Local

Meet the candidates running for Centre County seats in the primary election

Board of Commissioners

Candidates (vote for not more than two):

Mark Higgins

Party: Dem

Campaign Website: www.pipehiggins.com

Date of Birth: July 2, 1963

Education: Graduated in three years from Michigan State University with majors in general business prelaw, marketing, and human resources and a minor in computer science, 1984. Leadership Centre County graduate 2014.

Qualifications: Commissioner since 2016. Commissioner Higgins currently serves on 32 authorities, boards and commissions at the local, regional, state and national level. Over 30 years as a business turnaround expert and, over that time, has saved and created hundreds of jobs at seven different businesses.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/higginsforcommissioner/

Q: If elected, what will be your three top priorities, and how will you address them?

A: My priorities are: 1. Continue to improve the quality of life in Centre County – utilizing innovative problem solving skills I developed as a business turnaround expert saved taxpayers millions, resulting in no county property tax increases. I will use further savings to reduce incarceration, improve county services and increase funding for children, seniors, public libraries and other areas. 2. Diversify our economy – increase innovative county support, funding and public private partnerships that opened three business incubators, supported entrepreneurs, and recruited, retained and created over 330 new non-university jobs. 3. Support our rural communities and agriculture – we preserved record farmland acreage in 2018 and I would improve on this record. Rural broadband is crucial to the sustainability of agriculture and rural communities. I would expand our innovative public private partnership to bring broadband service to more underserved areas. I will continue working to help farmers in crisis.

Michael Pipe

Party: Dem

Campaign Website: https://www.pipehiggins.com/

Date of Birth: Sept. 9, 1985

Education: 2009, Penn State, B.A. political science; 2014, Leadership Centre County; 2015, National Association of Counties’ County Leadership Institute

Qualifications: Centre County commissioner, seven years; Pennsylvania Workforce Development Board, four years; C-NET board of directors, seven years; Centre County Agricultural Land Preservation Board liaison, four years; Centre County Criminal Justice Advisory Board, seven years; Centre County Fire Chiefs Association liaison, seven years; Centre County Mental Health/Intellectual Disabilities/Early Intervention Advisory Board, seven years; Centre County Metropolitan Planning Organization Coordinating Committee, seven years; Centre County Prison Board of Inspectors, seven years; Centre County Re-Entry Coalition, five years; Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County board of directors, three years; County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania – Elections Reform Committee co-chair, three years

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/votemikepipe/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MichaelPipe

Q: If elected, what will be your three top priorities, and how will you address them?

A: I’m running for re-election to create a better future for the residents of Centre County. My top priorities are continuing to support our first responders, to reform our criminal justice system and to invest in workforce development. The Board of Commissioners has invested in our first responders, making sure they have the tools to keep themselves, and us, safe. We dedicated $1.2 million into the expansion of the Public Safety Training Center and are committed to its future growth. I’ve collaborated with community members on our Re-Entry Coalition, promoting the successful return of incarcerated citizens to our community, and will continue to support effective programs that divert eligible individuals from incarceration, such as the Drug Treatment Court. I’m honored to serve on both the Pennsylvania Workforce Development Board and the regional workforce development organization, and will focus on supporting strategies to create more opportunities for people to find family-sustaining employment.

Tanner Day

Party: Rep

Date of Birth: Oct. 29, 1997

Education: Bellefonte Area High School Class of 2016; Attending Penn State for a bachelor’s degree in political science

Qualifications: I’m currently serving in public office and am familiar with municipal government. I am an Eagle Scout, and was my class president. I know how to work with others to achieve the best outcome for all individuals.

Facebook: Tanner Day

Q: If elected, what will be your three top priorities, and how will you address them?

