County commissioners from Bedford, Cambria and Somerset counties will travel to the nation’s capital next week to participate in a statewide conference.
Commissioners from each county in Pennsylvania have been invited to the July 13 Keystone County Commissioners’ White House Conference.
According to a press release from White House officials, “the purpose of the event is to develop a working relationship between the White House/federal agencies and the county commissioners of Pennsylvania.”
Bedford County commissioners Josh Lang and Paul Crooks, Somerset County commissioners Gerald Walker, James Yoder and John Vatavuk and Cambria County commissioners Tom Chernisky and Mark Wissinger plan to attend.
Lang said he’s looking forward to discussing specific statewide issues that are affecting rural counties, such as children and youth caseworker turnover, the far-reaching effects of the opioid epidemic, inmate mental health and connecting veterans with benefits and other resources.
“I’m definitely looking forward to the opportunity to start those relationships at the federal level,” Lang said.
The Cambria County commissioners said they are eager to gain insight on ways to address issues that affect all counties, and also ways to spur economic development.
“We are looking forward to working with the administration to bring jobs to our county, developing infrastructure and working to combat the opioid epidemic,” Chernisky said.
“Jobs are not Democrat or Republican. We have to work together to solve problems.”
Wissinger is serving his third term as a Cambria County commissioner and can’t remember any kind of similar event during his time in office.
“It’s quite an invitation,” he said. “The better we can coordinate and the more people we can meet to let them know what we’re coming up against – I see that as nothing but positive.”
Somerset’s commissioners are hopeful to learn more about what President Donald Trump’s plans and policies are for some of the main issues facing Pennsylvania, but also hope to hear about future federal infrastructure spending plans that could assist with the completion of Route 219 into Maryland.
“If we can make a few federal contacts, that’d be great,” Walker said.
“I look at it as a networking opportunity with federal agencies,” Vatavuk added.
Along with the potential for senior-level White House staff to participate in the event, the release says the Intergovernmental Affairs team is coordinating the schedule and representatives from several federal agencies are expected to attend.
“One of the primary goals of this conference will be to ensure that you are introduced to and connected with appropriate officials at each agency to ensure efficient coordination between the federal agencies and the Pennsylvania counties,” the commissioners’ invitation says.
“This conference will be an opportunity for the administration to strengthen our relationship with local government.”
In addition to the conference, the commissioners have also been invited to tour the White House.
Jocelyn Brumbaugh is a reporter for the Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter @JBrumbaughTD.