Indivisible Berks Commissioner Candidate Questionaire (Responses)
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CandidateQuestion 1. Will you commit to ensuring that Berks Heim remains in county hands for generations to come?Question 2: With the upcoming decision on a new Berks County Jail, can we count on you to keep it 100% County-owned and -operated?Question 3: What do you view as an economically healthy Berks County and what will you do to make sure growth helps all Berks Countians including Reading residents? Please include in your answer plans to improve transportation to and from major nearby cities, and ways to mend City-County relations.Question 4: Should Berks County be involved in the detention of asylum-seekers? Why or why not?Question 5: Are you opposed to jailing people for failure to post collateral in summary cases and as a county commissioner what can you do to reform our criminal justice system?Question 6: How will you lead Berks County in dealing with the impacts of climate change? What do you think is the county’s role in environmental cleanup for places such as Kaercher Creek Park and other similar areas?Question 7: GEO Group, the private prison company, has a large presence in Berks County, including Abraxas Academy and ADDAPT.  Are you for or against this large presence and why?Question 8: Do you pledge to make meetings more accessible to the working public, and to be open and transparent about how taxpayer dollars are being spent – without citizens having to go through hoops or file Right to Know requests?
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Donna ReedAbsolutely. If we can't care for our seniors and those most vulnerable, we would be sorry excuses for public officials.Absolutely. I believe we've all read the news stories and understand the issues with private prisons. Here in Berks County, we've been well aware of the issues with the Abraxas situation in New Morgan.An economically healthy Berks is dependent on the cooperation of economic development entities and government officials. For years, Berks -- and especially Reading -- have suffered due to turf wars and ineptitude of long-time economic development "leaders" who have consistently ignored the need to retain local jobs much less attract new ones. They've also managed to eradicate fertile farmland to build commercial structures with few well-paying jobs and, in the process, created environmental issues with the huge amount of impervious surfaces and storm-water runoff which we've seen frequently in the past two summers. Also, the lack of development in Reading is, I believe, a bit class-oriented. I think they believe city residents are lesser beings and not deserving of decent development that would offer nicer housing and quality walk-to-work jobs. We have a number of good possibilities for development, especially the west side of town with its proximity to the almost built-out West Reading and Wyomissing. We need to be willing to subsidize (within reason) along with our federal and state partners an inter-city bus line -- at the very least! The airport could be home to a charter or taxi aviation service. And the railroad to Philadelphia remains an imperative -- the county commissioners must press our municipal neighbors on the tracks to Philadelphia to cooperate and we must advocate for state and federal subsidies. Regarding city-county relations: the key is a mayor who is open to working with the county (sorely lacking in the past two administrations). I do believe the next mayor will be a nice change. There have been several on council who have enjoyed good working relationships with the county commissioners over the years through efforts such as Antietam Lake and the Mount Penn Preserve. Having a long-time Reading resident, who understands Reading issues, on the board of commissioners with good relationships with city elected officials will also be very important.No. We should have no role in a failed federal immigration policy. The Feds can come back to us when they have things figured out and have instituted a policy that is fair and just.No. Community service can be an alternative...there is much that can be done to make our county more beautiful and everyone could take pride in that. As county commissioners, we can meet with those in judicial circles to talk things through and find viable alternatives.In Reading, we just passed legislation to make the city green by 2050. We could apply those same tenets to county government operations. The county should take a lead in cleanups but should hold past landowners, under whose ownership the issues occurred, fiscally responsible for the cleanups.I'm not particularly comfortable with any entity that profits off of others' imprisonment.As a former (and still working contractual) journalist, I am dedicated to governmental transparency and the public's right to know. I believe, minimally, all meetings must be clearly advertised with agendas posted -- and even updated until the last minute -- on the county website. Minutes should be taken and posted of all meetings -- not just the formal Thursday meetings but also the commissioners' work sessions and budget and operations meetings. I also believe all meetings involving public matters should be livestreamed on the county website and that BCTV should be televising the work and formal sessions and planning commission, RATS, airport authority, BCIDA and all other appropriate meetings. This may require some technology upgrades to the commissioners board room and the planning commission room. With the contraction of news coverage by the Reading Eagle, this is all the more critical that residents can view unfiltered the words and actions of their elected county officials.
