This article is a continuation of coverage of the town hall held Thursday, April 26, featuring six of the eight candidates in the Susquehanna County commissioners’ race. The event was hosted by Action Together of Northeast Pennsylvania, and moderated by Ryan Zarkesh, vice president of Action Together NEPA. The event was held at the Great Bend community center.
Candidates attending the town hall included incumbents Alan Hall (R) and MaryAnn Warren (D), along with Democratic challengers Judy Hershel and Susan Rowe, and Republican challengers Sue Pipitone and Dana Rockwell.
The format provided for a two minute response from a candidate on a question read by Zarkesh, and then allowed the others a one minute response on the topic.
Last week’s article, Candidates trade ideas, jabs in town hall, included responses on the topics of economic development; farming and agricultural land preservation; infrastructure and capital improvement projects; and county transportation.
Remaining topics of the evening and covered in this article include: the commissioners’ role in voter registration; if candidates considered the commissioner post a “full-time job;” and the biggest problem the county faces in the next 12 to 24 months.
The question on the role of county commissioners in voter registration was directed to Hall.
Hall said that in election years where the commissioners are not on the ballot, they sit on the Board of Elections. He said he was not aware of any problems with people being able to register to vote in the office.
Hall did note that those that register online or at the DMV are sent information that needs to be signed and returned, and that often does not happen.
He also said staff from the voter registration office is often at events to encourage people to register to vote and to attempt to get information out about voting.
Warren said she had heard that some people who had attempted to change their political party registration online, and then those registration numbers not matching due to problems with the numbers inputted into the system. She also stated that the commissioners’ involvement in the office is minimal this year.
Rowe cited an issue a family member had in attempting to change a party registration but never received a confirmation. She said her relative called the office and was met with a response of, “things happen” and “There’s new people here.” She said she would like to shore of the integrity of that office.
Rockwell said the “walking list” he received when becoming a candidate contained outdated information; he also added that the county website has outdate municipality information.
Pipitone said she had asked people who were registered as Independents to “choose a side” for the Primary in order to have a voice in the election. And in a reference to the Susquehanna County Republican Committee’s endorsement of incumbent candidates she called out their use of the phrase “Real Republicans.”
“Republican or Real Republican – I didn’t know there was a difference,” Pipitone said.
She also noted the turnover of personnel at the courthouse, and said information is lost due to the turnover.
Hershel said she has “serious concerns” about the process and found her personal experience in filing the required paperwork “very alarming.”
She said she had friends who were told to prove they were not registered elsewhere. “It’s not about pointing fingers, it’s a problem,” Hershel said.
Zarkesh asked candidates to deliver a yes or no answer only on whether they would be in favor of the creation of an independent election board. Hershel, Pipitone, Rockwell and Rowe answered “yes;” and Hall and Warren also said “yes,” with the caveat of if that would be allowable under the County Code.
Zarkesh asked for a “show of hands” by the candidates who would consider the position of county commissioner a full-time job – with all raising their hands.
Warren said being a county commissioner has been her sole job for the past 15 years. She added that in the first two years of the position, a person’s eyes are opened to “what a county commissioner actually does.”
Rowe said she planned to be a full-time commissioner.
Rockwell agreed it is a full-time job and questioned that if it was a full-time job how a person would have time to sell real estate – a remark directed at Hall, a licensed real estate agent.
Pipitone said it needs to be a full-time job. You don’t “check in a 9 and check out at 5.” She said she expected to spend at least 70 hours a week working. “That’s what leaders do. They take it seriously and make it their number one priority.”
Hershel agreed it would be a full-time commitment, and said it was “time to look at the future” for the county to succeed together.
Hall said being a commissioner is his “sole job,” adding that in any spare time he may help with real estate. “The job is very demanding,” he said, saying that the phone may ring at any time, or any day, for various emergencies.
In the next topic, the candidates were asked what they each saw as the “biggest problem” the county faces in the next 12 to 24 months.
Rowe said the opioid crisis topped the list and said the county needed to be creative in how to tackle the issue. “Trehab does an okay job,” she said, adding the creation of a Drug Court might provide “some success.” She also advocated for people to receive more support after they get out of jail, saying there is no half-way house in the county – a point countered by Warren when it was her turn to speak.
Rockwell also pointed to the opioid crisis. He mentioned that as a member of the Susquehanna Borough Council, a Naloxone policy was adopted. “Why not a countywide policy?” he asked.
Pipitone said the county faces “a lot of issues,” naming substance abuse and suicide. She said young children are becoming addicted to drugs who say they were “because there was nothing else to do.”
Hershel said, “There are people who feel they are not a part of the county. They don’t know what the county commissioners do. People feel left out.” She said community input is essential and offered that she believed in positive leadership and teamwork.
Hall said the county faces many problems. He said meth poses a larger problem locally than opioids. He also said some users are now vaping their own mixture of drugs.
He also said commissioner priorities “need to change on the fly” in response to situations.
Warren spoke of the drug problem and said, “There’s always room to improve on what we’re doing.” She also countered Rowe’s “half-way house” claim and said there is transitional housing for females in Thompson, and housing for males will soon be open in Great Bend.
The next questioned returned to the drug epidemic, with candidates offering thoughts on how to best address the issue.
“The county is in crisis,” Rockwell said. He said prevention is key, and advocated for a crackdown on distributors. “People know where the drug dealers are,” he said. “How many children have to die before something significant happens.”
Pipitone said she would work with local health providers, as well as looking at what the county is offering in communities. “We need more for out kids,” she said.
Hershel, a former clinical supervisor with Trehab, “We have a substance abuse problem,” she noted. She advocated for a focus on prevention, aided through additional recreational resources, as well as mental health and law enforcement initiatives.
Hall said the commissioners work with the District Attorney’s office to provide them with the assets and tools they need to do their jobs. He also cited the work release program at the county jail; as well as work with the schools to make it easier for young people to get help.
Warren mentioned the Substance Abuse Recovery Initiative (SARI), launched in the county last fall, a public health effort to address substance abuse challenges and providing for “warm hand-off” referrals to introduce people to the next step in the treatment process.
She also said Naloxone is available to be distributed to all police forces but some have chosen not to do that.
Rowe, a retired teacher, said things had changed in schools since her retirement 12 years ago. She said she has been told by an administrator that caseworkers are called to the school every week.
The candidates were each allowed one minute to speak to close out the town hall and make a pitch for their election.
The Primary Election is Tuesday, May 21. Polls are open 7 a.m.-8 p.m.