Thursday, September 29, 2011

Brown and Castor on Comment Please

A few months ago the Republican candidates for Montgomery County Commissioner appeared on radio show Comment Please. I always enjoy listening to these interviews because host Darryl Berger is a superb interviewer. He weaves his comments and questions so subtly throughout the conversation that it is sometimes difficult to separate them from the answers. When taking notes while listening I tend to just note his most obvious questions -- the follow-up questions are just absorbed into the answers. Remember this is not intended as a full transcript, just rough notes. Voters are encouraged to listen to the interview for themselves on the Comment Please site. The show itself is listed as being 90 minutes long but the interview takes up only the first 45 minutes or so.

Comment Please by Univest, with host Darryl Berger
July 6, 2011
Bruce Castor and Jenny Brown

DB: Today on the program we are joined by the Republican candidates for Montgomery County Commissioner, Bruce Castor and Jenny Brown. We have to talk a little bit about what has been going on the last 3.5 years. Republicans Bruce Castor and Jim Matthews won, but Matthews formed a coalition with Democrat Joe Hoeffel.

BC: When you run for office and tell voters you stand for a series of principles and you do that [missed this part] . Matthews and Hoeffel did that and then didn’t follow through. This isn’t what the people voted for. The ultimate slap in the face to democracy is when voters select people and then get the exact opposite of what they were promised. Both parties realized their standard bearers were disasters and Matthews and Hoeffel are not running. They announced they were but not supported by party.

DB: What things did you and Matthews talk about that they haven’t been done

BC: living within your means is the primary one. We were sitting in these seats in January of election year when Mathews said you can never spend your way back to posterity. He’s right about that. Historically you’ve never been able to do that. [Joe] Hoeffel and Ruth [Damsker] promised $50M fund and we got a 4150M fund. Spent cash reserves down and now in record level of dept. Montco around since 1780s and only taken a couple of years to get us into record debt.

DB: what is relationship like from your perspective, you and Matthews

BC: To say we don’t care for each other, as far as my job as commissioner is to advance the concept I told the public I was for and the public put me in office to do. Anyone who tries to contradict me on that I try to point out the error of their ways. The idea that I give Jim Mathews any thought is foreign to me. I don’t give him any thought at all. When at the beginning of their term when I voted no on all their spending and hiring cronies. I was called obstructionist. Now my votes seem to make sense. Both men are 3 term commissioner and were standard bearers for their party. They were so badly received by their parties they couldn‘t even get out of the starting block.

DB: what is your observation on how county govt has been doing

JB: I’m happy to talk about that a little but mostly we are focused on the future. We don’t want to get distracted by what happened in the past. Castor has been the sole voice for fiscal sanity. Now I think the voters understand the necessity of implementing some of his decisions. It’s too critical to get distracted by a soap opera. What Castor has been trying to do I’ve been trying to do in Lower Merion. Democrats in majority on board of Lower Merion. Spending and taxes gone up, debt gone up. We want to make sure the county does not go down that same path. We’ve seen where that path leads, in other municipalities and at the state and federal level. Castor and I want to ensure the fiscal stability of the county.

DB: is this a comfortable team? Maybe Castor wanted to run with someone else?

BC: I think it’s a great team. Four years ago I knew Matthews was a dishonest man. I wish I had known Jenny longer than I have. I barely knew her when we decided to run together. There is some value in historical perspective. In 1999 and 2000 we were in precisely the same condition we are now, in debt. Then Mike Marino and Jim Matthews running against Mario Mele who was a traitor for having made a deal with Joe Hoeffel. They won and brought the county back where is needed to be. All those things have happened again and now we need to bring it back. Now we have a disaster just like Hoeffel and Mele had before. We need a great deal of belt tightening before we can get back to doing the good things that govt can do. See the things Jenny and I have done will be vindicated. Need to get debt down. Neither one of us, the Republican or the Democrat ticket, is going to say we’re going to keep going with Hoeffel Mathews plan.

DB: Does it complicate message since Republicans have always controlled govt? Since Republicans have the majority if you call for a change, isn’t that the Democrats?

BC: Well we have to change. Just because Mathews calls himself a Republican doesn’t make him one. The county party threw him out of the party org and said he was no longer a Republican. Our opponents are going to say Republicans won the election and screwed it up. We say Mathews isn’t an Republican and it’s really a Democrat administration.


DB: proposal to toll 422, future use of Willow Grove Naval Air Station, but back to finances. If taxes aren’t going up most people won’t pay attention. What is really importance of triple A bond rating. What is as stake?

JB: The reason the taxes haven’t been going up isn’t that spending and borrowing haven’t been going up. They’ve been spending down their reserve to the point where the rating agencies have given the triple A rating a negative outlook, that’s 18 months to get act together. We have about 5% reserve, 20M, in bank. The question is how much should you have. What you need is a policy in place where we keep 15-18% of prior year spending. What matters is you have a policy and follow it. Last 2 years they’ve been following a whim. Just spending down reserve, no principles beyond decisions.

