, enemy to none.”