Please provide a biographical narrative.
I am a Clearfield County native and currently live in Lawrence Township with my daughter, Johnna, who is a kindergarten teacher for the Clearfield Area School District. I graduated from Clearfield Area High School in 1971 as valedictorian, summa cum laude from Vanderbilt University in 1975 and from the Dickinson School of Law in 1979.
My first job after law school was serving as law clerk for the Honorable Judges John K. Reilly Jr. and John Cherry. I then began the practice of law in 1980 and have been a partner in the law firm of Sobel and Collins since 1983.
I have served Clearfield County as chief public defender, solicitor for Children and Youth Services and solicitor for the Register and Recorder’s Office during my career.
I currently represent or have represented Burnside Borough, Chester Hill Borough, Covington Township, Girard Township, Graham Township, Knox Township, Morris Township and Osceola Mills Borough as well as Benezette Township in Elk County.
I currently serve on the Clearfield YMCA Board of Directors and am a member of the Bilger’s Rocks Association. I have been Chapter Chair of the Clearfield Red Cross and am currently a commissioner representative of the Clearfield Recreation and Tourism Board.
I have been an avid Civil War reenactor and belong to the National Rifle Association. I am a member of the Clearfield Masonic Lodge and worship at the Presbyterian Church of Clearfield.
What motivated your interest in running for Clearfield County Commissioner?
I have been interested in history and political science since I was a child. Additionally, my career as an attorney has caused me to hold several positions with Clearfield County Government as well as to regularly deal with the same. This involvement gave me an interest in county government. Finally, I believe that, if one wants to make a difference in this world, public service is the means by which one can accomplish that.
What qualifications do you possess that would benefit the Clearfield County Commissioners’ Office?
First of all, county government operates within a framework of laws established by the commonwealth and, secondarily, the federal government.
If one does not understand or appreciate the law, one cannot effectively serve as a commissioner. One certainly does not have to be a lawyer to be a commissioner. However, I believe that my being an attorney equips me to understand the structure within which I have to do my job in serving Clearfield County.
I have also held several positions within Clearfield County Government during my career. I believe that this experience has given me a special understanding of the duties and challenges of county government that others might not have.
Finally, a law practice is a small business. I believe that county government must be operated like a business. This experience has also equipped me to better deal with the issues of government.
Government transparency has been a buzzword in politics for the past few years. Do you feel that the county is transparent enough? If not, what needs to change?
No government entity is perfect and there is always room for improvement in government. However, I do believe that Clearfield County Government is transparent enough.
The Board of Commissioners is very aware of the fact that we must conduct deliberations and make decisions in a public setting. We would rather be too open to the public than not be.
Clearfield County also will not disobey the Right to Know law. We frequently get requests for information under the Right to Know law that are to be used against us in litigation or politically during an election year.
If the law dictates the release of that information, then it is released.
If elected, how would you reach out and form relationships with citizens of Clearfield County? How would you reach out to those citizens in the outlying areas of the county?
Clearfield County Government currently takes numerous steps to form relationships with its citizens. We have an open door policy whereby anyone can come to our offices without an appointment.
We have three meetings a month that are open to the public and any citizen can come and make public comment about any subject. The commissioners also attend numerous meetings outside of the office, as it is our policy to attend if invited.
The county is very large geographically and it can be a challenge to make sure that citizens from all parts of the county are properly served, as well as included in the county’s consideration. Therefore, the county tries to make sure that there is outreach to all of the county.
There is a county office in Dubois that is intended to make sure that county services are available to citizens from the greater Dubois area. The county commissioners have also historically held meetings in parts of the county other than Clearfield in order to convenience citizens from the outlying parts of the county.
Additionally, all boards of directors of the different entities to which the commissioners have appointment powers are geographically diverse so as to make sure that all parts of the county are represented on the same.
Finally, the commissioners fought very strenuously to prevent the county from being split in two over the 814 area code issue as we knew that it would serve to divide the county rather than unite it.
I would also note that I have represented many small municipalities from all parts of the county in my career. The personal relationships I have fortunately developed with many local officials also have carried over into my career as a county commissioner. The same has helped me not to forget about the outlying areas of the county.
If elected, what measures would you take to ensure the efficient operation of Clearfield County?
The commissioners provide for the efficient operation of county government by setting a budget that provides the different departments with the tools that they need to effectively do their jobs.
These “tools” can range from software to office equipment to automobiles to staff. We currently meet with department heads and elected officials on a regular basis and review their requests for the same.
If we believe the request is needed and the county can afford it, we will budget for it. The difficulty with the same is that costs are growing faster than income. The commissioners cannot always afford to pay for requested items.
We do try to secure outside funding, such as grants, for some items for county government. Sometimes they are available and sometimes they aren’t.
Efficiency is certainly a challenge in modern county government.
What is your opinion on regionalization of government positions, police forces, etc. within Clearfield County?
I, as a county commissioner, do not have the authority to direct regionalization of government in Clearfield County. That can only be accomplished by such means as is set forth in the appropriate statutory authority.
However, I can have an opinion and my opinion is that regionalization is needed. Government is getting too costly. Many government services are also inefficient. Consolidation of government and government services, in my opinion, would result in better service to our citizens at a cheaper cost.
I see the need for the same in my duties as commissioner and in my law practices. Many of the smaller municipalities in the county are struggling to meet the expense of maintaining their roads and bridges. They are close to reaching their breaking points.
We have reached the point that, to continue to exist, many municipalities may have to think about consolidation.
There will be problems. Assumption of another entity’s debt, for example, could be a problem. However, there does need to be a long hard look at the issue.
If elected, what measures would you take to generate economic development opportunities for Clearfield County?
I, and the other commissioners, are taking several steps to generate economic development opportunities for Clearfield County.
The most exciting involves our efforts in support of re-opening an old rail line from Curwensville to Dubois. If the same can be accomplished, it will lower transportation costs and open up new markets for our coal, gas and powdered metal industries. This has great economic potential.
The Clearfield County Economic Development Corp., which does economic development for Clearfield County, is restoring an unused part of Curwensville’s Industrial Park. It will soon be available for new business sites.
This same organization has also taken over marketing for the Fireman’s Industrial Park in Clearfield. The intent is to aggressively attract new businesses to the same.
The county also assisted Sandy Township and Dubois City officials in securing the location of WhiteWave Foods to the Sandy-Dubois area. This development brought dozens of jobs to the county.
As county commissioner, I am always trying to maintain a favorable business environment for the county.
If elected, what would be your top priority as Clearfield County Commissioner?
If elected to another term, my top priority would be to continue with the above economic initiatives, along with others, for Clearfield County. I believe that this is the way to revitalize our county.
What are the greatest challenges facing Clearfield County? If elected, what measures would you propose to resolve them?
I believe that the greatest challenge facing Clearfield County is lack of economic opportunity. My intent, if elected to another term, is to continue with the measures listed in “No. 8” above as well as other steps to maintain a pro-business climate in the county.
I believe that a second challenge facing the county is one of being able to provide county services to our citizens in the face of increased costs of those services as well as the additional burdens from unfunded mandates.
I intend to maintain a strict budget with no unnecessary expenses in order to deal with the issue.
Finally, I believe that there are transportation issues facing Clearfield County’s citizens with the reconfiguration of healthcare in the county.
Many services, which were available outside of Dubois, now will only be available in Dubois at the Penn Highlands Dubois Campus. It will be a burden on many citizens to travel there from other parts of the county.
I, and the other commissioners, are working with the Area Transportation Authority to develop several new bus routes so that the opportunity is available to our citizens to be able to travel to Dubois to get medical care.