Collaboration at every level
Intergovernmental cooperation runs from The White House through the Statehouse, Courthouse
By SHAYNE THOMAS
Seneca County Board of Commissioners
When the Trump administration came into office, they wanted to create a collaborative relationship with local government. Early on, they created the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. This office invited all the county commissioners in Ohio to the White House for a briefing. Naturally, I feared that it was little more than a photo-op. Not willing to risk taxpayer dollars on such a venture, I paid my own way to D.C. The delegation of commissioners was impressed by the influential list of speakers that came to greet us. Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Kellyanne Conway were joined by high-ranking officials from the Department of Energy, Commerce, EPA, NASA and SBA on the speakers’ list. Each successive speaker fielded questions and offered real takeaways that could benefit our local constituents. All emphasized that if there were concerns with any federal agency, we were to contact the office of intergovernmental affairs.
Once back in Seneca County, I had taken issue with the Ohio EPA. The Volkswagen emissions cheating settlement had just occurred, and the Ohio EPA had allocated the settlement grant funds in such a way that it excluded many rural counties like Seneca. Not satisfied with Ohio EPA’s answer, I contacted the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. My request was straight forward, “Could you put me in touch with the folks at the U.S. EPA that managed the VW settlement?” Within 24 hours the White House had arranged a conference call with the lead co-counsel that initiated the lawsuit and had handled the settlement for the U.S. EPA. This was certainly unprecedented responsiveness.
Similar collaboration has been seen at the Statehouse. Our Seneca County judges had an artificial roadblock in the battle against opioid addiction. The county judges and the municipal judge wanted to coordinate their efforts for an alternative docket. The Ohio Revised Code prohibited a municipal judge from presiding over a common pleas court case. Working with Rep. Bill Reineke at the Ohio Statehouse the judges were able to get legislation introduced and passed, which paved the way for this cooperation to occur. This collaboration led to the creation of the first-ever multijurisdictional drug court in the state – the PIVOT program.
Keeping it very local, our constituents can see a consistently high level of collaboration. It’s well known that much of Seneca County operates under the same brand logo, we have a joint justice center, joint prosecutor’s office, joint Tiffin and Fostoria municipal court and joint economic development with the Tiffin Seneca Economic Partnership. All of these are true partnerships that work for the benefit of the taxpayers.
Whether its city and county cooperation on economic development, or Statehouse and courthouse cooperation on the administration of justice in Seneca County, you can find cooperation and collaboration at all levels of government.
Shayne Thomas is president of the Seneca County Board of Commissioners.