A: If elected, my top three priorities are ensuring that I do my best to keep taxes low, county spending in check, and to keep the concerns and best interests of all the residents of Centre County ahead of anything else. I do not consider myself a politician. I am a public servant. I am not in this race for any other reason other than to help make this county a better place for not only my loved ones, but for every single citizen that lives in this wonderful county. When it comes down to it, the only thing that makes a good candidate is their morals and character. If you don’t have a good person, then you don’t have a good candidate. That is why I’m striving to be a good person, a good community member and a good neighbor to every single resident of Centre County. And at the end of the day, I like to quote Abraham Lincoln as he said it the best: “If I didn’t think I was the best person for the job, I wouldn’t be running.”

Steven Dershem

Party: Rep

Campaign Website: www.dershem.com

Date of Birth: June 1961

Education: Bellefonte Area High School, B.A. labor studies, Penn State

Qualifications: Extensive business, community and government leadership experience.

Facebook: @Dershemcommissioner

Twitter: @DershemSteve

Q: If elected, what will be your three top priorities, and how will you address them?

A: Many of the challenges facing the next Board of Commissioners will be financially related. Maintaining the mandated and necessary services that Centre County performs, while keeping tax rates stable, will occupy most of the efforts of the next board. Challenges with flat or decreasing federal and state human service funding, while addressing ever increased costs of operation will certainly remain a focused priority for me into the future. Addressing the impact of the heroin and opioid crisis will also be an important priority. Continued collaboration between law enforcement, the medical treatment, and recovery and education communities must be promoted and strengthened, with the recognition that other substance abuse issues are also on the rise. Partnering with community humane organizations and volunteers, I believe that our county correctional facility could be a hub for abandoned animal care and human rehabilitation. I will make researching and implementing a successful program a priority.

Chris Exarchos

Party: Rep

Campaign Website: www.votechris.net

Date of Birth: Sept. 5, 1944

Education: Ph.D. Penn State

Qualifications: Two terms College Township Council; two terms Centre County commissioner

Facebook: Chris Exarchos, candidate for Centre County Commissioner

Twitter: cexarchos1

Q: If elected, what will be your three top priorities, and how will you address them?

A: 1. Economic development: County government should partner with the local economic development organizations such as the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County, the Moshannon Valley Economic Development Partnership and Penn State. These organizations have the experience and relationships to create new jobs. We should not be giving taxpayer money to private business. 2. Rural broadband: The cost to extend the infrastructure over great distances to serve small populations is prohibitive for private providers. A comparable electricity problem was solved by the Rural Electrification Act. We need a similar program for broadband. We need to work with our state and federal partners to find ways to incentivize the private sector, or form cooperatives. 3. Fiscal management: I’m very concerned about the proliferation of new fees (taxes). The $5 vehicle registration fee should be repealed or put to better use. I have the experience to make the tough decisions.

Pat Romano Jr.

Party: Rep

Campaign Website: www.electpatromano.com

Date of Birth: Oct. 7, 1968

Education: Penn State alumnus

Qualifications: Rush Township supervisor; Centre County MPO, Technical Committee; first vice president, Centre County Association of Township Officials; Nittany Lion Fan Council, three-year term

Facebook: @electpatromano

Q: If elected, what will be your three top priorities, and how will you address them?

A: If elected I would like to avoid tax increases, stimulate economic growth and infrastructure including rural broadband, explore initiatives to help foster greater pride and production from our many rural and urban communities. Rush Township, where I am supervisor, is one of only two municipalities in the county that has no local millage tax. By keeping our eyes on the horizon to stay ahead of issues we can then plan ahead and apply sound judgment which cuts costs. Studying best practices and applying them is critical as well. Growth is important to creating jobs and increasing infrastructure to keep the rural areas connected to the larger markets so we can fill positions from within the county. None of this works if we don’t have the workforce to supply any incoming industry, so we need greater workforce training. We need long-term initiatives to keep younger people active and away from issues such as drugs, unplanned pregnancy and incarceration as these are the future of our labor force and I am “Focused On Our Future.” Visit my Facebook page “@ElectPatRomano” or website “electpatromano.com” to learn more about me as a person and a candidate.

