Gary Stout opined in a Sept. 8 op-ed that now is not the time for a change in the county commissioner makeup. To the contrary, if there was ever a time for a change, it is now. Such a change is critical to the well-being of the county now and for the future.
County commissioners, especially the majority commissioners, are the chief executive officers of the county. To them is entrusted executive and managerial oversight of county business. This includes setting policy, planning, development, personnel management and assuring fiscal integrity. The row officers are charged with performing specific pieces of county business. Right now, this group is failing the taxpayers and betraying their trust. Examples of those failures are many, but space limitations allow the inclusion of only a sampling of the poor management and policy failures that exist and why it is necessary that a change of leadership take place in November.
Washington County has suffered a decades-long opioid epidemic. Washington County Drug and Alcohol, under the supervision of Harlan Shober, continues to fail our citizens with tragic results that we see every day. We will see a second wave of the results of Shober’s failed policies as the children of those who have died must be cared for by the county in the future. Nick Sherman is the only candidate running who has executive level experience working with mental health and drug and alcohol programs who can change this outcome.
The commissioners are responsible for the management of the county jail, which as the reputation of being one of the worst run in the state. Forced employee overtime is a major issue and is indicative of poor planning, poor policy and poor management by the majority commissioners. This will change with new commissioner leadership.
The county is required to do a comprehensive plan every 10 years. The last was done in 2005. The commissioners’ lack of planning is evident in the recent real estate tax assessment, something that could certainly have been better planned and executed, and also in the “Keystone Kops” effort to find a courtroom for the new county judge, which they have known about for two years. As a result of little or no planning, the majority commissioners opted to move the district attorney across the street and proposed providing no security for his office until the DA was forced to sue the commissioners to protect his staff. Why not move any row office other than the DA? No planning, poor management and no vision.
Until very recently, the county election office was the joke of the state for its sheer incompetence abetted by the majority commissioners’ unwillingness to make obviously needed personnel changes, demonstrating a lack of managerial ability and failure to lead. A top to bottom examination of the election process is long overdue and will occur under new leadership.
The annual audit report of the Clerk of Courts office revealed that $96,730 of taxpayer money was missing. The matter was turned over to state police and not to the district attorney by the majority commissioners. Months have passed and no action has been taken by the majority commissioners. This is failure of business practice, failure of oversight and failure to protect the taxpayers. Where is the money? Only three people handle money in the office. It can’t be that hard to find.
A more basic question that goes to poor management and business practice is why the county allows county offices to accept cash. It is an open invitation to problems.
The commissioners love to talk about low unemployment, and it is low, but they had little to do with it. The energy companies came to Washington County because gas was here, not because of anything the commissioners did. What the commissioners have done is fail to capitalize on the energy industry by attracting vital new allied industries. The only new industries that have come to Washington County are the direct supply chain of the energy industry. Between the gas companies and the Shell cracker plant in Beaver, where are all the potential plastics and chemical companies? We have land and transportation. Where is the aggressive plan to use it to the county’s benefit?
The population of Washington County is the same as it was in 2000 and that includes the added energy jobs. So without the energy industry and growth in Peters, North Strabane and Cecil townships, we would be losing population. Our commissioners need to spend less time congratulating themselves and more time bringing new business to the county.
Stout also cited how well the commissioners work together. The reality is anything but the “thoughtful leadership and stable government” that he notes. The county is being denied its potential and its future by failed policies, poor practices and poor planning.
Washington County has suffered from single-party control for far too long. The results are more obvious every day: mismanagement, lack of oversight, unqualified personnel, nepotism, failure to take action, lack of vision and lack of planning. Under-performers must be replaced by competent professionals. Being a nice person does not earn one the right to reelection. Yes, we know what we have with the three incumbent commissioners. That has identified the problem. We need a new team of competent, qualified professionals to move the county forward. That is why it is time to change. It is time for Diana Irey Vaughan and Nick Sherman to lead Washington County.
Dave Ball is vice chairman of the Washington County Republican Party.