Thursday, March 17, 2011

Shapiro and Richards on Comment Please

Comment Please by Univest on WNPV with host Darryl Berger hosted Democratic candidates for Montgomery County Commissioner today. State Rep. Josh Shapiro and Whitemarsh Township Supervisor Leslie Richards. (campaign site:

These are my rough notes from listening to the taped interview available on the WNPV website; only the first 45 minutes is the interview.

Berger is a wonderful interviewer. He frequently makes a subtle comment that steers the guests answer or has a short conversation intended to move the discussion forward or in another direction. It is difficult to catch all these verbal maneuvers so I frequently leave them out. Nor is this intended as a full transcript -- it is just my notes from listening. I just listened to it once through and typed phrases and notes; later I went back to smooth out the wording and use full sentences, so without doubt I missed quite a few things. I encourage Montgomery County voters to listen for themselves to get the full effect.

DB: Good afternoon, it is March 17, 2011, hope you have a great St. Patrick’s Day. No one on the show is Irish today but maybe we can ask our guests to answer in an Irish brogue. We have the two candidates for the Democratic nomination in the primary and they’re unopposed so they will go on to the general election for Montgomery County commissioner.

JS: can’t sport an Irish accent but am wearing green.

LR: I am willing to talk about my travels in Ireland. It is a friendly country. I rode bike trails along the peninsula. If you want to visit the pubs bikes are a good way to go from pub to pub. Great golf, very green.

DB: The Democrats have never held a majority in the board, or at least not in recorded history. Why this year different?

JS: People want to see their county govt do better. They want four fresh eyes. What Leslie has done in the private sector and what I’ve done in state government we hope to do in county government.

DB: Rendell said you were a rising star in politics. Why leave your state representative seat?

JS: It is an honor to serve Abington and Upper Dublin. A state representative represents around 70,000 people but as county commissioner I would represent nearly 800,000. Could affect things like roads and bridges and care for elderly. Apply skills learned in state govt to county level. And I have a heck of a partner in Leslie Richards.
DB: What is the political equation? Do you want to be governor?

JS: I want to be a Montco commissioner. Flattered by support across county. In life and politics you need to pick a job you want to do and do it well. Create luck and opportunities by working hard. In politics there are so many outside factor so you can’t ever count on going from to a to b to c.

DB: Leslie, you are currently a Whitemarsh Township Supervisor, what prompted you to get into politics and run for Montco commisioner?

LR: Had I known the opportunity existed this would have been an ambition. Asked to run for local office as many women are. Had been involved in community. Helped start Whitemarsh Twp day and enjoyed serving on that as well. Whitemarsh has a big identity, Erdenheim Farm is right in the middle of township but the township also borders on Philadelphia. Just a couple of turns you are in front of a 400 acre farm. The township covers 14 square miles. Work as a community planner, education in economics and regional planning. Entire life worked with communities on economic development, parks, trails, transportation issues. Traffic is always an issue. It has been very helpful to be able to discuss hard numbers and what can be done in long and short term.

DB: regional planning?

LR: That’s where county govt can make that a focus. Often good planning starts at a municipal border. Joint planning can go on. In Whitemarsh we have worked with our neighbors to pool resources to put together design and construction. The county should be proactive using county planning commission to help local planning commissions.

DB: Montco is a huge area, a quantam leap from township to county commissioner. How will running affect your job?

LR: professionally I’ve worked in all areas, rural, suburban, urban, very familiar with area. I’m currently a senior project manager at a civil engineering firm. I feel I’d be able to keep my hand in at least a few hours a week to see projects through.

DB: The governor has come out with budget, how will that impact Montco?

JS: it was an irresponsible budget. He campaigned on cutting spending and I agree with that. The problem I have with the budget is the priorities are all out of whack. He talked about the must haves and be nice to haves then he talked about the education cuts. It will be, for example, 10% of North Penn School Disctrict which will mean an increase in property taxes. I think one of the biggest issues I have is that rather than ask Marcellus Shale gas drillers to pay for the infrastructure they will crumble, he’s asking you and me to pay for it. In Sarah Palins’ Alaska they passed a severance task. If we did that here it would mean less cuts for education. I’ll stand with Sarah Palin and George Bush. Tom Corbett can stand on his own. The drillers aren’t going anywhere. The CEO of one of the largest drilling companies said they were prepared to pay a severance task. The plan that a lot of people agree with is a severance tax with a third to local govt, a third to environmental protection, and a third to the general fund. The group the governor established to look into this – if you added up how much money they gave the governor you can guess what the group will come up with.

