Gunzburger Building

The Gunzburger Building in Coudersport. 

About three dozen residents turned out for the Potter County Commissioners’ first evening meeting in several years on Wednesday, Aug. 25.

Commissioners usually meet every other week at 11 a.m., but this 6 p.m. meeting was to allow more citizens who work during the day to attend, Commissioner Nancy Grupp said at a previous meeting. The evening meetings will be planned every quarter to start.

The larger-than-normal crowd took advantage of the meeting time to share concerns after being informed they were limited to three minutes each. Issues brought up ranged from COVID and government shutdowns, to issues with the jail and selection of the new warden.

Amid comments and concerns, attendees were treated to an impromptu a cappella performance of a classic rock song by local musician Steve Limeburner.

COVID/shutdowns

Dan Cowburn from the Potter County Chapter of FreePA said he was concerned about another government-mandated shutdown stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. “What are you, as commissioners, going to do to prevent our community from being unlawfully shut down again?” he asked.

Grupp responded that would be a discussion for “down the road.”

Cheryl Main, a longtime local business owner, also referenced the importance of being pro-active and having a plan in place. “That is what happened the last time,” she said. “The lockdown was disorganized and uninformed decisions were made.”

Main also said she had been unable to attend the morning meetings and thanked the commissioners for having the evening meeting that accommodated concerned citizens who wished to participate in their local government.

Robin Fink, an attorney, mentioned a release by the CDC on Aug. 9 concerning Community Isolation Centers for COVID-19 that she said may be targeting ‘low-resource’ settings. Fink said she was concerned about people being sent to these centers involuntarily.

Grupp replied, “Without reading the material, I am not offering any opinion of what I would like to see or not see.”

Dennis Goodenough said he believes the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective, and that everyone getting one is the key to preventing another shutdown. “The CDC is the world premier health organization,” he said. “You might not always like what they tell us, but they follow the science. And remember, the science changes.”

Stan Hess urged everyone to do their own research regarding MRNA technology used in the vaccine. “We have been a test. Let’s not turn this country against each other,” he said to a round of applause.

Jail/warden

Roy Hunt used his allotted three minutes to stress concerns he shared at the last meeting he attended regarding the appointment of the new jail warden.

“When you only look at one candidate, even the worst candidate is the best candidate,” said Hunt.

There was some discussion about whether the sheriff/warden had been elected or appointed in the past. Commissioner Paul Heimel said that the sheriff had been elected and for at least the last 100 years in the county, and that the sheriff automatically took on the job of warden of the jail until the county recently established its Board of Inspectors to oversee the jail’s operations. The board appointed Angela Milford as new warden at its first meeting earlier in August. Milford had served as a corrections officer and then deputy warden at the jail for the past 28 years.

In relation to the warden position, Mark Buffington said the position of deputy warden would cost taxpayers approximately $60,000 including benefits. He also questioned whether there was a conflict of interest that Barry Hayman as a county commissioner and is also filling the position of controller on the jail board.

At the commissioners meeting, Lillian Cowburn objected to a female warden being placed in an all-male jail facility. She also referenced the cost to the taxpayers for shipping female inmates to surrounding counties.

A retired paralegal who had previously worked for the Public Defender’s Office said the jail needs extensive work to equip it for female inmates. She claimed renovations or a separate facility would cost the taxpayers more than sending the female inmates to nearby counties.

John Martin, a former corrections officer at the Potter County Jail, then stood up and announced that there were adequate facilities inside the current jail. He said E unit and G unit had been built specifically for women.

“People need to know the truth,” Martin added. “I want to hold people accountable. That is what I am going to start doing here.”

Other concerns

Robert Rossman presented commissioners with a petition signed by approximately 5,000 voters in support of making Potter County a sanctuary for the 2nd Amendment, the Right to Bear Arms. His petition was met by a round of applause by other attendees.

Lillian Cowburn said she had sent commissioners an email concerning an issue in Allegany Township, but they didn’t reply. Heimel said he would be very interested in seeing documentation on the subject. No other details on the issue were provided.

Kim Goodenough asked why Coudersport does not display veteran’s flags. Ronnie Schenkein said the Rotary Club is working to make this happen.

The next commissioners’ meeting is 11 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 9 at the Gunzburger Building, Coudersport. The next evening meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 17.

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