Looking Back, Looking Ahead

New Year’s is always a time of reflection – of what was and what is to come. This is especially true for me as I begin a new term as commissioner. If the actions of the end of 2011 are any indication of what’s to come throughout 2012, it’s going to be an interesting year.

It’s obviously no secret that I am now the minority commissioner, and it’s a new role to me. I honestly don’t know what to expect. But I am definitely going in with an open mind. I’ve said it a lot since November – the election is over, it’s time to get to work. I am not in this to “score points”, build a political career, or fight in (or with) the newspaper. I do, however, recognize that part of my job has to be to act as a counter-balance to the new Republican majority.

I look forward to working with Commissioner Courtney. He seems to be coming in with an open mind, a sense of humility and a genuine interest in improving county services. My hope is that his presence will help Commissioner Anderson find some semblance of consistency in his words and his actions.

Appointments to county boards and authorities seemed to make a lot of news, and I was confused throughout as to what Commissioner Anderson’s objections were. He voted for some (Conservation District, Local Emergency Management Committee), yet voted against others (Housing Authority, Redevelopment Authority). If he thought the previous Board of Commissioners shouldn’t have made appointments, why not vote against all of them? Does he think some appointments or agencies are more important than others? Oddly, he went so far as to cast a no vote for a board member he voted to approve earlier in the year.

Perhaps most puzzling was his vote against me for continued service on the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission. (This is the regional 10-county planning organization that sets transportation funding priorities.) He and Commissioner Courtney can appoint themselves this month, as they should. This is an opportunity for the three of us to work together to fight regionally for Westmoreland County’s interests. He either doesn’t understand the nature of this organization, or he has a personal vendetta against me. Like I said, the campaign is over – let it go.

But while the campaign is over, the issues debated throughout it are not. The 2012 budget is complete, for now. And it is balanced. In other words, there is no awful deficit spending like we heard about, and read about, so much for the past year. It was without a doubt the number one issue used against me. So this is what a balanced county budget looks like – cutting services, potentially laying off staff, delaying needed repairs and ending public works and recreation projects. We cut operational spending in all county offices by 15 percent – an idea championed with great fanfare by Commissioner Anderson last year.

So why are the Republicans against a balanced budget? It is exactly what they campaigned about. It certainly wasn’t a surprise – they had ample opportunity to talk to me about it and never did. In fact, they never asked a single question about the budget in the days before adoption. I guess they were content with the budget they prepared – the one with a $10 million deficit – despite all their wailing about deficit spending last year.

Let me be clear – I do not “like” this budget. But it’s not about my feelings. The budget is balanced, and that was the goal.

One thing that this budget does not include is any “pet project” of mine – a baseless allegation hurled at me. During a prepared statement he read at the conclusion of the December 22 Commissioners’ public meeting, and in subsequent news interviews, Chuck Anderson referred to programs for people with behavioral health and developmental disabilities as “pet projects.” Then he criticized me for not cutting funding for these programs because two of my children receive services. That’s patently false for starters, and secondly it’s disgraceful.

Really, he owes the entire special needs community a public apology. To refer to the vital – and often life-sustaining – services the county provides as “pet projects” is an insult to the people who depend on us. It is equally appalling that in attacking me he would make reference to two of my sons – one who has severe autism and one with Down syndrome. Some things should simply be off limits in politics. Chuck Anderson could learn a lot from Alex and Quinn – starting with manners and respect.

So, despite all these end-of-the year antics and inconsistencies from the other side, I am honestly looking forward to 2012. It will no doubt be challenging at times, but all challenges bring great opportunities.