by Taylor Lightman and Jordi Comas
This is our second to last interview highlighting the Democrats running for Union County Commissioner. There were originally four candidates vying for two spots during the May 21st primary, but Steve Connolley has hopped in the race as well. Jordi and Taylor conduct the interviews online, emailing a list of questions to all the candidates, and publishing the answers.
We first published our interview with Luis Medina, then Heidi Ruckno, Trey Casimir, and today we publish our interview with Stacy Richards. Stacey is an Environmental and Energy Consultant based out of Lewisburg. With leadership experiences at SED-COG, PA Department of Environmental Protection, and even the White House, she brings a vast amount of experience and expertise to this race. She currently serves on the board of Transitions of PA, PA DEP’s Solar Energy Future Working Group, and in the League of Women Voters Lewisburg Area.
BarnstormingPA (BPA): What inspired you to run for county commissioner?
Stacy Richards (SR): Union County is among the most desirable counties to live, work and raise families in Pennsylvania. In large measure, this is due to the collective cooperation and collaboration of the county’s citizens, businesses, community-based organizations and local and county governments.
We live in a rapidly changing world. Our technology, work, climate and interconnection with the world are all in flux. More than ever, a local vision based on understanding the opportunities and challenges faced by our changing world requires creative, adaptive collaboration among our communities to preserve and increase the value of our county’s unique resources.
My study of and experience with policies at the federal and state level suggests that too often policymakers misunderstand the challenges and opportunities for economic resiliency in rural communities like Union County. Innovative and collaborative ideas developed at the local level are the most important factors assuring Union County’s and the region’s future prosperity and quality of life.
Union County has benefitted from County Commissioners who understand and support the value of creative collaboration of groups in our region. As Commissioner, I intend to purposefully and productively continue this important tradition.
BPA: What are your core values that guide your decision-making process?
SR: Thirty years ago, while working at the federal level, I recognized the challenges and benefits of inclusive collaborative governance. I believe that inclusive collaboration among people with diverse experience and backgrounds generate positive outcomes that maximize the benefits to the most people. Trust is key, and always worth the time and effort to develop.
BPA: What differentiates you from the other Democratic candidates for commissioner?
SR: I bring a unique skill set based on my experience at the local, regional, state and national levels in policy development and effective program implementation. My experience spans energy, the environment, transportation, economic and community development, small business, and recreation. As County Commissioner, I will put all of my unique experiences to work for you.
BPA: What will be your top priorities if elected to serve?
SR: County Commissioners are responsible for several important activities that directly impact our county. These include, among others, public safety, fiscal responsibility, economic development, maintenance of county-owned roads and bridges, provision of social services and recreation. Insuring the Commissioners’ active role in overseeing these programs will be my priority. In addition to these core responsibilities, I will work to identify and share information about market and policy trends to assist our county to plan for inclusive, sustainable and resilient development.
BPA: Flooding certainly poses the biggest natural threat to the resiliency of Union County. What do you think can be done to address this threat?
SR: In the past 15 years, Union County has experienced several flood events that should have occurred only every 100 years! The cost of these floods to our communities is enormous. The solutions are multi-layered. However, best practices in storm water management and responsible land use decisions throughout a watershed have proven to increase local resiliency from damaging floods. Honoring our natural ecosystem with every land use decision is important to mitigate flooding of our streams and rivers into the future.
We can and do act locally to mitigate flood events and flood damage. However, real results will depend on political jurisdictions acting together over an entire watershed. Water and climate changes don’t recognize political boundaries. Lack of best storm water practices upstream impact neighborhoods and communities downstream. Everyone’s environmental footprint contributes to the whole.
BPA: Do you think the commissioners should be working to addressing bicycling and pedestrian issues? If so, what can be done at the county level?
SR: Tourism and recreation are important contributors to our economy. Walking and biking, if done safely, can improve health. It makes good sense for the county to encourage local initiatives that support safe bicycling, walking, running and other forms of recreation. Union County’s award-winning land use plan accommodates these activities. Commissioners can and should actively encourage thoughtful inclusion of safe recreation by our local governments, which have the primary role in its delivery.
BPA: In 2018, citizens petitioned the current commissioners to endorse the Fair Districts bill. Two of the three refused stating that they had no validity to comment on issues “beyond the county.” Do you agree that the proper role for county commissioners is to be silent on issues of state and national importance? If there is a role, what is it?
SR: I view the Fair Districting issue as a state issue that has national and local impacts. To me, Fair Districting supports our democratic principle of representative government, and it is a nonpartisan issue. Today’s data technology allows the drawing of artificial Congressional districts down to street level political affiliations. No matter the political party in power, gerrymandering — the opposite of Fair Districts — sets up “safe seats” for political parties. In my view, safe Congressional seats have contributed to the divisiveness of our current politics. “Safe seats” diminish the incentive for U.S. House members to forge compromises required to design and pass legislation that benefits all constituents. It seems increasingly that Congressional legislative impasses are relegating House members to primarily providing constituent services to individuals. While a valuable service, providing individual constituent services is not the full job for which our House members are being paid. In other words, voters aren’t getting their money’s worth from the salaries they are paying.
As I understand the request to the Commissioners to sign onto Fair Districting, the purpose was to lend the Commissioners’ support to grass roots initiatives across PA that encourage the Commonwealth’s General Assembly members to embrace Fair Districting principles in the re-alignment of our Congressional districts. In my view, it was worth a discussion, not just between the Commissioners but also among County residents, to add to current knowledge of the pros and cons of our Commonwealth’s defining of Congressional districts.
BPA: How is your campaign going so far? What are you doing to get out your message?
SR: It is a pleasure to meet new people in our communities and to hear their diverse concerns and interests. I look forward to continuing to meet people at their homes and attending as many meetings of civic, social and professional organizations as possible in the months ahead.
BPA: What do you think about raising and spending money for a county commissioner race?
SR: There are costs for non-incumbents to meet people and to share ideas, experiences and principles. Therefore, it is reasonable for voluntary donations from individuals supporting a candidate to contribute to some of those costs.
BPA: Two candidates will be selected by Democratic voters from the primary to run in the general. Assuming you are one of the two, what will be your approach in the general? Democrats would like to see two commissioners. How do you plan to win?
SR: I intend to continue to meet and learn from as many people as possible through the November election and beyond. This is a job interview for a position for which I am responsible to the interests and needs of each and every person in Union County. Historically, the voters have elected only one Democrat to serve as Union County Commissioner. I hope the most qualified candidates for the job are elected, irrespective of their party affiliation.
BPA: Independents and third-party voters are unable to participate in the primaries. Will you reach out to them in the general? How?
SR: My campaign plan and platform is to be as inclusive as possible. Organizations and neighborhoods in our county are comprised of voters of all political affiliations. I am campaigning door to door and meeting with as many organizations as possible to learn from as many residents of our county as possible. I plan to continue my active outreach as Commissioner.
BPA: Turn-out is always lower in municipal/county elections. It is also lower among younger and poorer voters. How will these factors affect your campaign?
SR: I do not anticipate that these factors will affect my campaign. My message to each and every resident I meet is to vote!