Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Interview with Diane Marseglia, Candidate for Bucks County Commissioner

Diane Marseglia, Democratic candidate for Bucks County commissioner, is a social worker by trade. She has a Masters of Social Work from the University of Pennsylvania, with a specialization in adolescence and criminal justice. In 1997 she was elected a Middletown Township Supervisor, served until 2003 and was elected again in 2005. She has also served on the Neshaminy School District Board. More complete biographies of Diane and her running mate, Steve Santarsiero are available on www.bucksvictory.com.

I would like to thank Diane for taking the time to answer these questions; her responses have a consistent theme of public service and she clearly understands the issues I have raised. All of her comments are thoughtful and will surely be of interest to Bucks County voters.

Political battles can often get personal and dirty. How do you heal a community after a particularly bruising battle?

In my view of public service, the goal is always to advocate for the people and to strive to enhance quality of life for all constituents. To that end, I do not engage in dirty tricks or the politics of personal destruction that often poisons modern political discourse. By relying on facts and presenting a credible case to the people, there is rarely a need for healing - I finish each campaign with a clear conscience. After each election I work with anyone who holds honesty and integrity paramount and subscribes to the basic principles of service that I have mentioned above.

What kind of instructions did you give your campaign staff about the type of campaign you wanted to run?

I have asked them to run a factual, honest campaign that will contrast us with our opponents, and make everything they do and say on this campaign something that would make their grandmothers proud.

You have been mentioned as a potential county commissioner candidate for a number of years. How important is it to maintain a pipeline of potential candidates? How is that done and what can be done to get more women in that pipeline?

It is incumbent upon us, as Americans, to think not only of ourselves but the next generation. It is an unwritten contract that should be in the back of every elected official’s mind. Building the pipeline of potential candidates is a way of ensuring there is quality government for future generations. For years the Bucks County Democrats struggled to build an organization and there were few people in the queue for election. Today our party is proud and strong, and it is a wonderful to have such choice and so many high quality leaders in our ranks.

If you visit www.bucksvictory.com/2007team and look at our county-wide Democratic candidates, you will see that our ticket is packed with experienced and qualified women running for office. Cynthia Philo, Kathryn Boockvar, and Polly Beere and I will provide leadership that young women can emulate.

In your youth you were a Republican. What would you say to those who think party loyalty should be absolute and changing registration should not be forgiven?

My years as a Republican were very few and I chose that party as it was the party of my parents and grandparents. I believe that a party’s platform represents your values as an American. As your youthful years end it is important that you choose a party that most closely represents your values. Party switching should be reserved for times when either your values change or your party moves away from its original core representations.

Your tendency to form citizen committees or advisory boards has been noted and I found some examples myself, a committee on littering and another on speeding. Would you continue that practice as a county commissioner and how could such groups be effective at the county level?

Partnering with members of the community is vital for many reasons. First and foremost it allows government to benefit from the expertise and energy of residents at NO cost! Second, it increases resident understanding and faith in their government because their involvement helps them to better understand and appreciate the legislative processes. Finally, the actions of the committees I advocated for allowed our Township and school district to receive services and benefits that would not have been affordable if it had to be paid for with taxpayer dollars. I will continue this partnering and believe it may be the hallmark of my tenure as a Commissioner as there is a wealth of expertise in Bucks County and many are champing at the bit to volunteer their services.

What is your view of joint zoning ordinances across municipalities and townships? In 2003 you spoke in favor of it. Is that something you think the county could encourage, provided you still like the idea? (Source: “Uniting to fight suburban sprawl,” by Ben Finley, Bucks County Courier Time 9/26/03)

I still like the idea. In fact, while not a panacea and not suitable for every municipality, it has to be considered as a vital tool in any plan to preserve Bucks County. The effects of development and zoning do not end at municipal borders; flooding, traffic, and water quality affect residents up and downstream. Therefore it is important that communities interact, plan, and possibly develop mutual ordinances. Steve and I have spoken of our comprehensive plan, which will actively encourage such communication and cooperation between municipalities. The absolute failure of our County Commissioner to curb development and the resistance of state legislatures to increase the tools to do this has resulted in a level of sprawl that threatens the quality of life in Bucks County, and we must begin to proactively fight back.

More people live in Bucks County and leave it to work than come to Bucks County for jobs but live elsewhere. What ramifications, if any, does this have for county government?

