Voters Guide 2019: candidates for board of commissioners and other Centre County offices

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Voters Guide 2019

The League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania-Citizen Education Fund compiled this Voters Guide for state and countywide races in the Nov. 5 election.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Nov. 5. For more information or to find your polling place, visit


Centre County Board of Commissioners

Candidates (choose 2):

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 University

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

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

A: 1. Mental health: The county should be investing additional resources in mental health services, and not be in the electric utility business. They can buy “green” energy over the grid. Instead, the $1.6 million allocated for solar panels could have been used to provide additional lifesaving mental health services. 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: The $5 vehicle registration tax should be repealed. The flat tax is not fair for all vehicle owners.The county doesn’t own any roads or bridges. There are better ways to achieve the same goals.

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; 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: 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, mental health, public libraries and other areas. 2. Diversify our economy and help create jobs – 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 with more scheduled for preservation. Rural broadband is crucial to the sustainability of agriculture and rural communities. I would expand our successful public private partnership to provide broadband service to more underserved areas. I will continue working to help farmers in crisis.

Michael Pipe

Party: Dem

Campaign Website: www.pipehiggins.com

Date of Birth: Sept. 9, 1985

Education: 2009, Pennsylvania State University, B.A. Political Science; 2014, Leadership Centre County; 2015, National Association of Counties’ County Leadership Institute

Qualifications: Centre County Commissioner, 7 years; Pennsylvania Workforce Development Board, 4 years; C-NET Board of Directors, 7 years; Centre County Agricultural Land Preservation Board Liaison, 4 years; Centre County Criminal Justice Advisory Board, 7 years; Centre County Fire Chiefs Association Liaison, 7 years; Centre County Mental Health/Intellectual Disabilities/Early Intervention Advisory Board, 7 years; Centre County Metropolitan Planning Organization Coordinating Committee, 7 years; Centre County Prison Board of Inspectors, 7 years; Centre County Re-Entry Coalition, 5 years; Chamber of Business & Industry Centre County Board of Directors, 3 years; County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania – Elections Reform Committee Co-Chair, 3 years

Facebook: 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 sustainability. 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 repeated incarceration. Further, we have increased treatment programs for incarcerated individuals with mental health and substance abuse illnesses and we will pursue additional services. 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.

Centre County Controller

Candidates (choose 1):

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.

Jason Moser

Party: Dem

Campaign Website: friendsofjasonmoser.com

Date of Birth: Nov. 21, 1980

Education: Bachelor’s Degree & Graduate Program in Public Budgeting and Financial Management from Penn State

Qualifications: 10-plus years with multi-million 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: 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 and transparency by making the Fraud and Abuse Tip Line visible for employees and residents of Centre County to report any suspected wrongdoing and ensure that county resources are used legally and responsibly. I will create transparency in the controller’s office by making county audits and financial reports accessible to taxpayers by making sure they are up-to-date and available online.

Centre County Coroner

Candidates (choose 1):

Scott A. Sayers

Party: D/R

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 profession and other government agencies. Be an active member of the HOPE initiative and help combat the ongoing opioid crisis in Centre County.

Centre County Prothonotary

Candidates (choose 1):

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 8 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.

Facebook: Friends of Jeremy Breon

Twitter: @friendsofBreon

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 8 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. Working together we can implement new policies to assist the residents of Centre County. 3. Explore new ways to help our residents — the people of Centre County depend on the services provided in the prothonotary office. I will utilize my skill set to assist the residents of Centre County. With my 8 years of experience I am prepared to manage and lead the office on day one.

Patrick Miller

Party: Rep

Date of Birth: March 31, 1984

Education: Penn State Law JD, 2019; Oregon State University BA, 2016

Qualifications: As a recent graduate of Penn State Law School, I understand the court system and what to look for to improve it. I also understand how important the prothonotary’s office is to the structure and function of county court operations. I know 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. I believe that I am the most qualified candidate for this position, and with my optimistic approach and organizational vision, I can help cut costs and help ensure that the county court system operates better for the residents of Centre County!

Facebook: www.facebook.com/MillerForProthonotary

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

A: 1. I will 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 will 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. We should always be looking for ways to cut costs and save taxpayer money! 3. I will listen to the residents 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. I am always willing to learn and improve.

Centre County Recorder of Deeds

Candidates (choose 1):

Georgiann Bennett

Party: Dem

Education: Graduate of Bald Eagle Area High School

Qualifications: Co-owner/operator of a farm, Penn State, accounting/budgeting/customer service, Cannon Instrument, customer service, account analyst, Clinton County Recorder-Registers Office/observed and participated in an endeavor to learn firsthand the inner workings and technical aspects of the Recorder of Deeds Office

Facebook: 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 PA 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 Pa. 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 site of the basic function of county government: public service.

Centre County Register of Wills

Candidates (choose 1):

Christine Millinder

Party: D/R

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 & Clerk of Orphans’ Court. More than 31 years experience in the administration and legal matters in the Register of Wills & Clerk of Orphans’ Court. Serves on the Executive Board of the Register of Wills & 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 & 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.

Centre County Sheriff

Candidates (choose 1):

Hobson McKown (Write-In)

Campaign Website: hobsonforsheriff.com

Date of Birth: 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.

Bryan Sampsel

Party: D/R

Date of Birth: June 30, 1970

Education: Two-plus years at Pennsylvania 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 6 years as 11B/11H with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard

Facebook: Bryan Sampsel for Centre County Sheriff

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 streamline, 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 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 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.

Centre County Treasurer

Candidates (choose 1):

Colleen Kennedy

Party: Dem

Campaign Website: colleenkennedyfortreasurer.com

Date of Birth: Sept. 9, 1969

Education: BA in Music, UCLA; Master of Education (MEd), 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 (3) 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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