Monday, October 15, 2007

Montgomery County Commissioner Candidates on “Comment Please”

This past Tuesday all four candidates for Montgomery County Commissioner appeared on “Comment Please” (sponsored by Univest) on WNPV 1140. Host Darryl Berger is an exemplary moderator. His questions or gentle prods for follow-up were so skillfully done that it was often unnecessary to indicate where he spoke. He guided the conversation along without appearing to do so, a great talent.

The Intelligencer published an article on the debate, “Debate goes overtime” by Jacob Fenton on October 10th. I am indebted to Mr. Fenton for including a link to the online version of the interview; without his diligence I would not have known it was there.

The format allowed each candidate one minute for an opening statement and one minute for a closing statement. The Republican candidates are incumbent commissioner Jim Matthews and current District Attorney Bruce Castor ( The Democratic candidates are incumbent commissioner Ruth Damsker and Joe Hoeffel who has previously served as a county commissioner as well as congressman and state representative (

These are rough notes from an online audio tape. At points the candidates spoke over each other or traded jabs and I could not always tell who was talking, so those exchanges are not included. As always I apologize in advance for any errors or misconceptions.

Opening Statements

RD: I am the only female running in the race. It’s a wonderful time actually now in Montgomery County. I have the privilege of running with a strong teammate with federal state and county experience. Four high priorities. The first is to work on open transparent government, inclusive of all residents, reflect the face of Montgomery County, all of residents, regardless of ethnicity can participate, does not happen at this time, open contracting, better hiring practices, transform county government.

JM: It is great times in Montgomery County, approx 3% or 3.2% unemployment, taxes have to be more than agreeable to taxpayers, less next year, provide wonderful public services, new tactical training center for police, expanded fire training, new 911 service, working on open space program

JH: Ruth and I are delighted to be teamed up and running for county commissioner, stand for fundamental change, clean up courthouse, fraud, bring economic development to older communities, such as Lansdale, Pottstown and Norristown. Improve family and human service, reduce waiting lists, Ruth has led the charge to deliver those services in a more collaborative way. Quality of life issues, traffic problems are terrible, provide political leadership to deal with sprawl

BC: Lived in Montgomery County my whole life, in listening audience of channel 1440. Think Montgomery County is a great place to live unlike Dem candidates, low taxes, great open space program, very safe streets. With 22 years in DA office, primarily interested in safety issues, just over 3 % unemployment, people think this is a nice place to live, wants to continue that trend.

Q: Montgomery County Democratic chairman Marcel Groen says BC involved in prosecutorial misconduct, used DA’s office to forward your political career. [blogger’s note: this involves a Democratic official who owns a bar that is suspected of having an illegal video poker machine in it. This official also played a role in the Damsker Hoeffel campaign]

BC: I hadn’t heard the latest call for my resignation. The answer is no, again, the case we are working will become public very soon, involves an investigation we began over a year ago. A county resident involved in running illegal video poker game. The governor wants this cracked down on because it competes with legal slots. Gaming control people and the governor said they wanted us to work on that issue. Obviously a great deal of that going on in Montgomery County, want to stop this. One main person, primary suspect, detective followed him, noted bars he went to, visited the bars to see if probable cause. In August got a report from detectives that investigation ready for search warrants. One small aspect involves a political family. Dilemma, go ahead knowing that it will be spun as a political move or wait until after election? Waiting would be wrong so we went ahead. Doing job as DA could be detrimental but went ahead. In history I have gone after 5 Republican and this is the second Democrat.

JH: My view is that this initial decision to investigate illegal gambling not politically motivated. Do disagree with DA’s comment that maybe something will become public in next few days. Already released to the public, a leak to KYW that had to come from the DA’s office, statement made that a highly placed elected official involved, the matthews castor website had a report up before the DA’s press conference. When Marcel Groen asked BC to resign, BC talked about woman’s statement publicly, total prosecutorial misconduct. Would be much better served if DA and first assistant da stepped aside, gave investigation to someone else until after election. [blogger’s note: The first assistant district attorney is currently running for District Attorney.]

BC: It would be unprecedented to step aside. KYW broadcast report did not mention a Democrat, said a political person might be involved, no information leaked. We did announce press conference, said a public official, did not name official or party, Dems released name. Search warrants sealed until target of investigation aware of investigation. (tells RD and JH they don’t know what they are talking about). I did everything I could not to confirm this until Joanne resigned. Then we began to defend ourselves. Ds have made fraud waste abuse center of their campaign for months and months and months. Now as it turns out their campaign chair might be a crook

JH: We’ve never said you were crooks.

Q: patronage tax?

RD: We have 3 examples of personnel issues, director of public property Andy Gulotta, for years his employees have complained and filed grievances of hostile work environment, resigned after many complaints, then given a consultancy for twice his salary for two years. Other examples, chairman hired a woman he is dating, who would supervise the CEOs (?), do not post hirings.

JH: Seven examples, 3 personnel, 3 contracts (forensic, lobbying, tax collecting), chairman violating state ethics code by putting himself on the Independence Blue Cross board.