Vicki Wedler

Party: Rep

Campaign Website: vickiwedler.com

Date of Birth: Sept. 4, 1943

Education: Graduate, Bald Eagle Area High School (honor roll and class officer); attended Penn State; completed American Management Association and Department of Community Affairs certification courses; licensed PA Realtor

Qualifications: Served 12 years as county commissioner (eight as board chairman); 10 years as county administrator; elected by peers as president of 11-county economic development board; served on statewide association board of directors; previously employed, Corning/Asahi, West Penn Power, ag ed (Penn State) and PSEA; served as president of various community service organizations

Q: If elected, what will be your three top priorities, and how will you address them?

A: 1. Controlled spending and lower taxes - I have participated in 22 county budgets and monitoring of same. I know how county government works and how to make it work most efficiently and cost effectively for the citizens of the county. Streamline, eliminate duplication of services, act as a catalyst to bring groups together that are serving the same purpose. Government can’t give you what it doesn’t take from you first. 2. Provide more affordable housing - previously set up a Centre County first-time homebuyers program made up of a revolving loan fund loaning down payment and closing cost money which is repaid when the home is sold. This program needs to be updated and coordinated with other affordable housing programs to provide one-stop shopping and eliminate costly overhead, duplication and inconsistent rules and regulations. Provide public/private partnerships working with lenders as done previously. 3. Maintain a healthy balance between county growth and environmental preservation. Previously set up the Spring Creek Watershed Commission with member elected officials from each municipality affected working together with state and federal leaders. This model worked very well and could be duplicated for many issues facing the county.

Controller

Candidates (vote for one):

Jason Moser

Party: Dem

Campaign Website: https://friendsofjasonmoser.com

Date of Birth: Nov. 21, 1980

Education: Bachelor’s degree and graduate program in government accounting from Penn State

Qualifications: 10-plus years with multimillion-dollar budgetary responsibilities; oversee dozens of employees with focus on accountability; past president of Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association’s Keystone Chapter, statewide membership committee chair, and Habitat for Humanity of Greater Centre County board member with strong knowledge of nonprofit and government accounting; 2013 Leadership Centre County graduate with strong ties to the community

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FriendsofJasonMoser/

Twitter: @friendsofjasonm

Q: If elected, what will be your three top priorities, and how will you address them?

A: My top priorities as Centre County controller are modernization, accountability and transparency. I will work to modernize the infrastructure of the county’s financial system. There have been significant improvements in budget and financial tracking software over the past decade that will help streamline collection and retention of county financial records. I will strengthen accountability by implementing a fraud and abuse tip line that will allow county employees to anonymously report any suspected wrongdoing and ensure that county resources are used legally and responsibly. I will work to increase transparency by making county budgets, audits and financial reports more accessible to constituents by pursuing increased online visibility and presentation.

Henry Fifield

Party: Rep

Date of Birth: April 21, 1961

Education: Rutgers Business School, M.S. in financial accounting; Pace University, B.B.A. in accounting

Qualifications: Currently serving as the deputy controller. Prior to joining the controller’s office, spent 20-plus years in the private sector with two companies, AOL Time Warner and Medimedia USA. Held multiple senior-level finance and operations positions. Member of Government Finance Officers Association.

Q: If elected, what will be your three top priorities, and how will you address them?

A: 1. Utilize the experience/knowledge I’ve gained as deputy controller to ensure a seamless transition to the role of controller. I’ll continue to acquire the expertise needed to perform the controller’s specific job duties, so I can immediately provide the effective leadership needed to operate efficiently and be responsive to the needs of our citizens. 2. Continue to earn the Government Finance Officers Association’s “Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting” for our comprehensive annual financial report. I’ll work hard to ensure the Controller’s Office provides the required oversight needed to uphold the high standards of fiscal reporting that Centre County constituents deserve. 3. Create user-friendly, online versions of the county’s complex financial statements to help promote a better understanding of how our tax dollars are spent. By providing more simplified reporting formats, residents will be able to readily access information regarding the county’s revenues, expenditures and services provided throughout our community.

