What a year.
I was thinking about what a journey this year has been. Just after Christmas in 2021, I found myself in the hospital with congestive heart failure. I’ve had bouts with it before but the ambulance ride to the hosital was especially troublesome. I was coughing harder than I can ever remember, even during my first bout with Covid. So when the emergency room people wanted to intubate me I had to decide if I was ready to take a path too many people never came back from. The first test came back negative and they decided to put me in one of the special isolation units on an upper floor. I made the decision that I would not let them intubate me and I also made the decision that if it was my time, so be it. God had offered me grace through the sacrifice of his son. A feeling of peace came over me despite that pain and physical discomfort.
There is something unique about being in an isolation unit. All of the Doctors and nurses that came in to check my vtitals were decked out in isolation suits. Because of the ventilation, you are cold all the time. Over the next few days I stopped coughing and just lay there weak. No visitors either. They didn’t want to put anyone into a situation where they might be exposed. I spent New Years eve praying. The second test came back negative and the restrictions started to be peeled away. After a nine day stay, I got to go home. New diet restrictions and lots of rest. God was telling me that it was not my time yet.
I was still doing some preaching at our little church on the Mon River. But it was obvious that something was not going as well as it should have been. A few of the elders and some members had already expressed that they did not like my secular life. I am a proud conservative and I have very strong beliefs that the Bible is not a collection of suggestions with numerous options based on current events. So by Easter, it was time to say goodbye. Some harsh words were shared by the very person who was at the root of the problem. I said nothing but best wishes. Maybe God had something else planned.
New Beginnings for an older gentleman
A few months later, I found out what the next part of the journey was going to be. I got a call from an old friend who needed help. His Chief of Staff had left and he needed some help. I had been officially retired for five years despite the fact that I taught classes and preached for a number of small churches during that time. But the job was important enough that I made the decision to come out of retirement and help.
In May, I became the Chief of Staff for Westmoreland County (PA) Commissioner Doug Chew.
I am the oldest person in the Commissioner’s suite but all of the people who work there have been very gracious about welcoming me to the family. In the many months since, I have gained a better understanding of how important the local governments are and how complex a job it is to serve. It is a seven day a week job despite only being listed as five. You never really know when you will be working on an issue and many times we have to force ourselves to stop late in the evening. I have found myself aoplogizing more than once to Debbie for having to take a phone call during dinner or go out to the scene of a casualty or incident to offer our support. Oscar and Moses the cat have also expressed concerns. But they understand that sammon is not free. (Sorry, that is an inside joke from their Facebook page “Oz-Moses… A Tail of Two Cats”
The job is most amazing because it allows me to use my twenty plus years of Navy leadership and technical experience, my second career as a continuous improvement leadership consultant, and the sum total of my life experience to serve the people we represent. There is never a boring day and I absoluely love being back in the middle of things.
County government is unique since you are really close to the people who need our services. We have a whole range of services from Human services that include Behavioral Health, Children and Youth, Aging, Suicide prevention, Drug and Alcohol programs and more. We have several law enforcement agencies, we interact with the court systems at many levels, veterans programs, community development and industrial development. We work hand in hand with dozens of community based non-profits to make sure the safety net is well managed and tended to. With the recent opiod crisis, even rural communities like ours need dedicated programs.
Our interests cover infrastructure like water, sewage, roads, broadband, airports, transportation, and we coordinate with state and federal aencies to try and solve county and local problems. Our county has a prison that the Commissioners help to operate as board members, housing for lower income people, Westmoreland Manor which offers senior medical care and living and a Juvenile center where we help to reintegrate troubled youth back to society.
Our education efforts include the County Community College, advance technical centers at all levels, high tech learning centers, and interaction with all of the major schools as a resource. Our partnerships also include tourism development in the beautiful mountains and valleys that we call home.
Managing such a complex set of needs is not always easy. It was less easy during the pandemic. I am very proud of the three Commissioners of Westmoreland County that stepped up to the plate during the crisis. Not a single agency under their areas of responsibilities failed to meet the stated goals of supporting their areas of responsibility. The challenges for resources were made especially complex by the national problems of supply chain issues and employment. These leaders kept on working through it all.
I am especially thankful for Commissioner Sean Kertes (Chairman) and Commissioner Gina Cerelli Thrasher for their focus on what is best for this community. Along with Commssioner Douglas Chew and our amazing staffs, they bring the highest level of ethics and trust in appropriately managing the people’s business.
I don’t know exactly what the next year will bring.
I will continue to serve as long as I am needed. On a personal note, I can say that I have never loved a job more in my life. I am grateful to the Navy and all those that helped teach me along the way to prepare me for just this moment. While I miss retirement, I have never looked forward to doing something as much as this position and responsibility.
But it is an election year.
And every election year I am reminded about how short people’s attention spans are. The losers from previous elections are already sharpening their claws and spewing lies. It is the part of the work that makes me sad but determined at the same time. My position is appointed and I will be happy if the people in office at this time have a chance to continue the work they have started. I just hope enough voters are willing to see the truth and understand how blessed they were to have solid leadership that kept the county afloat during some really challenging times.
Thanks for your patience if you have made it this far.
I am grateful for your visits. As of today, there have been close to 771,000 views of the blog.There have been a total of 1122 stories posted with 114 this year alone. I really appreciate it when you give feedback and indicate whether you got something from the blog.
One last thing,
Our county is going to celebrate the 250th anniversary of its founding this year. Westmoreland County was at the heart of the freedom and independence movement that we call a Republic.
I hope to share some of those stories in the coming year. There is much to reflect on and be proud of.
God Bless you and Have an Amazing 2023.