Republican Commissioner Candidates Take Part in Forum in Wyalusing
The three Republican candidates for Bradford County Commissioner took part in a well-attended forum Monday evening at the Wyalusing Fire Hall.
Most of the event centered on the candidates answering prepared questions that were read to them by moderator Wes Skillings. During the last half-hour of the event, audience members were given the opportunity to submit written questions to the candidates, which again were read by Skillings and responded to by all three candidates in turn.
Prior to the start of the question and answer session, Skillings told the audience that the Republican Committee is holding similar events in different parts of Bradford County “so all the people of the county get to at least say they had an opportunity to hear how these people stand on the issues.”
Skillings also introduced Chairman of the Republican Committee Eric Mathews. Mathews told the audience that two Republican commissioner candidate forums had been held previously, one in Troy and one in Athens. Both had “great turnouts,” he said.
The Rocket-Courier’s coverage of the forum is a transcript of a recording made during the event. The answers to one question are omitted due to it being similar to a previously asked question. We also did not include the candidates closing statements.
Daryl Miller: Home court advantage isn’t sometimes all it’s cracked up to be. If you make a fool of yourself it takes a long time to live it down with all the people I grew up with around here. Seriously, I commend everybody for coming out tonight, for being interested enough to inform yourselves about the issues and the candidates and what they stand for and be a part of deciding who’s going to lead this county in the coming four years as commissioner. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Daryl Miller. I was born up in Centerville, PA, which is the other opposite corner of the county, but I’ve lived here pretty much my whole life and gone to school here in the Wyalusing School District. In fact, I was part of the first, first grade class to go to the elementary school up here on the hill when it was first built. Having had the opportunity to travel around the country and around the world as part of my occupation in business, I’ve seen all walks of life. I’ve seen people in all types of different circumstances, but Bradford County has always been a place that I want to call home. I’ve always enjoyed and loved this area because of the area that we have and the people that live here. I’ve been blessed with an opportunity to work for and then become a partner in a local manufacturing company for over 30 years. I’ve seen all sides of and tides of the business in various economic conditions. The hands-on experience has provided me with the tools to lead this county through the changes and challenges we are now facing in this county and the responsibility that must be assumed by those who will take a leadership role. I look forward to your questions tonight, and I thank each and every one of you for coming here tonight. I thank Eric Mathews and the Republican Committee for hosting this event.
I, too, like Daryl, have traveled all around the country for different reasons. One as a veteran’s wife and, two, doing disaster relief for the American Red Cross. If there was a major event, chances are I was there. So I’ve seen a lot, I’ve done a lot with municipalities and government in the midst of that disaster and some of the issues that they face and come against. Also some of the issues that come up, they learn the hard way about what should have been mitigated years-prior that made it a little tougher than it could have been. In my training with the Department of Homeland Security, I’ve done a lot of in-depth training on just that, the mitigation side and the planning side for the “what if’s.” Mitigation being just a way to plan and prepare to soften the blow that could come a lot of times, you can kind of do an analysis to figure out what will come. As we stand right now, it’s pretty critical with the gas industry and the growth in our county. Although many of us are blessed to have an economic boom, there are also some downsides that need to be dealt with and mitigated and planned. And with the successes of the many businesses that my husband and I own and operate together, I believe that I have a lot to offer to Bradford County.