Coroner

Candidates (vote for one):

Scott A. Sayers

Party: Dem

Education: 1985 Graduate of Bald Eagle Area High School; attended Lock Haven University; 1988 graduate of Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science

Qualifications: Coroner since 1998. Has diplomatic status with ABMDI, the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators.

Q: If elected, what will be your three top priorities, and how will you address them?

A: Continue to serve cooperatively with state and local law enforcement, EMS, fire personnel, medical professionials and other government agencies. Be an active member of the HOPE initiative and help combat the ongoing opioid crisis in Centre County.

Prothonotary

Candidates (vote for one):

Jeremy S. Breon

Party: Dem

Date of Birth: Sept. 23, 1985

Education: Penns Valley High School; Penn State World Campus; Duke paralegal program

Qualifications: I currently serve Centre County as first deputy prothonotary. I have eight years of experience working in the office of Prothonotary and Clerk of Courts. I am responsible for handling and processing civil and criminal documents. I receive and process passport applications as a certified passport acceptance agent. I participate in court proceedings including: naturalization, jury selection, sentencing and bail hearings.

Q: If elected, what will be your three top priorities, and how will you address them?

A: 1. Maintain an office open to the public with friendly knowledgeable staff: Based on my eight years of experience working in the Centre County Prothonotary office I have developed the skill set needed to run the office effectively and efficiently. 2. Implement new rules and systems: Work with the judiciary and AOPC (Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts) to implement new rules and initiatives as directed or required by law. 3. Continue to learn new ways to help our residents: The people of Centre County depend on the services provided in the Prothonotary office. I will listen to our residents and utilize my skill set to assist the residents of Centre County. Please vote for experienced candidate Jeremy Breon for Centre County prothonotary on May 21 and Nov. 5.

Patrick Miller

Party: Rep

Date of Birth: March 31, 1984

Education: Oregon State University, B.A., 2016; Penn State Law J.D. candidate, May 2019

Qualifications: As a graduating law student, I understand just how important the Prothonotary’s Office is to the entire structure and function of county court operations. I know very well how important it is for both civil and criminal court documents to be filed properly, and for court services to be as efficient and user-friendly as possible.

Q: If elected, what will be your three top priorities, and how will you address them?

A: 1. I want to work toward getting better communication out to the Centre County public regarding what the Prothonotary’s Office does exactly, and how important it is to the structure of our court system. 2. I want to take a serious look at how all of the operations of the office are currently working, and how it can be significantly improved in order to make sure we have the most efficient services available for the citizens of Centre County. 3. I want to listen to citizens of Centre County to learn how they believe the Prothonotary’s Office can be improved, and how I can be of assistance in making everyone’s day at the courthouse a much easier process.

Recorder of deeds

Candidates (vote for one):

Georgiann Bennett

Party: Dem

Campaign Email: Gbennett4recorderofdeeds@gmail.com

Education: Graduate of Bald Eagle Area Junior High School

Qualifications: Co-owner/operator of a farm, Penn State, budgeting/accounting/human resources assistant, Cannon Instrument, customer service account analyst, Clinton County Recorder-Registers Office/ “work and observed firsthand” to learn the technical aspects of the job

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/georgiforrecorder

Q: If elected, what will be your three top priorities, and how will you address them?

A: Exploring and finding additional ways to help veterans record necessary forms so they can access what are already present or available benefits from the VA. Finding more ways to promote and spread the word about the affordable housing fund, therefore helping more residents realize their dreams of owning a home in Centre County. Lend a helping hand and inform citizens of programs that can help them be aware of fraud and abuse scams.

Joseph L. Davidson

Party: Rep

Date of Birth: 1960

Education: Penn State - business administration; State College Area High School

Qualifications: Elected recorder of deeds in 1999; over 35 years’ experience in retail, customer service and management.

Facebook: Committee to Elect Joe Davidson

Q: If elected, what will be your three top priorities, and how will you address them?

