Westmoreland commissioner candidates hammer one another
Candidates for Westmoreland County commissioner outlined different philosophies on Wednesday night about how county tax dollars should be spent, ideas about the regulation of the Marcellus shale industry and plans to revitalize downtown areas.
More than 200 people crowded into a ballroom at the Four Points by Sheraton hotel in Hempfield for a debate sponsored by the Greensburg-Jeannette branch of the NAACP.
The candidates took the offensive. Republicans Charles Anderson, an incumbent, and Tyler Courtney, a businessman, challenged their Democratic opponents, calling them career politicians and proponents of the status quo.
Meanwhile the Democrats, incumbent Ted Kopas and Mt. Pleasant Mayor Gerald Lucia accused the Republicans of having no concrete ideas and speaking in slogans.
"The contrast between the proposed politicians in this field is quite extreme. On one side are career politicians who have been in office a long time. On the other side you have people with real world experience, making payrolls and doing great things for the community," Anderson said.
Kopas told the crowd that Courtney's business past was dubious and that Anderson had taken credit for Democratic accomplishments such as a revision of the county's take-home car policy.
Kopas hammered Courtney over his business history that included a bankruptcy for a company he once owned and a legal finding against that firm in a federal trademark infringement case.
"Chuck Anderson won't tell you he charged taxpayers to drive his Corvette to golf outings. Tyler Courtney, won't tell you the whole story. Tyler Courtney has the distinction to be the only candidate found not credible by a judge," Kopas said.
Kopas and the Democrats have pointed to a federal court opinion written five years ago in which U.S. District Court Judge Terrence McVerry who in one paragraph of the lengthy ruling described Courtney's testimony during the lawsuit as "not credible."
Courtney denied the accusations leveled by the Democrats, downplayed the trademark infringement litigation and has previously said he had left the mortgage company he owned in 2006, before it filed for bankruptcy.
"The accusations about my past business practices are not true. It's not about looking at the past. It's about looking at the future. We want to look at the budgets," Courtney said. "I want to know how Ted Kopas will create jobs. He's never made a payroll, he's never done that. Jerry Lucia, how many employees has he ever hired?"
Lucia said his experience serving as a mayor and borough councilman for three decades would be an advantage for him as a county commissioner.
"I guess career politician means me. I got the job, 32 years of being involved and in government, the taste of government," Lucia said.
Differing on drilling
After those initial volleys, the candidates settled into the question-and-answer format with few disagreements.
Once such disagreement was over the burgeoning Marcellus shale industry in the county and a proposal from Gov. Tom Corbett for counties to impose impact fees on drillers.
Courtney and Anderson said they supported the fee proposal, while Lucia and Kopas criticized it as a means for the state to pit counties against each other and raise revenue for itself.
Courtney also suggested industry officials should have a role in regulating operations to protect the environment, a notion to which Kopas objected.
"Unlike my opponent, Mr. Courtney, I'm not an industry apologist.This isn't just a matter of taxation, it's a matter of our children and grandchildren having to bear enormous costs. We have to have guidelines in place to make sure we're doing this right," Kopas said.
Anderson denied that the Republicans are working at the behest of the drilling companies.
"We need to work with the industry. The industry is coming in. We need to do it smart," Anderson said.
Courtney told the crowd that he believed impact fees from the Marcellus shale wells could be used to help with the revitalization of the county's downtown areas.
He proposed instituting a special account funded through the impact fees to pay for fixing up the county's downtowns.
"We need to take advantage of those opportunities," Courtney said.
Anderson suggested an economic revitalization plan that included demolishing old buildings in downtown areas of cities such as New Kensington and erecting upscale condominiums.
Lucia said he favored leveraging state and federal money for downtown revitalization, while Kopas said he supported ongoing efforts of the county.
"If I'm commissioner there is only so much money in the county budget a commissioner has to work with," Lucia said.
Independent Ron Gazze, a Greensburg dentist, asked for voters to elect him along with one Democrat and one Republican.
"I feel like I'm in the middle of a tag team match that's completely out of control. That's what's happening with our government," Gazze said.