Leadership Centre County | The paradox of responsible government

Responsible government is about making appropriate choices to create safer and better communities to live in and raise our families.

On April 9, members of the Leadership Centre County Class of 2014 discovered the perplexing paradox of responsible government. Class members were left wondering: How do we ensure the continuity of everyday critical governmental services without a proportionate increase to the funds necessary to pay for them? Can we be fiscally conservative with our resources, yet maintain our desired independent domains and separate communities?

Are we willing to invest resources today toward criminal rehabilitation and prevention programs while not knowing their immediate outcomes?

Is the safety of our children and creating a 21st century learning environment in a new high school worthy of a modest property tax increase?

To that end, LCC’s Government Day helped class members gain an understanding of how local government and the criminal justice system help residents make responsible choices affecting our communities. The day’s experiences — which included visiting municipal and school board meetings, riding along with local police and fire departments, and witnessing DUI court interventions — enlightened class members to the multiple facets of government in action.

This “fourth branch of government” — the administrative agencies responsible for the everyday operation of government — is the daily apparatus of social and public safety services we usually take for granted.

These critical services include police and fire departments, municipal road crews, children and youth services, the Office of Aging, court and judicial administration, and correctional services, to name a few.

The class’s introduction to the criminal justice system was striking.

Class members toured the State Correctional Institution at Rockview, where they learned about the delicate balance between crime, punishment and increasing mental health issues facing courts and prisons. Equally important, however, are the efforts of local judicial agencies to rehabilitate offenders and prevent recidivism — endeavors focused on keeping our communities safer and reducing the burdensome cost of incarceration.

According to Richard Smith, warden of the Centre County Correctional Facility, taxpayers spend more than $26,000 to incarcerate one prisoner in Centre County facilities and more than $40,000 to incarcerate one prisoner in state facilities each year.

It was compelling to learn about the rehabilitation efforts being pursued through therapeutic courts (DUI and juvenile offender) and after-prison follow-up programs. The recidivism rate for prisoners released into follow-up counseling programs is 7 percent, compared to an 85 percent rate for those who receive no follow-up counseling (giving credence to the proverb that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”).

Responsible government is a commitment shared by all community stakeholders; everyone has an opportunity to make a difference. The start of responsible government begins at the individual level when someone decides to get involved by learning the issues and showing up to vote, attending a local school board meeting, volunteering to sit on a regional planning commission, and/or running for elected office.

Citizens taking action in the community can be a powerful force for change.

At the end of Government Day, LCC class members met with Centre County Judge Bradley P. Lunsford. Lunsford noted how a committee of concerned stakeholders concerned about child abuse spearheaded efforts that led to the the creation of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Centre County.

Members of the community, including the LCC Class of 2013 and representatives of Mount Nittany Medical Center, mobilized to create a space, hire staff, and put multidisciplinary practices into place in the hopes of preventing such events from occurring again. These citizens made a choice to make our community safer and a better place to live, the definition of responsible government.

Thad Will is manager and vice president of M&T Bank and member of the Leadership Centre County Class of 2014. For more information about Leadership Centre County, go to www.leadershipcentrecounty.org.