So far, I've invited
three of the Luzerne
County Council candidates to participate in a question and answer exchange with yours truly. All three replied, but only two have confirmed that they will engage. By the way, I'd be more then willing to repeat this exercise with any one of the hundred or so candidates.
Anyway, the first to respond is Wilkes-Barre's own Harry Haas. And before we proceed, I copied some background info from his campaign site.
My Profile Since 2002 I have lived in downtown Wilkes-Barre after returning from four years of teaching in Washington, DC and Fairfax County public schools. I currently teach world history to 7th graders at Dallas Middle School and weekly citizenship classes to new immigrants in Hazleton. In my spare time I take advantage of jogging on our riverfront trails and skiing on nearby slopes. My favorite past time is traveling to other cities and countries.
My Education Background M.Ed. Secondary Social Studies and Special Education, The George Washington University B.A. History with Minor Concentration in Spanish, The George Washington University Rotary Exchange Student to Madrid, Spain Dallas High School Class of 1993
Anyway, here's the Q&A:
Thanks for the opportunity...really enjoyed this. Just like last time, the final question was toughest!
1. Why you? Why now? What differentiates you from the rest of the crowded field?
We have one shot at laying the foundation of a successful home rule government. I think the one thing that differentiates me from the rest of the field is my age: 35. I'm young enough to hold fiercely onto the idealism that we can do this right, but seasoned enough to earn the respect--and work collegially with--the other council members.
2. What motivation is there to want to serve on a legislative body for very little pay and no benefits?
I ran a spirited campaign for Wilkes-Barre School Board 2 years ago for no pay and no benefits. I was planning to run for school director again, but home rule offered a part-time means to give back to our community: as a council member, I can invest a similar amount of time but have a more far-reaching impact. The motivation remains the same my school board race: we need to restore a broken system for ourselves and for the sake of the next generation.
3. Last I knew, the debt service payment was 17.2% of the yearly budget. Any ideas on how we can significantly reduce our outstanding debts?
Debt service takes up a sizable chunk of county spending along with the judiciary and prison system. I have to give credit to Country Controller Walter Griffith for setting the example that making government work doesn't mean slashing programs or firing staff, but merely holding government accountable. This debt has crept up through an inexcusable lack of oversight in many departments. Reducing debt first means plugging the leaks: enforce a documentable reimbursement policy, install time clocks for all staff, recover unpaid tax revenue, et. al. Saving a thousand here and a thousand there over time will decrease our debt.
The state also issued a report in 2004 about how to significantly tackle our debt. This has been unheeded by 5 different county commissioners.
4. How can our newly-created council help to restore the public’s shattered faith in our county government?
Stop bickering and stop stealing. I hope that candidates who can work with humility and decency will win the primary elections for both parties.
5. In your opinion, does a nationwide search for a county executive make more sense than electing a local person?
Yes, but it shouldn't preclude a "native son" for applying for the position. Given the opportunity, I would prefer a candidate with distinguished service in managing another county or state department outside of the area. For the new county executive to be as successful as possible, we need to minimize the political pressure on him/her. Invariably, an executive candidate from our area is likely to have a lot of connections to please--or worse, to pay back.
6. Should public sector unions be allowed to strike?
As a county councilman, it would be my job to make sure that the dialogue never escalates to that.
7. What are your thoughts on the collecting bargaining rights of said unions?
Fine, with some caveats. Collective bargaining must:
1) be done in good faith on both sides
2) not discriminate against non-union employees
3) be reasonable to taxpayers who don't have the luxury of union advocacy
4) not escalate in binding arbitration without exhausting all attempts at communication over periodic meetings.
8. Would you be in favor of a clear-cut anti-nepotism policy?
Absolutely. I ran on instituting a fair-hiring policy for the Wilkes-Barre Area School District. How we make sure that we don't discriminate against truly exceptional applicants who happen to have a relative already in the system is why we must reach a solution in committee and consensus on the council. I'm excited to see the work that some transition committees are doing on this and related policy questions.
9. Since austerity seems to be the way of the world for the foreseeable future, would you be in favor of an across the board budget cut by a fixed percentage?
That generally seems the fairest way. However, when money is tight in a typical household, you make cuts at varying amounts in different areas. For example, when tough times come, entertainment will get cut more than the food budget. I think our county needs to cut our "entertainment" expenditures.
10. What should become of the Valley Crest property as well as the former juvenile detention facility? Moon Lake Park?
Valley Crest: Sell it. Detention Facility: either find someone else to manage it for juveniles or transfer low-level country adult offenders there. Our county jail is overcrowded and pleas for more funds seem to make the paper. Moon Lake Park: lease it.
11. If the makeup of the county council were to be dominated by one area of the county, do you think that the funding of capital projects could become provincial in nature?
In properly run counties, there are established timeframes to build and/or maintain capital projects. 5-year, 10-year, and 20-year plans ensure that infrastructure is examined and maintained at equal intervals, regardless of location.
Secondly, this is a great question, but I think geography only makes a difference in winning an election and not governing. 1) Our most recent elected majority commissioners were from Dallas and the Hazleton suburbs, and few-if any-complaints of provincialism in this administration ever made the papers. 2) Other entities like the chamber or state initiated corporate welfare programs are the greatest provincialists! Their planning has robbed urban areas of factories by setting up "industrial parks" near to the suburbs. A generation ago, the city was the industrial park. Now we have traffic in the country and desolation in the city. I grew up in rural Franklin Township and think that country folks just want to pay their fair share of taxes and be left alone.
12. If you could fund one major project by executive fiat, what would it be?
Hotel Sterling preservation.
13. What’s your favorite color (trick question)?
[in the] black.
Once again, thanks for the insights, Harry.
Keep us abreast of the latest. And good luck.