Notes from the County: Spring Edition
On the campaign trail and at the Courthouse there is a lot to report, most notably a missed opportunity to finally start a long-overdue specialized Drug Court in Westmoreland County. So here it is, “Notes from the County: Spring Edition”:
- The drug abuse epidemic in Westmoreland County is well-known, the number of deaths every year is staggering, and the amount of taxpayer money wasted every year in the prison system is shameful. Drug court is a proven tool to take a fresh approach to the criminal justice system, to give addicts the help they need, and to stop wasting your money. I have been an advocate for a Drug Court for years. We were finally close to starting it, and then Commissioners Anderson and Courtney pulled the plug at the last minute on a grant to substantially fund its startup (http://triblive.com/news/westmoreland/8137931-74/drug-county-court#axzz3XDajh9Ft). It’s very short-sighted.
We will never, ever effectively confront the drug abuse epidemic without thinking differently and reallocating resources. And make no mistake Drug Court is not about spending more money; it’s simply shifting money as there most assuredly will be savings in court, prison and probation costs. For my colleagues to view Drug Court as only an “expense” shows a real misunderstanding of the problem and of the criminal justice system.
- Judges Chris Feliciani and Megan Bilik-Defazio have done great work developing the framework for a Drug Court, working with many passionate and knowledgeable advocates in the recovery community. It’s a shame to see their efforts wasted.
- Elected officials need to do more than simply attend community forums and talk about the drug problem. That’s easy. Elected officials need to make tough decisions. They are expected to lead. Commissioners Anderson and Courtney have not. The county is worse for it.
- Even if one does choose to view Drug Court as only an “expense” it only reaffirms the wasted money that could have been spent on Drug Court, such as the hundreds of thousands of dollars squandered on a no-bid contract to privatize the county’s Human Resources functions and settling lawsuits from poor personnel decision. It’s the latest example of poor planning and misplaced priorities.
- I am truly honored by the number of endorsements I have received so far this year, including being the first County Commissioner in 20 years to be endorsed by the Pennsylvania State Education Association I am proud to report that I am the only candidate to be endorsed by those entrusted to teach our children (PSEA), those we count on to protect us (Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 87) and the workers who build Westmoreland County (Laborers, Electrical Workers, Plumbers & Pipefitters, Operating Engineers and more.)
- Interesting take from the Republican newcomer challenging the current first-term Republican Controller. Apparently, disagreements with Commissioners of the same party shouldn’t be done “in public” (http://triblive.com/news/westmoreland/8031376-74/balzer-office-county#axzz3XDajh9Ft). That’s a big problem with government these days – elected officials afraid to stand up to members of their own party. Also, airing our differences in public is actually quite healthy. It’s one of the cores principles of our democracy. Open government is good government.
- Speaking of open government, it’s been one of the hallmarks of my tenure as Commissioner. You will always know who I am and where I stand, and I am open with my thoughts on every issue. My website is one way for me to connect with county residents. I believe that we, as elected officials and candidates, should be accessible and direct.
- Interesting, too, that both the current Republican controller and a Republican challenger for Commissioner are both talking about not only the costly HR contract and the costly personnel decisions, but also the vote last year by me, the Controller and the Republican Treasurer to prevent Courtney and Anderson from hiring an expensive outside firm to manage the county’s pension (http://triblive.com/news/westmoreland/6468352-74/gallagher-pension-county#axzz3XFFkNQNx). Further proof that my objections were never political. They were just bad decisions by Courtney and Anderson.
- Sign season is in full bloom. I am really fortunate to have a dedicated team of people who bang up all those bright blue-and-gold 4x4s throughout the county. They’re a well-oiled machine. Plus, they always get permission from the property owners. And all those signs will be down days after the election. Thanks so much, guys. And those of you with yard signs are just as appreciated. We’re still taking orders if you need one for your yard!
- We’re on the cusp of some pre-election rallies, beginning this week in Vandergrift. Later this month we’ll be in North Huntingdon, and in New Kensington in early May. Always lots of fun. But, again, I am fortunate to have good friends and strong support in these communities, particularly among the elected officials there.
- Travelling around this great big county of ours campaigning, I’m reminded of how disparate it is in some ways – from our urban areas, to small boroughs, to agricultural areas, to our suburban tracts. Yet, in talking to people in all these areas, from all walks of life, there really is a common theme – they all want government that works, that helps solve their problems, that spends their money wisely, and is transparent. It’s the approach I’ve taken since I took office five years ago.
- Reminder, Primary Election Day is Tuesday, May, 19. Polls are open from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.