There are five candidates running for two open slots on the Republican ballot for Fayette County commissioner in the May 21 primary, consisting of one incumbent and four challengers.
Dave Lohr, 62, of South Connellsville is seeking his second consecutive term as county commissioner amid a crowded field also featuring challengers Scott Dunn, 54, of Dunbar, Jacob Ely, 26, of Perryopolis, Elise Glad, 23, of South Union Township, and Santino Guzzo, 37, of South Union Township.
Angela M. Zimmerlink, a Republican, is not seeking a fifth consecutive term as commissioner.
Having served as Dunbar Borough Council president for the last six years, Dunn said he would prioritize quality-of-life issues, which he defined as including blight reduction, fighting the opioid crisis and park improvements.
“A lot of the (ways to work toward quality-of-life improvement) are just work, making sure you’re communicating well ... with the citizens to make sure they know there are programs available in the county to help with quality-of-life issues,” Dunn said.
Having worked in Washington County’s juvenile probation office and Fayette County’s adult probation office, Ely prioritized greater recognition of what he said is a forthcoming methamphetamine crisis in the county.
Ely said working with state legislators and seeking federal grant money were two avenues he would pursue.
“If we’re not communicating with our state legislators, we’re not going to get this money to fight these kinds of things,” Ely said.
Glad, a graduate student at California University of Pennsylvania studying clinical mental health counseling, prioritized governing without cronyism or nepotism, supporting deidentifying resumes and conducting structured interviews to ensure fair consideration of all candidates.
“The top thing is I don’t have a personal agenda,” Glad said.
A first responder with South Union Volunteer Fire Company, Guzzo said he would like to see tourism flourish, citing its integral role in American history and stressing the importance of sewage and water service to facilitate housing on a countywide scale.
Guzzo backed putting billboards up in other areas with a high volume of tourists such as Gettysburg and Niagara Falls advertising this county’s tourist attractions such as Fort Necessity and Laurel Caverns.
Lohr said a project to extend the runway at Joseph A. Hardy Connellsville Airport is “extremely high” on his list of priorities because he sees it as a “huge economic tool” for the county.
“(If) we get that runway extended out to the distance I want it to go to, which is 6,300 feet ... that opens the door to corporations coming in and basing themselves here,” Lohr said.
Considering a new county prison
Lohr has consistently supported making the former U.S. Army Reserve Center property along Route 21 in Uniontown the site for a new prison to replace the current 131-year-old county jail. Lohr noted the proposed site is 1 mile from the county courthouse, is close to Uniontown Hospital if necessary and would cause minimal residential impact.
Lohr favors inmate rehabilitation programming that could include making sure inmates have GEDs and dog training.
Guzzo said he supported making the former reserve center property the site of the new prison and converting two floors of the old prison into a tourist attraction with “spooky tours” around October. Guzzo said a new prison should offer drug counseling.
“Not everybody’s a bad person that’s in jail,” Guzzo said. “They’ve done things, but you know what, they can come back from that.”
Glad said she did not have enough information on the former reserve center site to say whether it should be used but would pursue whatever option was most fiscally responsible. Glad said clinical mental health is the “biggest hurdle” for many inmates and would support providing enough mental health counseling and time for such counseling at a new prison.
“I would also be a proponent for continuing education and work education so once these men and women exit the system … (they’re) able to find employment,” Glad said.
Ely said he does not support using the former reserve center property for the prison, saying the current prison’s recently low population totals don’t capture the amount of offenders who could and should be incarcerated, and mask a need for a prison larger than the roughly 6.5-acre former reserve center site could provide.
Ely is in favor of moving on from the current prison, though.
“I believe anybody that spends a day in that prison would be,” said Ely, who also supports drug and alcohol treatment and vocational training at a new prison site.
Dunn said he would need more information before he can assess whether to support a new prison at the former reserve center and favors job training for inmates.
(It’s) important when you leave you have something available,” Dunn said. “ ... You don’t want to go back to the life of crime.”
Guzzo said it is “amazing” how many people walk the South Union Township portion of the Sheepskin Trail.
“(W)e need to be cheerleaders for this and get this done,” Guzzo said, adding his experience as a car and jewelry salesman would help push the project to completion when negotiations become necessary.
Glad said reaching out to state legislators could help move the trail project forward and recommended diligence in grant research and commissioners pushing the trail as a recreational asset for businesses and their workers.
Ely said the commissioners need to be cheerleaders for the trail and collaborate with state legislators and pursue state and federal grants to help achieve progress on the project.
Dunn noted that Dunbar has received grants based on it being a “trail town” which have yielded improvements in the borough’s downtown area.
“What needs to be done is just to continue to plug away,” Dunn said. “ … It’s just a continual process of finding the money through working with your local, state and federal representatives and their departments to make sure you find that money and just keep building that trail.”
A supporter of Sheepskin Trail progress in his first term, Lohr said he wants to gather attorneys on behalf of the trail and clear up all land parcels needed for its completion.
“(I)f we can actually get this all done all at one time as far as the land acquisitions, then we can go back to the federal government and see possibly what they can do (toward) a lump sum of money to get the whole thing completely finished,” Lohr said.