McLinko began by complimenting Wes Skillings for the fine job he did covering the Bradford County Commissioners’ meeting when he was editor of the Rocket-Courier. I’m Doug McLinko and I’m running for my third term as county commissioner. I wore many different hats in Wysox Township before I ran. I was a two-term chairman of the board of supervisors in Wysox Township, I served on planning commissions, I served on municipal sewer authorities, and I served the Salvation Army. I did so many things that I really can’t name them all, but one of the things I’m most proud of is supporting jobs. As a township supervisor, I supported Masonite, and we’ve had different jobs and industry and growth throughout central Bradford County. I also have been Chamber president more times than I can count and am very proud of that. I’ve enjoyed working with the community. I, too, have roots here in eastern Bradford County. A young man named Nick Shaffer participates in Boy Scouts down here so I help out the Scouts. I go to little league games and enjoy watching them play very much. In my last two terms as commissioner, one of the things I believed in was getting the right department heads, give them the tools they need to work with and hold them accountable for what they do. I see Joan Sanderson is here tonight. She is one tough cookie. I work with Joan and she does a fine job keeping the checkbook. Anybody who knows Joan knows how tough she is. I keep saying I don’t want Mary Poppins guarding my checkbook. Joan is not that. She’s tough, but she also explains things when they need to be explained. Over the last two terms as commissioner, I have kept my word as commissioner. I’ve been straightforward and conservative. I’ve kept my principles, I don’t check them at the door. And I, too, have witnessed a lot of disasters. The disasters: the disaster of over-spending at the state and federal levels of government and how it’s going to affect our county. And how it already has affected our county when it comes to running county government. Everybody’s got to tighten their belt strings in and we have to be a little leaner. And that is what the voters have to decide as we go forward: who’s got the vision, who’s got the toughness, who will keep their word as things come down from the state and federal government regarding cuts and also what we see here in our county as far as expansion. I appreciate everybody coming out tonight.
What do you believe are the most important functions of a commissioner?
Doug McLinko: I think the most important function of a commissioner is managing a nearly $60 million budget and overseeing about 716 employees. It’s basically being a decision-maker, and in my opinion, the very most important thing in that capacity is serving people in county government. Today I believe that too many elected people got it wrong. They believe that when they get elected they serve from government to the people. I’m completely the opposite. I believe that every day of my life I go in and represent the people of Bradford County, and I serve them in county government. I work for them. It’s very important to do that. To make sure that we’re fiscally sound, and good stewards of every hard-earned tax dollar we get. And pretty much, that’s what I feel.
Daryl Miller: The most important functions are, number one, the budget, how it’s spent, what it’s used for. With a county of this size and a $58 million plus budget, the two biggest aspects of what a county commissioner controls are, number one, how that’s spent and, number two, where the money comes from—taxes that are derived to get that money. Most people may not know that in the 58-59 million dollar budget about $12-13 million actually comes from local property taxes, the rest comes from the state and federal subsidies that come as pass-through functions to the various human resource and different departments within county government. So yes, they oversee the budget, the taxation that goes along with deriving that money and the managing of seven hundred and some employees.
Sharon Lowery: I agree with both them and what they said and just expound a little bit on that. I believe foremost is bringing key players to the table, listening to department heads and talking with all the key players that have to do with whatever decisions are being made. Hearing all sides of it and making sure that everyone is effectively and efficiently doing what they came to do: Respecting people, bringing services to the people, to make sure that they’re done with quality and effectiveness as well. And also keeping the people of our county safe and making sure we are making decisions that do that.
What is your stance on the room tax?
Sharon Lowery: I’ve had several conversations about that. They’re looking at putting a hotel up in Athens, so we’ve talked a bit about what is going to happen and is that going to bring money in. I guess there has to be a tax. We all know that. I would kind of like to see that a little more of that nightly tax that they get, stays in the local municipalities. I know that some of that goes to tourism industry for the county, and I really would like to see some of that stay in the impacted areas.
Doug McLinko: I don’t like any taxes, I’ll be honest with you, and taxing businesses that come to our county doesn’t make good common sense. I myself started in business in Wysox in 1978, and I made my living off from tourism and knowing what tourism there is. And I’ll tell you this much, the best days of my life in business have been when there’s been jobs and growth and industry and family sustaining jobs. I think we’re at a point today, though, where we have to re-evaluate where this tax goes and what it’s going for. I mean, the amount has really grown, obviously, because the hotels remain full and we have more hotels. But for some reason I would like to see all that money—although I don’t believe in taxation when you don’t need it—I would like to see that money stay in Bradford County. For anybody who doesn’t understand it, we collect room taxes from all our bed and breakfasts and hotels. We send 100 percent down to the Endless Mountains Tourism Bureau, which is a non-profit agency. They send a small portion, about 25 percent, I believe, back and we divvy it out. I think that money would be best spent here. And in today’s world where we have a lot of these people coming into our area, I think we should look at our first responders. I think that where a lot of that money is being generated from and the amount of people that are coming here, I think our police, fire, our ambulance and volunteer first responders are gonna need help. I think we should re-evaluate where that money goes.
