Oct. 29—Lackawanna County Commissioner Chris Chermak explains the lack of rancor in the county commissioners campaign simply.
"I'm friends with these people. We're all friends," Chermak said in an interview Wednesday.
Political consultants may advise against playing friendly while trying to end 16 years of one party's control of the county board of commissioners, but that's the way the campaign has unfolded so far.
The Republican commissioner ticket — Chermak and his running mate, Mayfield council President Diana Campbell — has relied on friendly contrast rather than direct criticism as they campaign to end the long Democratic run at the top of county government.
"Experience matters" serves as their campaign theme with a subtle dig, "It's Not A Game," in some advertising like the huge banner hanging from a downtown Scranton building.
Chermak is 60 and Campbell is 48. Former Scranton City Council President Bill Gaughan is 36, and his running mate, political newcomer Matt McGloin, is 33. "It's Not A Game" refers to McGloin, a former quarterback for West Scranton High School, Penn State University and, professionally, the former Oakland Raiders.
"I will put my life experience, and I will put my leadership capabilities up against anybody in the sea," McGloin said in response. "I've led in all different types of atmospheres, all different types of environments. I've been to the very highest level of my profession. In my previous career, I've seen how some of the best organizations in the world are run on a day-to-day basis, the structure, the discipline, and what's expected from those that work there. ... I come from ... a performance-based business."
That, he says, he will translate to the commissioners' office, joining with Gaughan and his government experience.
"We have a team that we haven't really seen in a very long time," McGloin said.
In their campaign, McGloin and Gaughan avoid alluding to the Republicans and pitch the theme, "Limitless Potential, Endless Possibilities."
Gaughan, who worked for 2 1/2 years in Scranton's economic development department and teaches American government, served on city council for eight years.
"So I'm going to bring those values, that 10 years of experience in public service and government to work as hard as I can for the residents of Lackawanna County," he said.
Besides his professional background running a car dealership and repair shop, Chermak noted his four years helping to manage a $150 million county budget and 1,100 employees.
"This isn't a game, this is a serious, serious proposition and it's going to take somebody with government experience, which I have obviously having been here for four years," he said. "And (couple that) with Diana's eight years of being at the council at the borough level and dealing with the same issues."
Campbell said she has "experience at the nuts and bolts of local government." With only one office employee in Mayfield, borough council members pitch in with everything.
"I have, with the pencil and the spreadsheet and doing the actual budgeting, preparations, grant-writing, all that kind of stuff," she said.
The Sunday Times asked the candidates their positions on key issues and covered their answers to questions posed at a debate Thursday hosted by the Center for Ethics and Excellence in Public Service at the University of Scranton. Here are their responses:
Gaughan: Wants to ensure reassessment is "fairly and efficiently" implemented. Favors aggressively educating taxpayers about the process.
McGloin: Wants to ensure fair implementation of reassessment, which means transparency and office staff who can leave taxpayers feeling their tax assessments are fair. Wants to ensure financial help for senior citizens who might have to pay more taxes.
Campbell: Does not dispute the need for a reassessment, but wants the county to enact a plan to help senior citizens and people on fixed incomes who potentially face higher taxes and a plan to update assessments in future years.
Chermak: Voted against reassessment, but believes it is necessary because values are so out of date. He voted no because the question came up during the uncertainty of the pandemic and the county lacks an enacted plan to help senior citizens and others on fixed incomes who potentially face higher taxes and a plan for reassessing in future years. Wants to ensure it's done fairly and correctly.
Office of Youth and Family Services
Gaughan: Favors hiring outside human services experts to review the troubled agency because the arrests of caseworkers have put the agency's leadership in question. Favors rebuilding the relationship between the office, the district attorney's office and police.
McGloin: Argues the agency's staffing shortages must be remedied immediately. Agrees with Gaughan on bringing in outside experts for a review.
Campbell: Wants to ensure "good people are in charge" and doing their jobs, welcomes state inspections and doing "whatever you can to retain and to gain employees."
Chermak: Ties the agency's problems to a persistent shortage of caseworkers and cites his efforts to fix that by raising salaries and hiring temporary workers. Favors continuing to work at ending staff shortages. Still has confidence in the office's leadership.
Gaughan: Isn't sure specifically about the county's plan to borrow $43 million to spend on fixing roads, bridges, retaining walls and other infrastructure. Generally favors borrowing for infrastructure because repairs now avoid worse problems later.
McGloin: Generally favors addressing infrastructure repairs now to avoid worse problems later. Thinks infrastructure spending should include expanding access to broadband internet.
Campbell: Isn't against borrowing, but won't back current plans because the county hasn't specifically announced what projects the money will go to. Wants to prioritize projects that need fixing and have clear cost estimates. Favors waiting until new commissioners take office in January.
Chermak: Opposes borrowing for now because he hasn't seen a list of projects the money will go to. Wants to concentrate on addressing critical needs. Favors waiting until new commissioners take office in January.
Gaughan: Wants to foster entrepreneurship, invest heavily in technology startup companies, examine how other counties promote economic development and promote the growth of local educational and health care institutions. Promises to do everything he can to avoid tax hikes, but says candidates who promise never to raise taxes are "lying to the public, because it's not realistic."
McGloin: Wants to foster better vocational and technology programs for students; ensure county roads, bridges and parks are upgraded regularly; maintain a strong relationship with the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce; encourage workforce development; grow arts and culture programs; and improve parks. Set a goal of reversing the 11.3% 2020 property tax hike, but said he doesn't know yet how to make that happen. Says ruling out ever raising taxes would be lying, but favors finding alternative revenue sources.
Campbell: Favors continuing to promote the county's "great partnership" with the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce. Wants better relationships with local cities, boroughs and townships to promote development. Doesn't want to raise taxes, and says that's a last resort "after we've carefully examined all our spending."
Chermak: Takes credit for helping to develop the county's strong relationship with the chamber of commerce. Favors helping local colleges attract students because they wind up living here and buying homes. Points out he fought to end the COVID-19 shutdown. Says he voted for the 2020 tax hike mainly to fund pensions. Earlier this year, he ruled out voting for a tax hike. Now says he won't vote for one in 2024, but also "nobody could say they could never raise taxes."
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