JM: I really do consider this humorous. In 2004, 2005, 2006, we had about 1480 hirings, approximately 2000 personnel actions, plus contracts, awards, RD did not vote nay for any of those items for 3 years, now that we are in an election year they say abuse and patronage. But she voted aye for every personnel matter. The Damsker Hoeffel campaign put out statement 9/07 citing fiscal abuses. On 21 Sept, are you going to have to borrow, RD said current commissioners have built up reserves. What happened? This is just election babble.

RD: It is not political babble. I vote with them when they’re right, oppose when they’re wrong. When they keep me in the dark I can’t do my job as commissioner. Lobbying issues brought up by Castor about giving monies to head of GOP. Forensic lab and a woman in the DA’s office alleged to do political work on county time, brought up by Republican county controller. Where has the controller been the last 3 years? He’s only now bringing up issues. The three of us were unaware that RFP’s did not have a separate written documents, no written contracts.

BC: All of those votes are in public. Do we support this or hire that person? How are you the dark?

RD: I don’t get all the information. In the last few months, very little dialog.

BC: Dangerous not to have best forensic service.

Q: Is that a service that could be bid out?

BC: Was bid out. RD did not read contract or bid.

RD: We have thousands of contracts. JM did not read it either. Marino did not read it either. Vast majority of votes are routine.

BC: Make pledge. I will read everything before I vote.

JH: When I was commissioner, we trusted the dept heads to say send out rfps. The forensic rfp was a sham. Could only be filled by a business in Montgomery County.

BC: Complete nonsense. When re-did bid the same company got it.

JH: Why did you mislead, said it was competitive. It was a sham.

BC: You have limited command of the facts. Two agencies, DA and the coroner, put together rfp. Coroner was the one who wanted geographic limitation.

RD: Talk to your fellow commissioner.

JM: I could have cared less. It was a quality firm.

Q: Was this company costing a lot of money?

JH: When rebid the county did not take labs with lower prices

BC: You might as well go the road runner and get ACME testing. [names company] was terrible [used different words but slammed them].

Q: Will you serve out 4 year term?

JH: No plans to run for anything else. Want to be best majority commissioner I can be. It is my intention to serve out 4 years.

BC: Joe says interested in being best majority commissioner. I am not interested in running for anything else, majority or minority. After this may not run for anything else.

JM: in for the duration as either minority or majority. I ran for lt gov and fell on sword for party

RD: no intention of running for anything else. Most incumbents don’t run with a stronger candidate but Joe has higher name recognition, endangering my own position on board but I want the best for Montgomery County.

Q: driving issue?

JH; Economic development, sprawl and transportation, have economic development plan, Grow Montco, $50 million development fund just to jumpstart projects, river front in Norristown, #1 priority, jumpstart projects in other part of county, hire for transportation, housing, do this w/o raising taxes, not reassess properties, do it with economic development program. Asked about reassessment, now understand this is not the time. 10 years ago I voted to reassess, controversial but it was time, rendered an unfair system much fairer. Now not that far out of whack. Secondly public won’t stand for it. They want the state to fix the property tax system.

BC: precision in language is of some value. RD said earlier that she thinks it is time for reassessment, then at debate said no. They still think it’s a good idea but since public doesn’t like it for political reasons they won’t do it. JH’s reassessment generated 16K appeals. In Philly reassessment made taxes go up on 94% properties

RD: Make it clear. None of our taxpayers need to be concerned. JH and I just said we will not have a property tax reassessment. Property tax issue needs to be addressed in Harrisburg

JM: Cameras don’t lie. We tape our sessions. RD very clear, in favor of reassessment. Joe said earlier he ordered property tax assessment. Now says wants to lead change. He was in office. Hypocrisy to say not in charge when in charge. Wants $65 million to generate economic development. Much evidence that government can’t drive econ development. Does drive debt.

Closing Statements

BC: Disappointed in rhetoric from Democrats this year. Campaign in search of a scandal because there are no issues. What matters most are low taxes, good schools, safe streets, GOP has provided that. Democrats so anxious to pull this coup that they’ll simply make things up.

JH: All we have heard from Bruce and Jim in this campaign and now are complaints about Ruth and me and attacks. No plans on their website. Ruth and I are running because we want fundamental change. Want to clean up courthouse. Norristown needs attention of the county commissioners. Restore reforms that Jim rolled back. Improve family services. Sprawl and bad development decisions.

JM: Charge that we haven’t done enough for boroughs, just silly, we have invested in zoo and library, supplied police officers, patrolling sheriffs. Statement from Democratic Norristown chair, saying how great commissioners doing. Borrowing $65 million, where does that come from? In my first year as commissioner debt dropped $10 million, in Joe’s first year it doubled

RD: Yes I did vote with GOP majority for budget, tax cuts, did not vote for gutting ethics code in our handbook, done in first months of first administration. Not only time I have spoken out. I have spoken up for years. Can’t get qualified residents, who happen to be Democrats on boards. Things are beginning to improve in Norristown.

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