Summit County’s new commissioners prioritize community engagement in first days in office
The commissioners will be hosting a weekly community town hall on Fridays
Tuesday, Jan. 12, marked a new era for Summit County government, as Tamara Pogue and Josh Blanchard officially joined the Summit Board of County Commissioners.
Alongside Elisabeth Lawrence, who has been on the board since January 2019, the new commissioners were sworn in Tuesday morning. It was the first time in 14 years that neither Karn Stiegelmeier nor Thomas Davidson sat on the board.
Pogue and Blanchard, who are both Democrats and former executive directors of local nonprofits, were elected in November to fill the open seats left by Stiegelmeier and Davidson, who were term-limited. The two new commissioners have many similar goals, including improving the lives of working families, creating more transparency in government and pushing for economic stability.
However, many of those long-term goals are currently overshadowed by the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has added a high amount of pressure to the board.
Because of this, the commissioners have been attending meetings, working with the previous board and keeping their attention on the community to ensure a seamless transition.
“There’s been such a process of coming into the position that I knew … what would be expected in terms of the work that would be involved,” Blanchard said.
For Lawrence, who is starting her second term on the board, the transition from being the least experienced commissioner to the most experienced is daunting.
“There’s certainly a lot of pressure with that,” she said. “I certainly hold myself to a high standard … so I’m really putting a lot of pressure on myself just to continue to serve the community as well as helping Josh and Tamara get settled and making sure the transition is really seamless for the community.”
Now that Blanchard and Pogue are on the board, the two are prioritizing tackling the pandemic head-on. They had their first Board of Health meeting Tuesday, where they discussed nearly every aspect of the pandemic.
“My first priority is to make the best, most informed, decisions I can about COVID and vaccinations and our economic resiliency coming out of this and beyond,” Pogue said.
Specifically, Pogue would like to see the county look more closely at the impact of the pandemic on social and emotional well-being as well as the economy.
“I’d really like for us to develop some metrics outside of the state’s dial and dashboard that really look at what are the economic impacts on our community? What are the social and emotional impacts on our community? And how do we begin to put strategies in place from there?” she said.
Blanchard said he agrees that the county needs to look more closely at how the pandemic is affecting all aspects of life and hopes to utilize all parts of the county’s government to do so.
“Everyone’s becoming aware of the fact that it’s not going to be a light switch on and off, where we’re no longer dealing with COVID,” he said. “It’s going to be a process where we transition through that. For me, it’s about looking at promoting sustainability and equity … in all areas of government.”
The new board is also focused on involving the input of everyday people in their discussions about the pandemic as well as other issues going forward.
Starting Friday, Jan. 15, the board will host a weekly community town hall at noon. The goal of the town hall is for the commissioners to hear the communities thoughts and concerns about what’s going on in government.
“What we’ve found is that people have a lot of questions as to almost how the sausage is made,” Lawrence said. “How we’re making these decisions and coming to them. This is an opportunity for us to explain that further (and) give our community an opportunity to know us better as commissioners.”
The commissioners also plan to use the town halls as a way to highlight community partnerships by having representatives from outside nonprofits, town governments and organizations on the meetings.
“The idea is to work with our town partners and other stakeholders in the community, so we can talk about these issues that are important to the community,” Blanchard said. “I’m looking forward to that too, because I’ll get to hear about what’s important for people that live in different areas and work in different industries and are maybe affected by the challenges of the times in different ways.”
Pogue added that the town halls will help inform the board’s decisions.
“My hope from the town halls is really to hear directly from the community about what’s important and the things I need to know to make good decisions,” she said. “It’s also to lift up the extraordinary efforts that have been made to really try and get our community through this safely.”
The town hall will be held virtually every Friday. To get the Zoom link, visit the county’s Facebook page at Facebook.com/summitcountygov.
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