Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Ten NorCo Council Candidates Exchange Views at NCC
Top Row (Democrats): Christen Borso, Ron Heckman, Deb Hunter, Tom O'Donnell, Gerald E. Seyfried
Bottom Row (Republicans): Mat Benol, Peg Ferraro, Glenn Geissinger, Hayden Phillips, Seth Vaughn
Though Game 5 of the World Series was about to start, over 100 people, many young faces among them, crowded into a Northampton Community College classroom last night. They were there for the first and only encounter among ten candidates seeking five open seats on Northampton County Council. The audience was a diverse crowd that extended from a bottom-feeding blogger to the entire Express Times editorial board. It included numerous students, some of whom must be preparing to cast their first vote, as well as super voters from both major parties. It even included Noah Geissinger, age 9, who told me his Dad is going to win.
Like the audience, the contestants were an interesting mix of idealistic newcomers and seasoned veterans. Peg Ferraro was the sole incumbent, and the only other candidates with County experience were Jerry Seyfried (Council, Executive) and Ron Heckman (Council). The rest of the cast included Christen Borso, Deb Hunter, Tom O'Donnell, Mat Benol, Glenn Geissinger, Hayden Phillips and Seth Vaughn.
This debate was made possible through the efforts of Northampton Community College's Helene Whitaker, its Political Science department and the Northampton County League of Women Voters. But for these people, voters would never have had an opportunity to see the candidates together.
In a congenial atmosphere, candidates were only able to field a few questions. Though they largely agreed with other, some differences emerged as the night went on.
Gracedale. - All ten candidates point out that the voters have already spoken. Most support the work being done at the County-owned nursing home by Premier Healthcare Administrator Dee Freeman. "The County's just not good at running things," explained Ferraro.
Christen Borso and Tom O'Donnell both want even the administration done in house. O'Donnell compared a privatized administrator to the privatization of liquor stores. "It's all about the big bucks," he complained. "Get rid of Premier. They haven't done nothing."
Hayden Phillips argued there should be more privatization, stating that housekeeping, food service and laundry should be outsourced.
The Depleting Reserve (Rainy Day) Fund. - Candidates were asked how they would increase it. Phillips repeated his observations about privatizing some Gracedale functions, and added he would also look at the millions spent for open space. Heckman stressed the importance of planning. Hunter added Continuous Improvement, a method of improving efficiencies through feedback from employees. Seyfried pointed out there are $60 million owed to the County in uncollected fines and costs. "There's no reason for that," he observed, adding that several judges are receptive to increasing efforts at collection. "The prior administration created this problem," claimed O'Donnell.
Crumbling Infrastructure. - All candidates agree that better planning is needed. Seyfried pointed out that when he was executive, "We planned. It was called a five-year plan." Though agreeing that better planning is needed, Peg Ferraro credited Executive John Stoffa for solving a decades-old leaking window problem at Gracedale. "We call him the Window Wizard," she said, adding that Stoffa repaired and repainted the old courthouse, which won a national historic award.
Recidivism - With the exception of Mat Benol, all candidates agreed on the importance of reducing recidivism through counseling and education. Benol argued that we are "coddling" prisoners, and advocated making prison an unpleasant experience. "I don't believe treatment is 'coddling' prisoners," retorted Hunter.
Council's Positives and Negatives. - "I want to see them do their job," noted Seyfried, claiming that Council is a check on the power of the Executive. Heckman echoed Seyfried, noting that Executives tend to hire consultants who tell them what they want to hear. Vaughn criticized the current Council for not listening to the recommendations made by Premier and for a failure in long term planning.
O'Donnell said the best thing about Council "is it's going out.They really laid the groundwork for trouble in the next administration, and I think they wanted to," he said. Geissinger reminded O'Donnell that four members of the current Council will still be there in January.
Communication. - Seyfried would bring back municipal conferences to learn from other communities. Hunter stated that the Senior Expo and Citizens Academy are a good start at communication, but the County website needs work Heckman joked it was made with an Atari computer. Borso said people could talk to her at the grocery store.
Geissinger questioned the Senior fair idea, noting that is already conducted by State reps.
In their closing speeches, Phillips suggested that the experienced candidates have "the experience of running the status quo" while he stands for limited government, individual rights and fiscal responsibility."God bless you, and God bless the U.S.A."
Mat Benol said his strong suit is his ability to get along with everyone. Peg Ferraro stressed her common sense. Geissinger spoke of his considerable business acumen. Seyfried read off a litany of accomplishments, from preserving the first farm in Northampton County to laying the groundwork for 911. Borso pointed to her Breaking Glass Ceilings award, adding she is a co-founder of women empowering women. O'Donnell pointed to his experience doing audits. "I don't think anybody here is a number cruncher like I am." Hunter held up a handbook from Northampton High School,where she teaches, noting the numerous county services offered. "If it wasn't for some of these services, my kids wouldn't be in school," she said. That concern for human services is what motivates her.
Ron Heckman thanked the audience for being there on a World Series night. He added he is the product of a mixed marriage. His father was a Republican and his mother a Democrat. He pointed out that he is experienced, and part of that experience includes making mistakes. He said he hopes he has the wisdom to have learned from his mistakes and help others from repeating them.
Heckman, Seyfried and Ferraro were head and shoulders the best in this crowd. Deb Hunter was not far behind. O'Donnell was terrible, coming off as a cranky old man, kinda' like me. The other candidates were all very close to each other. Phillips' views are way too extreme for me, but he presented well. Geissinger really is an accomplished businessman. Benol is a consensus builder. Borso spent too much time looking down at her talking points, and I question how many of her ideas are her own.
Seated (L to R): Deb Hunter, Thomas O'Donnell, Gerald E.Seyfried
Standing (L to R): Christen Borso, Ron Heckman, Mat Benol, Peg Ferraro, Glenn Geissinger, Seth Vaughn, Hayden Phillips