Q&A with York County Commissioner candidates: Julie Wheeler
Four candidates — two Democrats, two Republicans — are vying for three open seats on the York County Board of Commissioners in the November election.
Republican candidates are Julie Wheeler and Ron Smith. Democrats are incumbent Doug Hoke and Judith Higgins.
The municipal election is Tuesday, Nov. 5.
As part of The York Dispatch's ongoing election coverage, we posed five questions to the candidates and asked them to answer each in no more than 300 words.
Julie Wheeler: Republican
Family: Husband, Michael
Education: Dallastown Area High School; Randolph-Macon Women’s College, bachelor’s degree in biology with honors; Six Sigma Black Belt certified, General Electric
Community involvement: As a 30-year leader in York-area community projects, I’ve dedicated much of my personal time to nonprofit organizations. I’ve served on the boards of The Children’s Home of York, YWCA and Dallastown Dollars for Scholars. I am a member of the Women’s Giving Circle and The Downtown York Rotary. And, I was a founding member of YorIT, whose mission is to cultivate the next generation of philanthropic givers.
In Red Lion, I’m an active member of the BPO Elks No. 1592.
My husband and I are supporters of the Appell Center for the Performing Arts Center and York History Center.
Question: What is the most pressing issue in York County government and how would you address it if you’re elected to the board of commissioners?
Answer: Public Safety must always remain a top priority for the county commissioners. I am the only candidate to be endorsed by Local FOP 15 (York City Police), Local FOP 73 (York County Police Officers), as well as District Attorney Dave Sunday. As commissioner, having a safe place to live, work and raise a family are my highest priorities. I will support proper funding for each unit of county government that works to ensure a safe community, including 911 Emergency Services.
Question: After two consecutive years of tax increases, the county commissioners then held the line in 2018 and 2019. How would you approach the budgeting process: Are tax increases on the table, how would you prioritize spending needs and where would you look for cuts if needed?
Answer: Under my leadership, York County will have a strategic plan to guide a decision-making process over the next four years. This dynamic document will be created with input from residents, county employees, business and nonprofit communities. It will benchmark objectives for regular measurement of accomplishments and accountability. Our strategic plan will seek “best practices” of other county governing bodies. Proper planning enables government to operate with peak fiscal responsibility.
Question: While considering privatizing management of the 911 Center this year, a current board member suggested problems at the facility have been brewing for 25 years. What is the board’s responsibility for providing oversight of the county’s departments to ensure problems are dealt with immediately and not allowed to fester? What changes would you make to provide better oversight?
Answer: As with any business, having operational metrics to help drive accountability and responsibility are essential, and a reoccurring review of those metrics is critical. When the data indicates a potential problem brewing, the county should take a pro-active approach to identify the factors driving the poor performance indicator. Once the factors are identified, it is imperative that corrective actions are put in place immediately, and then monitored closely to see if the corrective actions are having a positive impact.
Transparency needs to come in sharing the operational metrics with the leadership teams across county departments. We all need to work collaboratively to help drive positive outcomes for our community. And, having visibility to metrics that indicate our performance is vital.
We have to be willing to hold ourselves accountable, and that includes the county commissioners. One of the best ways I know to drive accountability is to measure, track and report performance. Early detection of an issue will help in preventing a future crisis if dealt with in a timely and efficient manner.
We have to be willing to admit when a problem arises, and look at the problem as an opportunity to improve our process and drive better outcomes for our residents.
Question: Do you support continuing the county’s contract with ICE to house detainees at the York County Prison?
Answer: Our immigration laws are complex. As a law-abiding citizen, I will uphold our existing laws. It is my opinion, one that is shared by many, that federal immigration reform is long overdue. My understanding is that the majority of detainees housed at the York County Prison by ICE are there via local jail, state prison and the federal Bureau of Prison, post-conviction. These detainees are awaiting a hearing to determine whether or not asylum will be granted, or they will be deported back to their country of origin.
As a county, it is our mandate to ensure any individual incarcerated is done so professionally, humanely, and is innocent until proven guilty.
The existing county contract with ICE generates $25 million in revenue which has been used to modernize and upgrade our county prison.
With the prison being roughly 25% of the overall county budget, the ability for the county to generate revenue, to help cover the cost of running the prison makes good fiscal sense.
If granted the privilege to hold the office of county commissioner, I would welcome the opportunity to meet with stakeholders and detainees to learn more about this matter.
Question: Why would you be a better county commissioner than the other three candidates?
Answer: Living in York County has granted me great opportunities to which some residents may not have had access. I recognize there are differences in access to education and economic opportunity in our county. I believe that county commissioners can lead real reform to improve the services, the economic upward mobility, and path forward for all our residents.
I represent a new generation of leadership. Leadership is the greatest skill an individual can bring to the commissioner’s office. During my 23-plus years of service at General Electric, I have demonstrated my leadership skills managing several divisions. Most recently I was the general manager for a $300 million medical device business, overseeing over 500 employees. There are 67 counties in Pennsylvania and York is the eighth largest. My goal is to operate a county government that is admired, respected and trusted for its top-notch services delivered at a cost below the norm.
My leadership style is that of listening, making decisions based on data, and seeking guidance from subject matter experts. I commit to be accessible, helpful, and learn from those of diverse backgrounds.
I have built my life and career on the principles of fiscal stewardship, community service and accountability. I will use the leadership skills I’ve developed working at the highest levels of business, coupled with my firsthand knowledge of what makes York County tick, to serve this great community. It’s critical all voices are heard. As commissioner, I will listen to residents, business leaders and nonprofits to develop and execute decisions that make sense for our community.