A: One of my top priorities during my time in office and going into the future will be to manage advancing technologies and implement any new technology into our recording process. Our office has been a technology pioneer in the state of Pennsylvania becoming the fifth county to enact electronic recording processes, digitized millions of records dating back to the beginning of Centre County and redacted sensitive information from public records. Through my involvement in the state association, and connections with industry partners, we’re able to design and implement methods for efficiency and best business practices. A second priority is to ensure that the recent proposed state legislation that makes fees for recording documents in all Pennsylvania counties uniform are fair and reasonable to Centre County users. My third priority will be to maintain our excellent customer service practices, and to never lose sight of the basic function of county government: public service.

Register of wills

Candidates (vote for one):

Christine Millinder

Party: Rep

Date of Birth: Dec. 20, 1968

Education: Graduate of Bald Eagle Area High School

Qualifications: Currently serving in my first term as Centre County register of wills and clerk of Orphans’ Court. More than 31 years’ experience in the administration and legal matters in the register of wills and clerk of Orphans’ Court. Serves on the executive board of the Registers of Wills and Clerks of Orphans’ Court Association.

Facebook: Christine Millinder for Register of Wills

Q: If elected, what will be your three top priorities, and how will you address them?

A: I will continue to make it a priority to provide quality, efficient and courteous service as your full-time register of wills and clerk of Orphans’ Court. I will make sure my staff is cross trained in all areas of the office providing the highest level of confidentiality with personal and confidential information. I will continue to regularly review and upgrade our technology with the latest advances in online availability in the most cost efficient manner.

Sheriff

Candidates (vote for one):

Bryan Sampsel

Party: Rep

Date of Birth: June 30, 1970

Education: Two-plus years at Penn State criminal justice field; Alfred University short course; PCCD Act 2 Deputy Sheriff Academy

Qualifications: Deputy Sheriff Academy, firearms instructor, active shooter instructor, diversity training, Stewards of Children training, bomb threat management training, post blast investigator school, surveillance and detection course, Tactics for Facing Active Shooter, Management of Aggressive Behavior for Public Safety Officers and several update trainings for the last 16 plus years. Served six years as 11B/11H with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard

Facebook: Bryan Sampsel for Centre County Sheriff or Centre County Sheriff’s Office page for current events

Q: If elected, what will be your three top priorities, and how will you address them?

A: If re-elected, the first priority is to continue to build on what we have accomplished the first three-plus years. We have introduced a senior “check In” program, mobile computers in the vehicles to make the deputies’ work more streamlined, started carrying AEDs, medical bags, Naloxone in vehicles and introduced Tasers to the deputies to provide a less lethal force option. We also sponsor two medicine drop boxes and participate in National Drug Take Back Day. I would like to continue to provide our high level of service to the citizens of Centre County, continue with current programs and look into new community initiatives. The second priority is to continue to send the deputies to CIT or crisis intervention training. We currently have a little over a third of the deputies trained. With the increase in mental health issues, I believe this is a very important aspect of our job. The third priority is to look into grants or funding for body cams or in-car cameras. I believe that this would help bring clarification with any incident that would occur. I would like to keep moving the Centre County Sheriff’s Office forward and provide as much to the citizens of Centre County as possible. We currently participate in several community events and enjoy engaging the community. With over 16 years of service with the Centre County Sheriff’s Office, I would appreciate your vote for Bryan L. Sampsel on May 21 and in November so I can continue to work hard and serve you.

Hobson McKown (write-in)

Campaign Website: hobsonforsheriff.com

Date of Birth: Sept. 24, 1985

Education: Centre County School of Hard Knocks, August 2016-August 2017. Grassroots Centre County and Pennsylvania litigation and legal planning, 2008-to date. Magisterial district judge certification training course, November-December 2009. Computer programming and applications, Associate in Specialized Business, 4.0 GPA, Bradford School, Pittsburgh, 2005. Constitutional law, Warren Area High School, 2004.

