Beaver County Commissioners were among a delegation of county officials from across the state of Pennsylvania that met with Trump Administration officials in Washington D.C. today. The day-long meeting between commissioners and representatives from various federal departments and agencies was arranged by the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.
The day included discussions with representatives from the Departments of Transportation, Education, State, Interior, Energy, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services; along with meetings with officials from various federal agencies and offices including the Office of Management and Budget and the Environmental Protection Agency.
“My mind is really reeling over today,” Commissioner Sandie Egley told the Beaver Countian shortly after the meetings concluded. “Some people may have thought this was going to be a political stunt for President Trump, but it wasn’t like that at all. We met with people from a lot of different federal agencies, and what I was most impressed by was with each one of these offices, it wasn’t them talking to us — it was a back and forth conversation, a true open dialogue about what issues our counties are facing.”
Commissioner Egley said that commissioners from different parts of Pennsylvania had a diverse range of issues which were important to the people they represented, but that all of the Commissioners agreed on one major problem that was affecting all of their communities.
“It was the problem of heroin, the opioid epidemic, that is the major problem for us all,” said Egley. “The White House told us there is going to be $45 billion provided across the United States to help with prevention and treatment and they are having conversations with people like us on how that money should be distributed, on what that process should look like.”
Commissioner Dan Camp said that the opioid crisis was one of the topics discussed by Kellyanne Conway, Senior Counselor to President Trump, who spent about a half hour speaking with the delegation of commissioners.
Camp said the discussion helped to spark productive dialogue between the county commissioners themselves.
“We were able to take away a lot from our colleagues from other counties,” said Camp. “One of the commissioners from Chester County spoke about how they have been able to raise money from the private sector to help those suffering from problems with substance abuse when they get out of the hospital from an overdose. That is something I want to work on when I get back.”
Along with the group meetings, the commissioners also got some opportunity to speak one-on-one with administration officials.
“I got to meet privately with Linda McMahon, Administrator of the Small Business Administration, for a few minutes in the hallway,” said Commissioner Camp. “She started in business from the bottom up and I think she really wants to make sure SBA becomes more accessible to local government officials […] That was one of the things that impressed me about this meeting, the administration didn’t want to speak with associations that we as commissioners may belong to, they wanted to speak with us directly. Some of the [federal] officials there were from the prior administration, and they acknowledged they hadn’t been in touch with local government in the past and want to see a better working relationship between local and federal government.”
Commissioner Egley said that she too felt sincerity from the administration officials when they spoke of building stronger relationships between local and federal government.
“They took notes when we talked with them, they gave us their cards, they said they want to keep hearing back from us about what is working, what isn’t working, what we’re seeing on the local level,” said Egley. “I’m a new commissioner, but even the more senior commissioners who have been in office many years said they have never seen anything like this before. I am in awe of how today went, it’s a new way of working that I think could help to remove a lot of red tape.”
Commissioner Tony Amadio said he was able to learn a lot about how the Trump Administration intends to work with local government.
“It was a real learning experience on how the federal government intends to deal with counties,” said Amadio. “Learning about how they plan to handle pass-through monies with things like medicare and medicaid, that was important. I am just so glad that I came and was able to sit with my colleagues and learn. I tried to listen as closely as I possibly could.”
Commissioner Camp said that although the day was spent having serious policy discussions, there was a brief moment of political levity that took place while Kellyanne Conway was talking to the group.
“One of the people who were running the event kept referring to Kellyanne Conway as the Pennsylvania girl, and I was thinking to myself, I’m pretty sure she’s not from Pennsylvania, but I didn’t want to say anything,” said Camp. “Finally she brought out this binder and she said here, this is the artwork that I have on my desk. Then she pulls out a picture of Pennsylvania covered in red because it went Republican during the election, and she said to us, thank you very much Pennsylvania.”
Commissioner Egley said she had her own moment of levity while making her way through security earlier in the day.
“I was going through all of the layers of security to get into the building and there was this full-body scanner you have to walk into,” said Egley. “So I’m standing there and then this Secret Service agent said ok Sandie you can step out now. I was surprised by that and asked him, wait, how did you know my name? He said to me, don’t you remember me, we went to high school together. I didn’t recognize him and say to him oh, wow, we did? He started laughing and said no, we didn’t, your name comes up on my screen from your badge. So ya, he got me there.”
All three commissioners said they believe their meetings in Washington D.C. today will pay dividends back in Beaver County.
“I have so much information to give to other elected officials in the county and to our department heads,” said Egley. “All of these takeaways that we’re going to be able to distribute I believe will lead to conversations at the county level on how we may be able to do some things better and be more efficiently.”
Commissioner Amadio, the only Democrat on the Beaver County Board of Commissioners, said he was pleased to see the day had not been overly politicized.
“Government is political, so you’ll have a little bit of that, but it wasn’t at all the main focus,” said Amadio. “I had actually talked to some of my other Democratic colleagues from other counties and convinced them to come, and they told me today they were glad that they went.”
Although President Trump was not present at the meeting (he is currently traveling out-of-country) Commissioner Egley said she got the opportunity to briefly meet Vice President Mike Pence as he was leaving work for the day.
“There was a small group of us coming out of the Eisenhower Building at the same time Vice President Pence was leaving the West Wing for the day,” said Egley. “We were in the parking lot and hadn’t checked out our badges yet. Some of the Commissioners started yelling out the names of the counties they were from, and it clicked with him who we were. He talked to a Secret Service guy who was next to him, the guy put his finger up to his ear just like in the movies, then the Vice President comes walking over. He asked us how our meetings went, made sure everyone there had treated us kindly, took a picture, shook our hands, and off he went. He was very down to earth, it was like talking to a guy at one of my kid’s baseball games.”
Commissioner Tony Amadio said that while he did not get to meet the Vice President, he did get to do something that may have been even better.
“I went up during one of our breaks and sat behind the Vice President’s desk,” laughed Amadio. “As an old history and government teacher, getting see where all of this takes place was exciting for me; but more importantly hopefully this entire experience today will help me be better at my job, which is serving the people of Beaver County.”