In the July 15 article, “Commissioners consider creating board to study county government’s structure,” the Washington County commissioners have set their plans for more power and control into action. In true Washington County form, a “special virtual” meeting has been set for 10 a.m. July 23 for those plans to be “discussed,” but they will be approved, no matter what you say. This topic will not be discussed at the normal commissioners meeting. This will not be discussed in a way to get public feedback. This will not be done after working hours so the general public can attend. This is being done in a special unscheduled meeting and only virtually so the commissioners can hide their true intent – consolidation of power and control.
The article goes on to compare Washington County to Allegheny County, when Allegheny moved to a home-rule form of government in the mid-2000s. Does Washington County really want to become a miniature Allegheny County? People will argue that Washington County is growing and needs this change. The truth is Washington County’s population has remained basically unchanged. In 1930, Washington County’s population was 204,802. In 2019, the population was 206,865 – basically no growth and no reduction in population in almost 100 years.
The commissioners are turning a blind eye when it comes to the public’s desire to audit election results and machines, but they want you to trust them and give them more power and control by moving to home rule. Home rule would change our three commissioners and elected officials over to one county executive who would get to appoint “yes men/women” into the row offices and others to ensure no one is able to speak out against fraud and corruption. The commissioners want to eliminate the checks and balances that currently exist and eliminate anyone from being able to speak out against them or they will be able to remove them. The citizens would get less say in county government and the current commissioners would get more power and control.
Board Chairwoman Diana Irey Vaughan mentioned former clerk of courts Frank Scandale as an example for why the commissioners should have the power to remove someone without “assuming he is innocent until proven guilty.” She wants to have the power and control to remove anyone at any time. The tensions mentioned in the July 15 article are because for the first time in Washington County history, the citizens elected non-career politicians who are putting the citizens first.
I agree that changes need to occur, but these changes should take power and control from the commissioners, not give them more. Let’s start with term limits – two terms maximum. Next, allow the row offices to sign their own contracts and be responsible for their own budgets. In the register of wills office, we collect over $17 million, but are forced to a $500,000 budget, use 30-year-old software and have desks with no handles because the commissioners refuse to update the register of wills and other row offices.
As Commissioner Nick Sherman said, “if you’re unhappy ... you work that out at the ballot box.” Of course, Sherman only mentioned the one-term row officers and not the five- or six-term commissioners, but his point is valid. The citizens should be voting for the commissioners and row officers. None of these should be appointed by one person who has absolute power and control.
The real issue is the commissioners are unhappy that the citizens voted for a change in 2019 and elected new people, not career politicians. These new row officers are doing their jobs and speaking up against how much has been swept under the rug in the past and want things to change for the better. Instead of working with the newly elected row offices, the commissioners threaten to sue, refuse to update our offices and attempt to stop us at every turn. It is now time for the citizens to ensure their votes count and not let the commissioners take their voting rights away from them.
Enough is enough. It is time to keep voting new people into office and eliminating career politicians who only care about power and greed.
James Roman is Washington County Register of Wills/Clerk of Orphans Court.