Qualifications: Decade-long engagement with law, governance, courthouse and courtrooms, within and without Centre County, including with sheriff’s officers around the state. Have never been an officer in someone’s home without either warrant or consent. Lifelong citizen of Pennsylvania, born and raised in Warren County, and a Ferguson Township resident of over a decade. Insider familiarity with Centre County jail practices and administration. Have litigated constitutionality and construction of sheriff-related responsibilities in advocacy for the people, acknowledging delicate balance of sheriff’s dual role as kingsman and community advocate.

Facebook: facebook.com/McKownForSheriff

Twitter: twitter.com/ForHobson

Q: If elected, what will be your three top priorities, and how will you address them?

A: I am your next sheriff of Centre County, Hobson McKown. As a citizen seeking to give his personal service to the commonweal via obtaining commission of sheriff, I will be seeking reforms judicial, municipal and penal. As a counter-balance to the courts, I will require writs and warrants conforming strictly to law and rule, so that I may return the same for the sake of the public. As chief law enforcement officer, I will issue education to state, regional and local law enforcement officers, I will supersede as law allows in cases of maladministration, and I will seek arrest of those public criminals who do not take well to training, instruction and reading law. As a member of a board of county gaolers, I will seek to conform commitment and release protocols in a manner greatly reducing false imprisonment rates. As sheriff, I will operate no unlawful warrantless, suspicionless checkpoints.

Treasurer

Candidates (vote for one):

Colleen Kennedy

Party: Dem

Campaign Website: colleenkennedyfortreasurer.com

Date of Birth: Sept. 9, 1969

Education: B.A. in Music, UCLA; Master of Education (M.Ed.), UCLA; accounting, Cal State Los Angeles

Qualifications: I’ve worked in accounting for 12 years. I was recruited out of my accounting program to work in government as an auditor. I’ve also volunteered as treasurer for nonprofit organizations. For the past seven years, I’ve worked in the accounting department for a local manufacturing company.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/Kennedy4Treas/

Twitter: @Kennedy4Treas

Q: If elected, what will be your three top priorities, and how will you address them?

A: My primary focus is modernization of Centre County’s financial processes. Businesses have been transitioning from paper to electronic transactions for years in order to save money and environmental resources, and the county should follow this example. Expanded modernization would allow the county to cut costs while at the same time offering more to residents: more transparency, more services and more convenience. I would work to implement time-saving online services that other counties in the commonwealth have put in place for submitting forms and payments, such as for dog licenses and filing hotel occupancy taxes. Finally, I would utilize the office of the treasurer to inform Centre County families about valuable financial programs like PA ABLE, which provides tax-free savings plans to Pennsylvanians with disabilities; or PA 529, a program that offers education savings plans with tax incentives; or the recently launched Keystone Scholars program, which gives $100 to new parents as seed money to put towards their child’s education. I am eager for the opportunity to use my skills in service of my community. I believe in “serving gladly,” and I would bring this attitude to every aspect of my service as Centre County treasurer.

W. Blaine Thomas

Party: Rep

Date of Birth: July 8, 1965

Education: Accounting degree, Penn College; 1985 Bald Eagle Area High School graduate

Qualifications: 22 years accounting/manager Bellefonte Bi-Lo grocery store; 20-plus property management for Thomas Family Real Estate; production and quality control manager, Forefront Construction

Facebook: Thomas for Treasurer

Q: If elected, what will be your three top priorities, and how will you address them?

A: If I am elected and earn the voters’ trust in November, my three top initiatives will be: 1) Overseeing the ongoing cash management for the county. Any opportunities to find a way for the county to earn optimal interest in reserve funds or saving money through competitive bid processes can be the difference in a tax increase or possible reduction of services. 2) Continue to maintain and develop a strong personal working relationship within all departments of the Centre County government which would benefit all county residents. 3) I would like to continue serving our residents with an emphasis on excellent customer service. This includes online options and utilizing technology for residents unable to make it into the office during regular business hours.

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