A government has to be connected to the pulse of its people; their habits, movements, lifestyles and economic choices, both at work and play. By addressing these issues with the guiding motivation to enhance quality of life, government best serves its people and runs most efficiently. We know that we have a large commuter population, so we should focus on providing the best public transportation possible to help reduce highway congestion, lower vehicle emissions and improve quality of life. Suburban officials who think SEPTA's plight is Philadelphia's problem are seriously mistaken, and they ignore mass transit at their peril and at great cost to our infrastructure.

Less than a fourth of the county’s population is under 18 and the number of age restricted communities has been growing. Do you want to see any change in that situation and if so, what would you like to happen? Source: http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/42/42017.html

The market forces seem to be driving this boom, causing frustration for school boards and municipal governments trying to afford the increased demand for services driven by families with children. I am deeply concerned about the long term marketing of these homes when the population boom shifts to those under 55. This is another example of why a real and absolute comprehensive plan is needed in Bucks County. Steve and I recognize that municipalities need to be cognizant of the short and long term benefits and costs of such communities and plan for a healthy diversity in housing.

Curfews and other laws seem to pit the rights of the individual against the rights of the state (or local municipality). How do you balance those conflicting areas?

This is a difficult balancing act and one that by its nature suggests that people need to be controlled and parented – a concept I approach with sincere reservations but a realistic perspective. As a social worker, I believe the first step needs to be educating the public about their behavior and working to help them set their own limits. When the health and welfare of others are negatively impacted by citizens who refuse to abide by voluntary self-limits it becomes time to set the boundaries with the rule of law. Another important aspect of setting limits by law, however, is that overzealous enforcement -- or inability to enforce because there are too many rules -- is less effective than setting no limits!

Can the county (or the state or any other governmental body) refuse to allow development on privately owned land in flood plains? Should they be able to?

First, I believe it is important to recognize that the flood plain has been expanding, due to the County policies that have allowed for sprawl. Hence, landowners who have a reasonable expectation of using land they purchased decades ago, when the floodplain was significantly smaller, are in an untenable situation. One of the primary issues facing county and municipal officials is the prospect of negotiating financial remuneration to landowners who suddenly find their land in a flood plain. Moreover, the sprawl must stop in order to end expansion of the floodplain – this is clearly not in the current commissioners’ plan. It will be in the Comprehensive Plan that Steve Santarsiero and I are working to develop.

While I oppose heavy-handed laws that restrict personal freedoms, and believe that private land-owners have a right to benefit from their land, those freedoms must be limited when adjacent and/or surrounding residents are adversely impacted or threatened by those decisions. New developers who build in flood plains do so strictly for the profit; they will not be around when a 25- , 50- or 100-year storm wipes-out the development. In these situations Government can, and should, restrict where homes can be built, if that building puts human life and property in peril. In this way, we minimize the taxpayers' expense in bailing-out disasters. Local municipalities are still paying for properties on the Neshaminy Creek that were destroyed by Hurricane Floyd eight years ago.

Are you happy with the arrangement of the county government? If not, what would you change?

My first priority is for political patronage be removed from the process. Although Bucks County employees are generally top-rate, there needs to be a modernization of the process by which they work. I also believe there need to be changes to the way some departments do their work. Studying best practices implemented in other counties can make our departments more efficient and more effective without tax increases. As a simple example, the failure to implement modern computerized services in many departments until quite recently is a example of thinking that is simply backward. Too often departments are designed for the convenience of the government, rather than the citizenry.

Every candidate says they want lower property taxes, better development and fairer government, what are you saying that is different?

Steve and I have said we want to stabilize property taxes and in contrast to spin we have offered a plan.

Our plan is also different because in addition to identifying examples of county waste we have called for professional forensic spot audits so that waste is readily and easily identified.

More importantly, we have clearly identified the connection between raising property taxes and development and we will be focusing on controlling the development. Our aforementioned comprehensive plan is the hallmark of our control of development.

What question didn’t I ask that you would like to answer?

What drives you to be involved in politics?

I was raised to believe that community service is important. It is a hallmark of my professional life as a social worker and I have been fortunate to be elected to the school board and as a supervisor because of a single driving goal – to help make people’s lives better.

Thank you, again, Diane!

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