Commission hopefuls discuss open government
BROOKVILLE — Candidates for the Jefferson County Commission participated in a forum — sponsored by the Brookville and Punxsutawney Area and the Greater DuBois Area Chambers of Commerce, TURN (Taxpayers United for Representation) and the Pennsylvania Freedom Fighters — Tuesday at the Jefferson County courthouse.
Each candidate was given time to answer several questions read by moderator Randy Bartley.
These are answers to the first question posed to candidates:
How can county government be more transparent so people can be better informed as to what is going on?
• Paul Bishop, a Republican challenger, said all voters should be able to find out what is going on in county government, and the best thing to make county government more transparent is to have more publicity in local newspapers about what is happening.
Bishop criticized Punxsy media, saying there isn’t much coverage about what is going on at commission meetings.
“We need to know when something is brought up, and when there are two votes — no, we need to know that,” Bishop said.
• Jeff Pisarcik, an incumbent Democrat, said he thinks it’s time that taxpayers wake up and see what’s going on in government — not just in county government, but also in the country and the state.
He said in the last seven-and-a-half years, Jefferson County government has been transparent.
“There’s nothing that is hidden. Come in and we’ll show you, because in years past, that hasn’t always been the case,” he said.
• Ira Sunderland, a former commissioner and Republican challenger, said the commissioners must tell the people what’s going on.
“I have gone around the county for the last month or two, and many people I talked with didn’t know that you doubled the budget, raised the debt service up to $17 million and raised taxes on these people 46 percent,” he said. “People say, ‘I didn’t know that.’”
Sunderland said when he was in office previously, commissioners talked about the budget at the meetings.
“When we did a budget, we used an overhead projector, so we could put all the numbers on the wall, so everyone could see it,” he said.
“As far as leaving a deficit when we left office, we did not leave a deficit,” Sunderland said. “We worked on that $11 million budget, and we did a lot of things during that time with that budget, which was as transparent as you can get.”
• Jim McIntyre, an incumbent Republican, said there isn’t one candidate who would not agree about transparency.
“I would say we were a very transparent board. The meetings are open to the public, and we have an open-door policy,” he said, noting that no one must have an appointment to see them.
McIntyre said commissioners discuss all issues with anyone who comes in.
“In regard to the budget deficit that existed when we came into office, we made it up,” he said, adding that he was using sarcasm in making remarks about the budget. “If anyone believes that three men of our stature would make up something like that, then we don’t belong back in office.”
He said he would support any suggestions from any of the taxpayers as to how to make government more transparent.
• Pat McFall, a Democratic challenger, said, “If I’m elected, I would have an open-door policy and sit down and talk about any of the problems of the county. I’m going to make a decision based on the information I have. If I receive more information, that is a good problem to have.
“I believe we should be transparent, and it is going to take each and every one of you for us to get that way,” he said.
• David Black, a former commissioner and Republican challenger, said, “I believe the more you people know about what I do, the easier my job is.”
He said that when he and the other two commissioners left office, there was a net asset deficit, which is nothing.
“It is nothing that you or anybody else paid for,” Black said. “It was the result of GASB 34 taking effect the following year that required counties to quote the value of their assets and depreciate them, which was a $3.7 million deficit.”
There was also an operating fund deficit within three departments, Black said, explaining that an operating fund deficit is when one uses local real estate tax dollars to take a department above and beyond the revenue that is received in the department.
“Each and every year since the Department of Development was created in 1983, it did not earn enough money from its administrative fees to pay the cost of the department,” he said, adding that the department did not break even until 2004.
“There was a deficit every year that was budgeted for and paid for, with the same circumstances in the Registrar & Recorder’s office, Prothonotary and the Court of the Common Pleas,” Black said. “None of these offices earned enough money to fund their department, and that’s the reason for real estate tax.”
• Paul Corbin, a Republican incumbent and current commission chairman, said he was glad this question was asked.
He said this current board of commissioners works very hard in the office everyday, and invites people to come in.
“I don’t know how many times I’ve stood in front of groups and said, ‘Please come in the office, and we’ll open up our commissioner record books to anyone who would like to see them,” he said.
“The comment was made by other candidates that when they left office, the budget was $11 million,” Corbin said. “You might need a road map to find that. They might have presented an $11 million budget. The actual audit for that year shows expenditures of over $16 million. They didn’t tell you how they paid for that. And they want you to believe there wasn’t a deficit.”
• Tom Swab, a Democratic challenger, said regarding transparency, if anyone has followed his career on the Brookville Area School Board, that is what he is all about.
“I worked the Sunshine Law to death while I’ve been on the school board,” he said. “A lot of times when things were discussed in an executive session, it was hard to get eight other members to go back out in public and discuss a subject that was discussed in executive session.”
Swab said open discussion is the only way that taxpayers could understand what was going on.
He said when he was first elected to the school board, he changed a one-minute time period for people to speak to the board.
“They changed it to three minutes, and then I made a motion to allow them speak as long as they needed to so long as they didn’t go off on a tangent,” Swab said. “All of the gnashing of teeth and complaining started, but it worked fine.”
Swab said he also asked the board to allow for community comments at the end of the meeting, because someone sitting at a school board meeting might have a good idea, and that was also successful.
“I think it’s the only way to run a government. If you’re a politician, and you don’t like it, that’s tough,” he said, adding that he doesn’t understand why commission meetings are held at 10:30 a.m., when he believes they should be held at night.
“If you’re a person who works for a living, you’re definitely not going to make it to the meetings,” he said. “I will suggest if I’m elected your county commissioner that the meetings be moved to the night.”
Part two of the candidates forum will be presented in Thursday’s Spirit.