Since taking the office of chairman in January 2020, I have made it my priority to rigorously review all functions of county government. Under my direction, we have formed an elections review committee, a public safety task force, a human services committee, and are exploring the development of a regional department of health. In addition, we have reorganized our administrative structure, are working to streamline human services to constituents, and have issued requests for proposals for many longstanding contracts in the county. We are doing all of this in an effort to improve the efficiency, integrity and productivity of the county government
After consulting with my colleagues, I take the next important step in reviewing government functions by initiating a question to be placed on the Nov. 2 ballot for our voters to determine how Washington County government should operate into the future. As an elected official, I stand committed to ensuring that government is by the people and for the people, and it is time for our citizens to have the right to choose. The question on the ballot will be if residents wish to pursue a government study commission.
Currently our county government elects officials in a variety of county and court affiliated positions for which they have complete authority and autonomy of their office. Moving to a new structure could change some offices to no longer be operated by an independent elected official, but by the county and/or the courts, and I feel that this opportunity to consider an alternative form of government should be decided by the residents of the county.
The behaviors of many of our current and past row officers have played a role in this decision – most specifically, their behaviors that impede effective governance.
I appreciated Mike Jones’ article highlighting the need to place a County Government Study Commission on the next ballot. However, I want to clarify the implication that the consequences mentioned in a prior meeting played a role in my decision. It is these officials’ behavior that played a role in the decision – their ongoing, consistent behavior to obstruct the function of the courts.
The Washington County Court of Common Pleas has kept this board of commissioners informed as to the challenges they have faced in the administration of routine judicial actions with many current row officers. To highlight a few:
- Prior clerk of courts was caught diverting public funds in 2019 and the board of commissioners was powerless to remove him from office due to his elected status.
- Current clerk of courts refused to follow a federal district court order, refused to serve subpoenas, reciprocal discovery requests and transcript requests, failed to complete timely processing of criminal bench warrants, state sentences, and DUI sentences, failed to provide criminal files, juvenile delinquency files and juvenile dependency files to judges and their staff members, closed her office without notice to the courts or the bar association, failed to provide timely and appropriate filing of pretrial service orders.
- Current register of wills eroded the institutional knowledge of the office by voluminous turnover of employees experienced in handling estates, adoptions, guardianships, and marriage licenses, refused to take responsibility for his official bank account and the fiscal functions of his audit, and, perhaps most egregiously, hindered the adoptions of orphans with routinely misplaced, incomplete or late files.
- Current prothonotary allowed delays in excess of six weeks due to out-of-date technical knowledge, lack of basic day-to-day administrative functioning, inadequate planning for COVID-related disruptions, and poorly planned office closure for several days in December 2020.
As leaders, we must always be reminded that we serve at the will of the people and the government structure should reflect their will and best interests. Experience matters. Integrity matters. Due diligence matters. In its purest sense, leadership matters. For these reasons, and many others, I fully support the ordnance for a government study being placed on the Nov. 2 ballot to allow our citizens the right to decide.
Diana Irey Vaughan chairs the Washington County Board of Commissioners.