Daryl Miller: It’s a tax that exists right now, and again I’m not a big fan of taxes, but it’s not a new tax. It’s actually a tax that’s been in existence for quite some time. And yes, what happens to it is that it gets sent down to the visitors’ bureau and then you get just a small portion of it back to the county to use in various programs. What I’d like to see, because of the impact that’s taking place in our county, is that first responders, ambulance corps, police get some of that money to help them with equipment needs.
There’s a city in Georgia that has attained notoriety lately due to the fact that it has outsourced most of its services to private companies via competitive bidding. What are your thoughts on outsourcing many county functions and operations to the competitive free market?
Daryl Miller: I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a big fan of the government competing with private enterprise. I’ve stated publically that, take for example the day care facilities that we had, now we got rid of a couple of them. My opinion is why should the county be in the business of operating day cares when there are private entities out there willing to do that? It’s the government competing against private enterprise and I’ve never, never been a big fan of that.
Sharon Lowery: That’s an easy one. Can I just say ditto? I agree that government doesn’t need to be in business. I believe that, again, you’ve got to have key players come to the table, talking about what is the best thing that we can do to privatize these things and put in the hands of people who can really focus on it and who run similar businesses throughout the county.
Doug McLinko: Government intruding into the private sector under the auspices of non-profit is something I’ve been against for a decade. I’ll just remind everyone of what Ronald Reagan did when he was elected governor: he privatized the Department of Transportation in California. I think that we have to, as government officials, look everywhere we can to get the best and lowest price that we can for all our taxpayers. As much as we can put back into the private sector, we need to do it. I’ll give you an example: Everybody sees the roads that are being built today and rebuilt that have been torn up. Who does the best job? Does Pennsylvania do the best job or do private contractors do the best job? We were out to Tom Cole’s farm in Wells Township and he was telling me about how long it took PennDOT to get drainage ditches and culverts under the road—it took them a whole summer. It took a private contractor two weeks to do more work than they did. We have to look at that. Our state and federal governments are broke, folks. We’ve got to look at things differently. I’ve been an advocate and I took on county day care. I was one who did it. And I did it myself with some help. The thing is if you bring the wrong people to the table, they’re going to tell you to hold onto it. And I’ll always remember another of Ronald Reagan’s famous things he stood by. “When a bureaucrat is faced with the elimination of his department, that bureaucrat will soon find that fat to cut out of that department’s spending.”
How would you describe your management style?
Doug McLinko: I’m a macro manager. I believe in holding department heads accountable. I don’t believe in micro managing. I think if department heads aren’t doing the job, we get rid of them. It’s that simple in county government. I believe if you hire good ones, like we had at the county manor, we have Jim Shaduck, his mom and dad are here tonight, and I’m telling you that guy has done a whale of a job. It’s a well-run operation. It’s something to be proud of. Everything is on an upper note, including the checkbook balance. When you take a look back at my first term and I warned about bad department heads, most of them have been replaced. Warden Stewart at the jail has done a fabulous job with that jail. We have 100 percent DOC compliance, our sheriff, who is right back there, is someone we are proud of. It’s come a long way. We hold them accountable but we give them the tools to be successful and if they’re not successful, they need to go. It’s that simple.
Daryl Miller: I believe that you should lead by example and that the example that you set is going to dictate the type of activity the people who work with you are going to undertake. I’m also a person who believes that the county’s business should be done in a professional and dignified manner that people will be proud of what takes place in the county courthouse. I’m the type of person who is willing to ask people to help and suggest ways that savings can be found in various departments. I’ll give you a perfect example of someone that’s doing a great job and that’s Shirley Rockefeller, our Register and Recorder. There’s a person who, in her department last year, through attrition, eliminated one position in the department. Then she reclassified some other people in the department. And with the workload that she does, which is about four times what she had just two or three years ago, is actually doing four times the work with fewer people.
