Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Commissioner Castor Lays Out His Plan

Commissioner says he wants to change what he calls current officials' lack of achievements
By: MARGARET GIBBONS, Times Herald Staff

COURTHOUSE - Montgomery County Commissioner Bruce L. Castor Jr. may have been relegated to "minority" status on the three-member board of county commissioners but he has major plans for the county's future.

Unhappy with what he believes is the lack of accomplishments by the current administration during their first six months in office, Castor on Tuesday detailed his nine priorities for the remaining 3 1/2 years of his term.

He shared these details at a press conference held on the steps of the county courthouse where he was flanked by numerous current and former Republican elected officials including two prior commissioner chairmen, Thomas J. Ellis and Michael D. Marino, and county GOP Chairman Robert J. Kerns.

Missing were his two fellow commissioners, Democrat Joseph M. Hoeffel III and Commissioner Chairman James R. Matthews, a Republican and Castor's running mate in last year's election.

While Castor was the top votegetter in that election, an unprecedented power-sharing agreement between Matthews and Hoeffel has made Castor the odd man out in the current administration. (Ed. note: How did I know she'd sneak that line into the article-wink-wink)

"I am disappointed to say that I don't believe that we can point to any accomplishments whatsoever of any significant nature during those first six months," said Castor. "I am hoping we can change that." (Click on link to read the rest of the article and to see King James' and Prince Kartoffelkopf's response to Bruce's plan)

The headlines that have dogged the current administration include allegations of cronyism, patronage and politics, he said.

"In my judgment, the people have lost confidence in their county commissioners," said Castor. "I think we need to restore the confidence of the people in Montgomery County in their elected executives."

"Everyone of these proposals I am outlining today either are for the betterment of individuals living in Montgomery County or provide a more open, transparent, less partisan government," he said. "I think it is now time we get back to the business of governing."

The nine priorities set by Castor and some of his proposals to accomplish those priorities include:

*_ POLITICAL REFORM: Reconvening the campaign finance reform task force and holding hearings on recommendations it released last year. Reinstituting an ethics policy that was rescinded in 2000 and extending a policy prohibiting senior staff members from partisan politics.

*_ INCREASED TRANSPARENCY IN GOVERNMENT: Expanding the broadcast of commissioner meetings beyond the one-hour edited version by running one hour one week and another hour the second week and making the full unedited video available on the county's Web site.

*_ GOVERNMENT REFORM: Put a referendum on next year's May ballot to determine whether citizens are interested in creating a home rule study commission that would evaluate whether the county would be better served by an alternative to the three-member board of commissioners.

*_ KEEPING TAXES LOW: Appoint a fiscal fitness team that includes government, business and financial advisors to identify inefficiencies in county policies, programs and the budget.

*_ PUBLIC SAFETY: Restore county funding for the CLEAN Team, an elite force of law enforcement officers focussing on quality of life crimes in Norristown. Install a panic button system in all county offices in Norristown and other off-site offices that deal with the public.

*_ EDUCATION: Establish a storefront office presence in Norristown for the Montgomery County Community College where citizens can learn about the community college and even attend some classes. Create a tuition credit purchase program for the community college. Establish a Center for Civic Engagement at the college that would train and link volunteers with non-profit organizations. Create an intern program with the college providing credit for those interns working in county government to develop a "farm team" for county government.

*_ IMPROVED GOVERNMENT SERVICES: Institute a 311 program, comparable to the 911 program, to give citizens just one number to call for government services. Open county offices that serve the general public at least one evening a week and two Saturdays a month.

*_ COMMITMENT TO COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS: Create a nine-member board that would use an objective process to review all requests for county funds from nonprofit organizations and then would pass their recommendations onto the commissioners. This would eliminate a process now in place where whichever organization captures the ears of the commissioners gets some funding, Castor said.

*_ TRAFFIC ABATEMENT: Ask voters in a referendum if they want to engage in a $150-million borrowing to help alleviate traffic congestion. In the meantime, create a Web site where citizens can call in or e-mail the county to report poorly timed traffic signals, poor sight lines and other traffic problems that can be addressed without spending much money.

Commissioners Matthews and Hoeffel respond to Castor's plan
By: MARGARET GIBBONS, Times Herald Staff

COURTHOUSE - Montgomery County Commissioners Joseph M. Hoeffel III and James R. Matthews Tuesday said they welcomed the prospect of fellow Commissioner Bruce L. Castor Jr. "finally" becoming engaged in county government.

However, the pair took exception to Castor's claim of a lack of significant accomplishments during the three's first six months in office.

"That just shows how uninvolved Bruce has been," said Hoeffel, noting that Castor does not have much to say to his fellow two commissioners and is the only commissioner with blinds on the interior windows of his office.

Matthews, who is the chairman of the commissioners, said the administration set three priorities at the outset of the administration.

Those three priorities include the development of a county commerce and economic development policy, the creation of a transportation funding program and the continued "greening" of the county through programs such as its open-space grant program and greenhouse gas reduction program.

"As a businessman, I have learned that you have to remain focussed on a handful of priorities or nothing is accomplished," said Matthews.

Hoeffel said the administration has made "great strides" in putting together an economic development policy.

The county has created a commerce and economic development cabinet of county officials, created a citizens' task force and has hired a consultant.

Matthews said that the county currently has put its planning commission to work to develop a transportation funding program that will address traffic congestion issues in the county.

"These are big things that are under way and they take time," said Hoeffel.

Matthews said that many of the proposals raised by Castor at his press conference Tuesday have been discussed by the commissioners and will continue to be discussed.

For example, Matthews said, he has spent the last month reviewing recommendations of a former home rule commission that studied county government in 1976.

"I happen to believe that you don't mess with something that works," said Matthews, noting that taxes have decreased since 2003 while the size of county government has decreased since 1999.

Matthews also said he was a strong proponent of the 311 system, but that it might be "a clumsy vehicle" to achieve what the county wants achieved since he has learned that more than 50 percent of the callers likely wanted services provided by the county's more than 100 school districts and municipalities.

"Mr. Castor's priorities are just an affirmation of what we are doing," said Matthews. Still, "a lot of the issues raised by Bruce have merit and should and will be discussed," said Hoeffel.
He noted the commissioners now are in the process to streamline their bi-weekly meetings to allow for more discussion of policy issues.

As for allegations of cronyism and patronage leveled at Hoeffel and Matthews by Castor and county Republican Chairman Robert J. Kerns during Castor's press conference, Hoeffel claimed "that coming from those two guys, those complaints are just the height of hypocrisy."
"After both of them engaged in those activities for a number of years, now they are coming off so pure," said Hoeffel.

"I knew both of these two before they were virgins." (Ed. note: That shows a lot of class, Prince Joe.)

1 comment:

Elizabeth =) said...

I think it's amazing what Chairman Kerns and Commissioner Castor are doing in the fight to bring Montgomery County back to the Republican side. They are prime examples of great leaders who give their word and do everything in their power to stick by these principles they have set forth. Unfortunately, that much cannot be said of Commissioner Castor's two colleagues.

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