OP-ED: Giving meaning to county government initiatives | Op-Ed



The citizens of Washington County have reason to be overwhelmed by the wave of initiatives launched by the commissioners in recent months. The three big projects are unique but easy to confuse. First, an electoral referendum to adopt a government study commission; second, an expansion of the human services functions in Washington County; and third, the approval of an automated case management system for county courts, have all been introduced.

To make matters even more confusing, the disinformation disseminated by some parties to derail the most deserving of these plans. This commentary will attempt to explain each of the above initiatives, how they relate and how they differ.

Government study commission: This summer, the concept of a government study commission went from a good idea (an idea that I have been defending for several years) to a real ordinance placing the referendum to adopt the study commission in front of the voters on November 2. . If Washington County eventually adopts some form of self-government, it would strengthen the ability to make decisions based on local needs. Washington County would no longer be required to follow a single state code that is decided by state lawmakers.

In August, those interested in serving on the commission were given a brief window to collect signatures on a petition supporting their candidacy. On polling day, voters will decide whether to adopt a government study commission and, on the same ballot, select 11 commissioners from 51 candidates. They will only be used if the vote to form the committee is affirmative.

County commissioners‘ decision to expedite the establishment of a government study commission was undoubtedly influenced by the deteriorating relationship between the commissioners and the Washington County judiciary on one side and Republican officials. elected to administer the offices of the other clergy. It is true that the study commission could plead for the abolition of these offices. A professional administrator, appointed by the courts and the commissioners, to exercise these clerical functions, would replace the elected partisans. However, it is important to keep in mind that an elected study commission would be responsible for examining all aspects of county government, not just the future of clerical offices.

The process of adopting an Autonomy Charter is deliberately deliberate and involves the participation of the public / voters in all phases of the multistep procedure mandated by state law. Public meetings to solicit ideas will be held, research on other Pennsylvania counties will be conducted, and all options discussed. The study commission may decide to keep the existing government structure, in which case the project is concluded. If the commission drafts a new plan, only Washington County voters can approve the draft autonomy charter.

It is puzzling to me that the Washington County Republican Party has mounted an all-out campaign to convince voters not to appoint a government study commission. In 2019, Republicans campaigned on shortcomings in local administration and theft from the court registry. Now that Republicans are in the majority in Washington County, they have the opportunity to play a meaningful role in developing a government structure that addresses their concerns. Instead, local Republicans elected irresponsible officials to several of the row offices and refused to participate in a democratic process aimed at improving local government.

Expansion of County Social Services: With a bipartisan decision at a recent meeting, Commissioners Diana Irey Vaughn and Larry Maggi delayed any move to reconfigure the county’s social services department. Commissioner Nick Sherman, who proposed the unnecessary and costly expansion, disagreed. The plan for the new social services department would include hiring eight new employees at an additional annual cost of $ 544,000.

In addition to cost, the other well-founded criticism of the plan is that it is unnecessary and would disrupt years of building effective social service organizations outside of county government. These nonprofits (drugs and alcohol, the elderly and aging, and others) thrived under their independent leadership and served the needs of residents of Washington County. In the wise words of the recently deceased District Attorney Gene Vittone, “Service delivery works in the area of ​​drugs and alcohol. An old adage applies here. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. “Let our team continue our good work.

Automated Case Management System for County Courts: Commissioners approved the purchase of a comprehensive case management system that will integrate all court and courtroom staff, including office desk functions, into one system. The county can use pandemic relief funds received from the federal government to pay for the facility. Federal courts and several forward-looking Pennsylvania counties have installed similar systems that have proven to significantly reduce costs over time. Fewer clerks will be needed to process paper documents and storage costs will be reduced. Litigants in the court system will save on legal fees as lawyers across the region will be able to file pleadings electronically.

In connection with the county initiatives above, I would like to make two observations. First, the ill-advised attempt to reconfigure social services should be a topic for consideration by the Government’s Study Commission. This would give independent elected citizens the opportunity to make recommendations. Second, the court case management system will have a profound effect on office offices, whether they are replaced or remain in effect as elected offices.

Gary Stout is a Washington lawyer.


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