Sharon Lowery: I love managing. I’ve been around the country doing disaster managing, sometimes way too many and overloaded with it. I’ve managed hundreds of people over the years with all our businesses as well, and I enjoy people. I enjoy encouraging them. I enjoy pushing them to their limits so that they can excel beyond ways that they thought they never could. I don’t believe in drama. I tell people that we work together as a team and it’s very critical that we do that so there’s no gossiping, no drama. I’m definitely by far a micro manager. I give somebody a position and I give it to them because I believe that they can do it and I leave them to do it. I’ve had some employees that I’ve had to fire over the years, but I must say that those employees have come back and visited us often, so we’ve kept good relations over the years. I enjoy management. I love seeing people really excel. There’s time for work and there’s time for play and when you need to be serious, you need to be serious. There needs to be a lot of respect on both sides. In order for them to respect you, you need to be the example and the leader.
All of you have stated that you have been in business. Please tell us the businesses you have started in Bradford County.
Sharon Lowery: My husband and I are the third generation in a 64-year-old funeral home business that his grandfather started. We’ve been with that business for 12 years. I pioneered several businesses since then. I started a weight loss business 14 years ago and still have that. It’s running great and I also do consulting with that. I also pioneered and built up a building outside of the funeral home that has a flower shop in it and it also has a café with banqueting services, and we’ve added apartment rentals, as well. We recently added another business of sandblasting monuments, headstones. Rick’s father did that 30 plus years ago, but Rick and I took it and built it and brought in the whole warehousing aspect of doing everything right there on site. We’ve worked together as a team. My husband and I are both workers, hard workers; we do well together. We also have a couple smaller businesses. Angel Memorial is engraving of brass ornaments that we do for people to save as keepsakes, and I also have a sports logo that I run online.
Doug McLinko: Did you say you have a weight-loss business? After about 900 pancake dinners, give me an application. I’ve been in business since 1979 when my dad and I started a trucking business when I was just out of high school. I hauled coal from Snow Shoe to up into the Great Lakes area to power plants up there. I really loved doing that. We’d haul coal from the strip mines on Barclay Mountain and that’s how we got our business started, but the strip mines closed and we went into freight and hauled that. In 1982, I took a restaurant that was defunct and we started Sinbad’s in Wysox. We ran that until I leased it out when I ran for commissioner. We took the drive-in theatre and we ran that for 15 years until it ran its course. Unfortunately, that was something I really loved. We turned it into a family business where we didn’t play R-rated movies. That was a case of where we had to compete with tax dollars and we couldn’t do it. I have been in business in Wysox and in the chamber of commerce. I love business. As chamber president, I helped bring in more business to the community. We have wonderful people. I enjoyed being in business. And I really do miss it.
Daryl Miller: I can’t take credit for starting this one but I started at the manufacturing company that I referred to, I started in 1974 and in about 1999, the owner of the company passed away and I had a chance to buy in. My wife and I bought the assets of the company from the new owner, which was Wallace E. Griffin, Jr. I had worked my way up through the company in different management positions. I started out in the stock room but worked up through the company and became a partner in it. In 2004, my wife and I sold it. And then a couple years ago, my wife and I decided to start another small endeavor, which is Miller’s Garden and Produce, just down the road about a mile from here. It’s grown a lot bigger than we had intended it to grow. We enjoy it. We enjoy the people and we enjoy providing the service.
Tell us if you have made a decision that would hurt your business or a stand that you have taken that has hurt your business. I’ve seen people in business shy away from taking a stand or making a vote that could hurt their business.
Daryl Miller: I’ve never shied away from taking a position. Anybody that’s familiar with me knows that I have written literally hundreds of letters to the editor over quite a number of years. Having been in business, having been involved in business, I have taken many a stand on different issues of various types and I’m not afraid to stand up for those positions and back those positions. It’s just my personality.
Sharon Lowery: My stand is my stand and I don’t waver on that. I think I run a pretty good, moral, ethical business so I don’t see where my stand would hurt my business. My husband and I pretty much agree on moral foundations, and we raise our children the same way. We don’t bend on those values.
