OP-ED: Washington County is full of talent | Op-Ed
“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it. – William Shakespeare
I recently served on a search committee to assemble a “dream team” of independent individuals to run for the Government Review Commission in the November 2 general election in Washington County. This commentary will not focus on the commission, the county office debacle or the pandemic. During our committee discussions, I was overwhelmed by the array of talented people who live and work in Washington County. Our riding is truly a unique community that has reason to be proud of its citizens and their accomplishments.
What is most evident when taking an inventory of our local leaders is the number of skilled women who are responsible for all aspects of Washington County’s political, legal, social and economic enterprises. While not quite a part of the Amazonian community of Greek mythology, the women of Washington County match their counterparts in terms of skills and experience. Women leave their mark in every business in the community.
A few examples will illustrate my point. At the head of the female pack is Commissioner Diana Irey Vaughan, who chairs the County Commissioners Council. She has become the most visible political figure in Washington County. While I often disagree with her conservative philosophy, there is no denying that she is willing to govern in a non-partisan way. Her appointments to county offices, including the chief clerk, social services and legal department, among others, have been women. Most of the officials in the county office bureaus are also women.
At the Washington County Court of Common Pleas, Justices Valerie Costanzo, Traci L. McDonald and retired Judge Katherine B. Emery continue the tradition of women in the judiciary. Kathy Sabol, Executive Director of the Washington County Bar Association (WCBA), has transformed WCBA into a dynamic organization, often referred to as one of the best in the Commonwealth. The WCBA is made up of 480 lawyers and judges, and 25% of its members are women. Many of them contribute to organizations across the county.
Since 1998, Betsie Trew has served as Executive Director and now President and CEO of the Washington County Community Foundation. Under his leadership, the foundation’s assets grew from less than $ 250,000 to over $ 50 million. One of its goals is to help women move up the ranks of nonprofits and philanthropic giving. WCCF’s current board of directors includes eight dynamic women, all dedicated to helping those in need.
In education, women rule in Washington County. Until recent retirements, Washington & Jefferson College and the University of California, Pennsylvania had female presidents. Many school principals, principals, school board members and teachers are women.
In the realm of nonprofit human service organizations, women abound in Washington County. The Drugs and Alcohol Commission, the Citizens’ Library, Adolescent Outreach, the Commission on Aging, the Food Bank, Community Health Services, the Literacy Council and the Symphony all have female directors. or presidents. There are many more examples of dedicated Washington County women leaders who are helping to ensure that the health and well-being of our citizens remains in caring and capable hands.
While I have chosen to highlight female leadership within the county, of course there are many outstanding men who have dedicated their careers to local public service as well. For anyone who commits to service, the pay is meager and the hours are long. The number of appointed local leaders who are at the peak of their profession yet decide to stay in Washington County is staggering. Many of them could easily move on to higher paying and prestigious positions in larger communities.
At the municipal level of county government (mayors, supervisors and council members), volunteers from the community (firefighters, non-profit organizations, schools and religious organizations) and commerce (business owners and their employees) are hundreds of Washington County residents who care deeply about their community. Few of these people receive the accolades they deserve.
Volunteer activities are particularly noteworthy for providing a network of relationships and communications that influence good government. Without them, who freely gave of their time, Washington County would be a much less pleasant place to live and work.
The more communities are collectively engaged, the healthier they become. One of the many examples is the willingness of Commissioners Irey Vaughan and Larry Maggi to let voters decide our form of local government in the general election on November 2. This process is participatory, accountable, transparent, efficient, inclusive and respects the rule of law.
Helen Keller once said, “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members. Local leaders and volunteers in Washington County, many of whom have an impressive female footprint, make this thought meaningful to all of us.