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Kevin BarnhardtYes, I have supported the county ownership of the Berks Heim during the process that played out over the past two plus years. I intend to continue to advocate for county ownership in the future and press for additional financial support from both the federal and state government. Please be aware that local county tax dollars will be needed to support the continuation of this beloved institution.Yes, I have supported the jail as a county operated facility as well as following the public bidding process to permit local unions and contractors to have the ability to bid in an open and fair fashion. What is needed are not additional cells but proper space and accommodations for the population: Additional medical, mental health, PREA privacy and cameras and trusty inmate space for female inmates.Berks County is experiencing record employment numbers and record low unemployment. Yet, we can always do better and not rest on the recent positive numbers. Reading continues to track 3% higher in unemployment. I’ve worked alongside the Great Reading Chamber Alliance to attract and retain family sustaining careers and with the community housing agencies such as NHS and Habitat to create new and rehabilitated homes. I’ve worked with the local economic development and redevelopment agencies to promote the development of various sites in Reading: Glidden site, Dana South and Penn Optical. Frankly the lack of leadership and vision with the city redevelopment authority and the administration has stunted efforts not just at the three location but the revitalization of Penn St especially the 400 of Penn. I’ve worked diligently to foster improved relations with the city and county but it’s not been a two-way street. I’m certain the change in administration will foster a better outcome for the city of Reading and the county. I was born and raised in Reading and was an active volunteer fireman for six years in the city. I want to help improve the city as much as possible with the assistance of everyone. Transportation options are vitally important for us to sustain and grow our economy, create jobs and provide service to folks without personal transportation options. I’ve been engaged with the Chamber on passenger rail from Philadelphia and bus service to both Philadelphia and New York. This is a very complex issue that requires: government, private enterprise and the public to make the very difficult choices to subsidize such services AND to utilize such services on a regular and frequent basis. We need significant ridership numbers to justify these services and the willingness to have local tax dollars support the subsidy necessary. I’m all for air, rail and bus transportation but the majority of our county needs to support it as well. As an aside, as chairman of BARTA and the South Central Transit Authority ( BARTA/Red Rose) we have experienced a 6% drop in fixed route ridership at BARTA this past year. The billion dollar question is how do we as a community move people out of their automobiles in into mass transit. I am committed to continuing these important conversations.Although I have historically supported the humane treatment of asylum-seeking families, the present federal policies and the proposed population change from families to 18-23 year old males has caused me to alter my position and advocate for a re-purpose of the facility and staff. I will work diligently to find alternate options for both the facility and staff.This answer is not as straightforward as you might believe. If they are incarcerated ONLY for inability to pay, the answer is yes. However, each individual case carries a specific set of circumstances that should be considered in its entirety. I support comprehensive bail reform and possible policy changes to the constable system and look forward to working with our partners in the criminal justice system and the courts to effect sensible changes. I’ve advocated for improved conditions and programs for female inmates and have approved county support for the BCPS R3 Rebuilding, Re-entrants and Reading, for recently released inmates as an 8-week course to develop basic knowledge of the building trades with Habitat and the Reading-Muhlenberg Career and Technology Center.I have supported our three-county facility energy audit initiatives, which has saved taxpayers significant dollars and lessened our use of fossil fuels. I will continue to support efforts to improve our environmental quality of life and utilize renewable energy whenever practical and cost-effective. I took the lead on the negotiations with The Fish and Boat Commission (owner of Kaercher Creek) to foster a way to continue to lease the park area and support the 2nd remediation of the lead contamination. We were unsuccessful in our attempts because the Fish and Boat Commission was unwilling and unable to indemnify and hold-harmless the county in any future remediation efforts. The battery manufacturers created the problem, having declared bankruptcy several times, and it’s been left to the public to provide the monies for remediation via EPA, DEP and the Commission.While I don’t support the private operation of our county jail, as noted in Question 2, I recognize in certain limited areas, a third party has an ability to provide quality services at the same level of care at less costs to county taxpayers. We made the decision to cease incarcerating dozens of juveniles through the laudable efforts of our juvenile probation department. The creation of an evening reporting center and volunteer Youth Aid Panels have aided in the steady decline of jailed juveniles. Our former 72 bed juvenile detention center was housing ten juveniles at an operating deficit of $1.6 million dollars, as well as, an average of $600,000.00 per year in workman’s compensation expenses. Outsourcing services is rarely the best alternative but should be used only as a last resort.I would consider evening meetings, on occasion, at the services center. I would consider regional meetings to provide additional opportunity to discuss regional issues with the public. To take our regular meeting off-site, you must take into account additional cost for staff and BCTV to work off-hours. Our meeting is rebroadcast frequently by BCTV, on YouTube and reported by the local media outlets. Generally the business aspects of the meeting: Contracts, budget transfers, treasurer’s and controller’s reports I don’t believe would entice folks to come to a meeting in their community. We must understand that in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania local government: boroughs, townships and the city don’t have a reporting requirement to county government. I have always been transparent and have respected the Open Records Law and the law regarding Right -To Know Requests. I’ve been an elected official for 36 years and I have a proud history of working for the best interest of our citizens.
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Christian Leinbach
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Michael RiveraNO ANSWERNO ANSWERNO ANSWERNO ANSWERNO ANSWERNO ANSWERNO ANSWERNO ANSWER
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