Doug McLinko: Over the years I can honestly tell you that I have taken stands that have hurt my business. I’ve supported candidates that have maybe not been so popular with people, who didn’t agree with me, but in your core soul you believe in what you’ve got to do and you do it. When I was a township supervisor in Wysox, I stood for industry and I saw some of the same faces today I see coming in the courthouse who protest industry and things like that, I saw back then. Its kinda funny but whether it’s Osram Sylvania, Dupont, or Masonite, I never shied away from it. When I was running for supervisor, I was involved in the controversy over Constellation Energy, the gas-fired power plant that sought to locate in this area and create $50,000 a year jobs. You know, I hope it comes back again because when you look and see what happened in Japan, I have no problem with nuclear energy, but a natural gas-fired power plant was a good vision back then and it will be a good vision again today. I am principled and I don’t check my principles at the door.
If you have never held a public office, can you reassure the voters that you will take that stand or make that vote when it occurs?
Doug McLinko: When you take stands that you truly believe in, it’s what you stand for. If you start flip-flopping and sticking your finger in the air and do decide who you’re going to upset, I’ve had family members upset at me, I woke up and saw myself on Channel 16 in black and white before in a smear campaign. But you know what? I stayed the course. My family stayed the course. I’m not afraid to do what’s right for Bradford County. I just don’t talk growth and jobs and family farms and agriculture and things like that, I do it. If anybody looks back at my terms as supervisor and commissioner, I think they’ll see that I don’t shy away. And that I truly believe in Bradford County. I was born here, I grew up here. And I also understand how important family sustaining jobs are.
Daryl Miller: I guess it harkens back to number one, the fact that the history of running a company and the decisions that you have to make and the fact that those decisions greatly affect people’s lives. Some of them are not always the most popular decisions in the world, but they, in fact, must be done if you want to ensure the longevity of the company. As far as my position on things, Wes, you should be no stranger to this, because I’ve sent many a letter to the editor to you. I stand pretty firm on my positions and it’s not something I’ve shied away from. I look people in the eye every day and am not afraid to voice my opinion on issues.
Sharon Lowery: I believe that with all of the leadership experience that I’ve had that dealt with a lot of issues face to face with people who may not agree or expect me to waver on different morals or rule, and I stayed the course on that and I’ve dealt with a lot out there. For instance with Katrina, we were dealing with 500 people just in one of the three shelters that I managed. Having them come face to face with me under very difficult situations and managing hundreds of people in those shelters as well, I didn’t waver. I take my stand in a very respectful way and I think that that is important. I don’t believe in extremes, and I think there is always a way to sit and debate and have a conversation staying respectful to the other person.
How do you envision Bradford County Five Years from now?
Sharon Lowery: That’s a very hard question because that’s going to depend upon the leadership. In the Penn State study that was recently done, they talked about the misconception of many of the boomtowns turning out much better in the end. They said that is indeed a misconception and that is not always the way it works. They said what set the successful ones apart was the fact that the leadership worked so well together as a team and the most important thing that the leadership team did was mitigate and plan. Mitigation is in my blood. It’s what I do. I believe in it whole heartedly because I’ve watched it for years, learning and taking classes and courses with the Department of Homeland Security. In the end that is what kept the boomtown’s successful because they didn’t overgrow their infrastructure and end up with a bunch of empty buildings. They really came together as a team and worked on it looking at the future. One of the key things that leadership has got to do is get in contact with those successful boomtowns and find out, “hey, what did you do that was so different than the ones that weren’t so successful?”
Doug McLinko: One of the things from my first trip to Texas that I went down to do was to get a grasp on what our county is going to look like through production. It’s going to be ever-changing. Leadership is not run by committees. Leadership is run by leaders and people stand up and have vision. This is actually an excellent question. The second trip I went down was to look at the economic impact on Wise County in Texas. I’ve always made it a priority to try to understand business because all businesses affect every business, for example agriculture. In my years in business since 1978, when agriculture was doing good, we did good. When agriculture was down, we were down. So the importance of the family farm and our rural way of life and how the economic impact of another area hit here, I wanted to understand it, so I took a second trip down on my own dime. When I came back I met with my township supervisors and I said fellas, we got to track long-term jobs. We have to make sure that nothing escapes us. As a commissioner I went back on the planning commission and I went and testified to the Senate Policy Committee in Harrisburg and I told them they’ve got to keep businesses here. These people aren’t looking for tax giveaway, but for gosh sakes we got to keep them here because people will travel across the state line. We have good, family-sustaining jobs in our county and there has to be a balance between the economic impacts of the Marcellus Shale or any industry and the environment There has to be that balance. But the main thing, in my vision, is to work hard for a well-run county government that has a good tax base and to have family-sustaining jobs so we can keep our kids here. People are coming back. My son came back because they can get jobs, family-sustaining jobs.
