Racing to transform Wayne County

2019 election coverage: Wayne County Commissioners

By OWEN WALSH
Posted 10/2/19

WAYNE COUNTY, PA— If you live in Wayne County, you’ve probably seen their campaign signs sprinkled throughout your daily commute or heard at least one speak at a recent community event. …

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Racing to transform Wayne County

2019 election coverage: Wayne County Commissioners

Posted

WAYNE COUNTY, PA— If you live in Wayne County, you’ve probably seen their campaign signs sprinkled throughout your daily commute or heard at least one speak at a recent community event. But if you’re like many residents in the area, you might be a little fuzzy on understanding the actual role of the Wayne County Commissioners.

Candidate Jocelyn Cramer said “What do the county commissioners do?” is the “number one question” she’s gotten throughout her election campaign, alongside the three incumbents running, Brian Smith, Wendell Kay and Joe Adams. That’s because the commissioners typically do more than what’s written on paper.

What do commissioners do?

“Here’s the broadest definition: Wayne County Commissioners manage Wayne County in the best interest of the most people,” Cramer said.

Kay, who has served as a commissioner for the past 13 years defined the office as the “orderly and efficient administration of county government.”

Much of the job is a balancing act: ensuring that the needs of county employees and elected officials are being met,without placing too much of a burden on the taxpayers.

The commissioners’ most important responsibilities include balancing the county’s budget each year and fiscally overseeing about 40 different departments throughout the local government. This oversight covers wide ground, including emergency operations, the court system, record-keeping, law enforcement, behavioral health, agriculture, conservation and maintenance, to name a few.

Additionally, Cramer said issues such as the opioid epidemic, crime levels, economic growth, rural broadband, rural health and agriculture are some of the most important locally.

The primary role a commissioner plays in addressing these issues is putting money in the right places. For example, the county recently secured federal grant money for the Drug and Alcohol Commission and received a grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to perform a feasibility study for a potential dairy processing plant in the area. The commissioners are also in the process of addressing issues including rural broadband and economic growth through endeavors such as the high-speed-internet equipped co-working space, the Stourbridge Project.

They’re also responsible for ensuring the compensation of about 450 county employees.

Smith, chairman of the commissioners, said that along with managing each department individually, he tries to assess the links among each, and determine how to invest the county’s budget into each department most effectively. This way, the commissioners direct taxpayer money toward projects that stimulate economic growth.

“After you’ve been here a while, you start to understand that you can have influences above and beyond just our basic responsibilities of paying the bills on time,” Smith said.

The candidates

Cramer, the only candidate who isn’t a sitting commissioner already, says diversity of experience is her strength.

Originally from Lackawanna County, Cramer has worked in several different sectors of the business world, usually as a manager. She founded and ran two different theatrical production companies in New York City and Boston, and has also worked in the nonprofit, medical, restaurant and financial industries. Since coming back to the area in 2000, and becoming a full-time resident in 2011, Cramer spent six years as the executive director of Sustainable Energy Education and Development Support (SEEDS) and is currently on its board of directors.

Photo contributed by Jocelyn Cramer

Cramer said that because of her experience at SEEDS, she can save the county money through energy-efficient projects.

“One of the reasons I felt compelled to run is because of my experience, I’m aware of things out there that we might not otherwise be,” she said. “There are loans, there are grant programs, but if you don’t know about higher energy efficiency, you don’t build that way.”

Just as Cramer sees her “diverse background” as a strength, the sitting commissioners call the diversity among the three of them vital to their successes.

In addition to being county commissioner, Smith is a dairy farmer and a school bus driver, and said he has been bringing a “working man’s approach” to the job for the past 13 years.
As declines in the nationwide dairy industry have hurt local farmers and caused many to close their farms for good, Smith has worked with state and federal politicians seeking to make farming profitable in Wayne County. He played a large role in getting the dairy-processing study grant, which he hopes can connect local farmers to a more national market.

Kay, who began a general legal practice in Wayne County in 1981, is “at the helm” of the commissioners’ work with human services—which includes overseeing departments like Children & Youth and the Area Agency on Aging, and funding programs such as the Transitional Living Apartment Program. Kay has experience as an attorney working with those departments and an understanding of the foster-care system, having been a court-appointed guardian for hundreds of children.

One of Kay’s proudest achievements as a commissioner has been reversing the expected closure of State Correctional Institution (SCI) Waymart, and now working with the PA Department of Corrections to instead expand the facility. He said the project is still a work in progress, but he hopes that once completed, it will help address the county’s behavioral health and substance abuse needs, as well as the statewide issue of affordably caring for an aging prison population.

Adams, the newest member of the three-person team, comes from the financial sector. He has worked as business manager of Wallenpaupack Area High School, Western Wayne School District superintendent, wealth manager for Morgan Stanley in Scranton and spent 13 years working in wealth management at The Dime Bank. In his three years as a commissioner, he’s had a hand in preserving the historic Hankins Pond Dam in Mount Pleasant, creating a new food pantry in Dreher Township and assisting Wayne Memorial Hospital in financing its recently completed $40-million expansion project.

All four candidates are involved in Wayne Tomorrow: Cramer as a member of SEEDS and a volunteer, Adams as a commissioner, Smith and Kay as founding members.

The election

Every four years, all three commissioner seats are up for election. Wayne County residents are able to vote for two candidates each. This year there are four candidates.

“I have told each of these commissioners individually that they have impressed and inspired me to be part of the team,” Cramer said. “That’s the wonderful thing about local politics: It should be this positive, it should be this amicable, and it has been.”

Kay said election years feel, to him and his colleagues, about the same as regular years. Adams added to that point, saying that they’ve attended more than 100 events per year—around two a week—in each of the last three years.

“We pretty much conduct ourselves the same way, year-round every year,” Kay said. “We don’t just wait for every four years to say ‘All right everybody, here we are.’”

Cramer said that for her, this election campaign has been a learning opportunity. She’s made it a goal to attend all of the township and borough council meetings at least once, to better understand what issues are most important to local residents. She plans to use what she’s learned to educate the public about the commissioners’ work in the future.

“Our local election turnout rates are much lower than the big presidential races,” Cramer said. “To me that’s crazy, because I think your voice matters so much locally.”

Pennsylvania residents can now register to vote online at pavotes.com. October 7 is the last day to register for the general election on November 5, 2019.  

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