Pa. candidates encounter voter confusion about commissioner role

October 21, 2007|By DON AINES


Editor's note: This is the first of two stories in which the four candidates for the Franklin County Board of Commissioners in the Nov. 6 general election talk about the issues. The second story will be published next Sunday.

The campaign trail is a learning experience, even for those who have walked it before, as the four candidates for the Franklin County Board of Commissioners have been discovering.

Sewer and water issues, transportation, immigration and controlling development are some of the concerns expressed by citizens to Republicans Bob Thomas and David S. Keller and Democrats Cheryl Stearn and Bob Ziobrowski.


"I think there's a great deal of misunderstanding about county government," said Thomas, 52, of Chambersburg, who is running for a fourth four-year term. "In areas such as land management, the county has the opportunity to do certain things, but we're extremely limited."

"What I've found is a lot of people think the commissioners have powers they don't have," said Ziobrowski, 56, of Chambersburg, an appraiser who was president of the Chambersburg School Board in the 1990s and the Chambersburg Hospital Board of Directors, as well as a member of the Chambersburg Planning and Zoning Commission.

"They ask about immigration and controlling growth ... and when you tell them that's not a commissioner function they think you're avoiding the question."

"A lot of them have very specific concerns - roads, transportation - some things the county commissioners can't help with," said Stearn, 60, of St. Thomas Township. "There are a lot of concerns about traffic and the loss of quality of life."

Franklin County does not maintain roads or operate municipal sewer or water systems. Those are owned and operated by the 15 townships and seven boroughs in the county.

With a 2007 budget of more than $127 million, the county government does run the courthouse and a number of related offices, the jail, the Falling Spring Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and a host of human services agencies. Most of the budget comes not from local tax dollars, but state and federal subsidies.

"People realize that land use and water use and sewers are under the purview of townships and boroughs, but they look to the commissioners to have a broader view," said Keller, 38, of Chambersburg. Residents want the county government "to try and get all the local governments working together and I think that's one of the things we've accomplished through the (Franklin County) Council of Governments," he said.

Controlling development

Encouraging more cooperation between local governments and more joint municipal planning is something the county government can foster, Ziobrowski said. The county can offer resources through its planning department and helping communities obtain grants, he said.

"We don't have many sticks as commissioners, but we have some carrots," he said. "It's a matter of finding the right carrots."

"What we have done, and will continue to do, is work with townships to help them with their growth management issues through our resources with the county planning office," Thomas said. The Council of Governments also serves "as a forum to discuss common issues and solutions for the future," he said.

"It's all about smart growth. It's dealing with planning for future development," said Stearn, a businesswoman and member of the Chambersburg Hospital Board of Directors, whose previous run for political office was an unsuccessful effort to create and serve on a commission to draft a home rule charter for St. Thomas Township."Neighboring counties have added growth management plans to their comprehensive plans to define urban growth areas and village growth areas."

The county should look beyond the next 10 or 20 years in its planning, perhaps as far as 50 years, to save "what we love most in this county - its quality of life," Stearn said.

"Farmland preservation is one of the issues that keeps coming back in people's minds," said Keller, who previously had run an unsuccessful campaign for the Republican nomination for the U.S. House of Representatives and who recently passed the state bar exam. "People see that as one of the best ways to preserve our quality of life and one of the best tools we have for controlling development."

Other concerns

As he has been out stumping the county, Thomas said voters also have told him they want some continuity on the board, with Republican G. Warren Elliott and Democrat Cheryl Plummer deciding not to run again this year.

"The loss of 26 years of experience on the board is on their minds," Thomas said.

Plummer "was my political mentor," Ziobrowski said, from their days together on the school board.

Recreation and health are two other concerns people have been expressing to Stearn.

"There's some concern about having places to walk and ride bikes," she said.

"There's some concern about immigration. That's a frequent topic of conversation," Keller said. "The best we can do, as illegal immigrants come in contact with our criminal justice system, ... is process them out to federal authorities as fast as possible."

The four candidates were narrowed from a field of seven Republicans and five Democrats in the May 15 primary. Three of the four will be elected to the board in the Nov. 6 general election.

The salary of a county commissioner is $63,458.37 this year, according to county records.

The Herald-Mail Articles