BC: started off administration with over $100M in bank, spending over $20M each year more than we bring in. When you run out you have to raise taxes. Hoeffel and Mathews trying to run out the clock and hand over disaster to new admin, just like Rendell did to Corbett.

JB: do you want a team that is ready to deal with that

BC: With triple A you don’t have to buy insurance when you buy. We are really seeing the downside of borrowing, borrowed a ton of money for econ development. We borrowed a lot to repair roads and buildings that don’t belong to us. We’ve used up that money now we need a new radio system for the police and need to repair the courthouse before it falls down. These are all multi-million dollar fixes that we would have had if we hadn’t spent it. They’ve spent it immediately for political gain, primarily in Democrat communities, hire engineers, works, that then give political contributions. Hoeffel’s governor campaign almost all contributions from people who got contracts from him via the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission. If cronies first and govt second then a disaster. They didn’t have support to run again because I told everyone what they were doing. I had more “no” votes than another other county commissioner combined.

DB: what is debt level at

BC: at $400M, the highest Montco has ever been. When Hoeffel was commissioner before it took him 7 years to bankrupt county now he’s done it in 3. You have a mortgage on your house and then take out a home equity loan. You keep borrowing, your out of pocket goes up each month. Whenever we borrow money we have to pay interest. The single largest line item that has gone up since I’ve been commissioner is debt service. Are all these projects bad? No. I want parks and trails and repairs but you have to ask if we need it. The courthouse is falling down and needs to be repaired. We don’t know how much it will cost. We made two horrific mistakes. We should never have bought Sacred Heart Hospital and never bought One Montgomery Plaza. If you rent it is the landlord’s problem if the window leaks. One Montgomery Plaza is where county offices are. Sacred Heart is where we put people before they went to geriatric center. No one checked to see if we needed it.


DB: future of Willow Grove Naval Air Stations, Castor opposed to any use of air field?

BC: I had reservations from literally the first day. The other two called it a priceless asset which to my prosecutor’s ears sound like nonsense. I think the people who live there ought to have the most to say. In fact that’s the law. Talking with State Sen. Greenleaf and he said if there is any sort of non-military use of that airport it comes under FAA administration and there is no local control. The FAA makes the call on what kind of plane goes in there. You can say only corporate jets but FAA can land 747s there. Jenny and I came up with a joint position that local people should have a say.

DB: tolling of 422, overcrowded when opening in mid-80s.

JB: the question is whether we believe in tolling it and the answer is no. Difficult to toll existing roads. People feel they already paid for it and reluctant to pay for a road that was free. We have made very clear that we are against the toll. The question is not to toll or do nothing.

BC: Look at it in a linear fashion. When this came up I phoned Joe Rafferty, GOP Montco State Senator on transportation committee. Asked if we have the authority to toll 422 and he said no. He said legislature would have to create authority and give you the authority to appoint people to it. To my lawyer’s mind you then stop talking about or thinking about it. Why spend time worrying about something you have no control over it. I said at a public meeting if only on the Chester / Montco border so only those in Chester pay for it.

DB: mandate that radio system upgraded?

BC: There is a mandate from feds that we change the frequencies to the radios. There’s no upgrade or equipment mandated. You have to change frequency because cell phone companies need more frequencies. No equipment upgrade. Just like change radio station frequency. Called rebanding. That is free. Our people tell us we can get 3 or 4 more years out of equipment. Eventually equipment will have reached its useful life and then we will have to decide if we are going to upgrade equipment or buy new equipment. People have connected them by saying now is a good time to do both.

DB: $50M, big project

JB: if there’s an option that doesn’t cost the county any money because the providers will do an upgrade that will last 2 or 3 or 4 more years. Let’s wait and see if the economy is better.

DB: are they gaps in current system?

BC: there is trust in communications since we used call boxes but there will be gaps no matter what you do

JB: that is true in Lower Merion. We have gaps. We do our own dispatch. However one of the questions that should be answered before county commissioners spend $50M is whether the system will adequately cover Lower Merion. Ten additional towers but no one knows where they will go.

DB: had Mathews and Hoeffel on about a month ago. If they go forward with this 50M vote you won’t support it?

BC: he said he wants a unanimous vote so unless he goes back on his word again he won’t have it. Overriding all of that is that there is only one provider putting a $50M price tag on it. I have a rival company that does this sort of thing for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and it was dramatically smaller than Motorola bid. DB: competitive bid?

BC: A competitive bid is required unless its’ an emergency. It’s not an emergency. What I said when Hoeffel & Matthews wanted to raise taxes last year and the year before and I said if it’s that important then go ahead and out-vote me and they wouldn’t do that.


DB: first run for county wide office, how is process?

JB: The nice surprise is that is such fun. Had a good time riding in parades with Bruce. People get into public service for different reasons. The campaign website is

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