Daryl Miller: Three or four years ago who would have ever guessed what we’re seeing taking place in our county right now. There’s been a lot of development that’s taken place, a lot of business growth that’s taken place, a lot of things that have happened in our county. There are a lot of new people here. There’s a lot more traffic here. There’s also a lot more economic activity. Last year alone there were about 2,000 jobs created just in Bradford County alone. Hopefully what we’ll see in the years going forward, is that we will have leadership in place that will be able to manage the growth and to be able to bring in other businesses relative to the resource that we have here, not just the gas exploration and the ancillary businesses that go along with that, but also that we can bring in other businesses that use this natural gas as a resource, such as pharmaceuticals, such as plastics. Those are just examples, but if we could entice other family-sustaining companies to bring their facilities here, then we can use this as a springboard for future growth that will last in decades to come.
As our county enters into more and more of a business-driven environment, please share the extent of your business experiences and how this will better serve our county.
(Editor’s Note: As moderator Wes Skillings pointed out, this question was similar to a previous one, so we are not printing the responses in our coverage).
What is your stance concerning whether a county or municipality should have the power to use a severance tax or assess impact fees on gas companies?
Doug McLinko: I’m dead set against an impact fee, severance tax, any of it. I travel and I learn as much as I can and I will tell anybody that if you trust Harrisburg with your private property rights, that gas belongs to you. If you trust them to tax it and actually send the money back here, I ask you how your money from gaming on your property tax is doing. How big is your cut on that one. I don’t trust those people in Harrisburg to take that money. I don’t want to kill investment. I don’t understand why Pennsylvania is so quick to want to hurt an industry, any industry, not just the gas industry, any industry that comes here and wants to tax them. Furthermore, you’re going to hurt capital investment in our state and then just as a matter of common sense when you take the investment in our roads and things like that, why would we want to take a chance and have a company say, “well, look, I’m paying a severance tax, why should I put $100 million in your roads?” They’re collecting plenty of taxes. I talked to our Secretary of Revenue Dan Meuser and he’s getting a handle on it and looking at liquid fuels tax and income tax and the hotel tax and sales tax. Until we have a plan and a vision about how much we project this is insane talk to want to tax an industry that’s just new.
Daryl Miller: I’m not in favor of imposing any new taxes. I believe that we don’t have a taxing problem, we have a spending problem. What we need to do is to look at ways to reduce the spending that’s taking place. We didn’t get to a $14 trillion deficit at the federal level and a $4 billion deficit at the state level by taxing too little. We were spending too much. I believe that with the development that’s taken place in this county, just in this county alone, if you take what’s happening here to the businesses that are locating here, the buildings that are being built, the facilities that are being built, the hotels, the new stores that are coming in, all those are going to be revenue generating businesses through property taxes that are going to boost up our tax base. On top of that you’re going to have a personal income tax that is going to be sent to the state to the tune of tens of millions of dollars that is going to be paid by the citizens of this county through the taxes that are going to be derived through the royalties they will receive. So there are literally tens of millions of extra tax dollars that are going to the state. Just last year Penn State did a study on this. The tax increase in revenue to the state of Pennsylvania from the Marcellus Shale development was $795 million additional tax revenue.
Sharon Lowery: Wow, if we can’t trust our state leadership the way we’re talking, maybe we need to bring more control back to the municipality level. We are a commonwealth. I’m wondering if all those monies are coming here, because in my research with the fuels sales tax and speaking in-depth with that office, they made it very clear that that’s a total misconception. That comes from a 1930’s law where they did a traffic study of the traffic in Bradford County. How much traffic do you think we had on the roads back then? So now we get a half a penny on the fuels and we’re capped off and the rest of the money goes to those highly trafficked areas like Philadelphia. So we’re getting all this extra fuel sales here in Bradford County and the money is not staying here. So we need to come up with some kind of idea. Something has to be done to either try to get Harrisburg to look at that again and do another traffic study so that those taxes can come where they belong to the impacted areas.