DB: I think we are losing money.

JS: if you cut social services the way the governor has proposed but the need still exists, there will be an added burden on county taxpayers and on hospitals. More people are showing up in the emergency room. People who pay into their health insurance will pay for other people’s unreimbursed care. Corbett is proposing to cut higher education 50% . If you do that you get rid of in state tuition when everything goes up. The Republicans are in charge now of the state house, state senate, and governors mansion. He should be able to pass this but lately you see Republicans disagreeing. Republican State Rep Bob Godshall who represents North Penn School District might have some problems with that.

DB: There is currently a coalition govt in Montco. Jim Matthews and Bruce Castor are Republicans but Jim Matthews and Joe Hoeffel, the Democrat, formed a coalition and are running the show. As a Democrat you’d have to be thrilled by that.

LR: People are frustrated. County govt seems distracted and not trying to move things forward. The personality conflict distracts the county commissioners. I serve on split board in Whitemarsh, and was elected chair. It was my responsibility to listen to everyone and work together as a board. The board should be working together for the county and not worry about who is calling who a name.

DB: Matthews and Castor have a tremendous amount of personal animosity.

LR: They just seem more interested in name calling.

JS: People want to see competent good govt. Leslie can bring Republicans and Democrats together to get things done. In Harrisburg I have done that. I worked to get a Republican elected Speaker of the House. People want three commissioners to show up for work and get things done. We will work with Republicans whether we are in the majority or minority. People are sick and tired of the bickering and want to see results.

DB: What has been the effect of bickering, what has not done that should have been?

JS: County bureaucracy not as efficient as it should be. When you have 3 people at the top who don’t always talk to each other then how can you expect county workers to work together? When you have 3 commissioners listening and being respectful more gets done. People want new people with new ideas and a new approach to get things done. The county’s budget is $400Million. It can be more efficient. People don’t think about govt every day but when they have a problem they show up in my office. People want to know how to get an answer to solve their problems.

DB: Joe Hoeffel is a progressive. Some people say the county reflects his activist view. Castor follow s a Republican line of less govt is better govt. What should county govt be?

JS: I guess that depends on how you define activist. I disagree with some of what Castor says but do so respectfully. County has a AAA bond rating but what does that mean to a small business owner who can’t get a loan or someone who needs a social service? I do think the county govt has a role to play in those social services but needs to do so in a more streamlined and efficient way.

DB: What sort of increased efficiencies would you propose?

LR: Not a restructuring but better communication in govt, some departments don’t talk to other departments. Learned this working with Whitemarsh govt. When the police department wanted to upgrade their communications system we talked to other departments and upgraded the whole IT system. On county level it just hasn’t happened. People don’t know what other departments are doing. The leadership needs to come from commissioners.

DB: No pay increase for county workers in a while. Low morale

LR: I am hearing that as I talk with several staff. First we need to listen to county employees. They have some fabulous staff members. I’m very familiar with planning commission. They are so talented and their resources aren’t being utilized as much as they can be. Josh and I have talked about going out to municipalities to work with local planning commissions. Local planning commissioners are volunteers. County planners can help.

JS: County workers have reached out to us. Morale is low. Message we have sent back is we are not interested in balancing county budget on their back. Efficient govt works when we get suggestions from staff. They haven’t been asked. Dedicated workers want county to work better. We need to listen, ask them how we can save money. We want their opinion and advice. When we say that to county employees they get excited about it.

DB: need to restructure county govt. It is ridiculous that we are electing a prothonotary, register of deeds, etc.

JS: We’re going to reform county govt. We’re going to ask “why?” Why do we do things this way? The people elected to county offices are good people. But we need to ask why do we have, for example, 50 different departments. We are not part of Norristown culture so we can look with fresh eyes.

LR: I agree that many people don’t know what a prothonotary does or who the prothonotary is. He’s a great guy and has saved a lot of money and is doing a great job. Judges are also elected.

DB: I think this is something county govt should look at.

JS: Certainly these issues are on the table.

DB: What can people expect from this campaign?

JS: We’ve been all over the county and are seeing excitement for the election and our campaign. Our base is mobilized. An unprecented level of enthusiasm. My district is about 50% Republican but I got 70% of the vote in the last election. You can expect us to talk with everyone and run a substantive campaign but be respectful of the other candidates. Respect and commitment to the county.

LR: I love to talk with people as we travel around the county.

Berger thanks his guests.

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