Impressive visit to White House could bear fruit

Published: 7/16/2017 10:00 AM
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BY ANDY HEINTZELMAN

THE NEWS-ITEM andy_h@newsitem.com

COAL TOWNSHIP — Northumberland County Commissioner Sam Schiccatano was meeting with a SEDA-COG representative on Friday when an issue related to CDBG funding was raised.

“I said, ‘I know who to call in the federal government,” Schiccatano said Saturday in recalling the situation.

He has such contacts after a day-long visit to the White House on Thursday at the invitation of the Trump Administration.

Some 70 county commissioners toured the White House and grounds and met with representatives — in some cases, the directors themselves — of various federal agencies and other Trump Administration officials, including well-known adviser Kellyanne Conway. Every county commissioner in Pennsylvania was invited to the first-of-its-kind meeting, which the White House says will happen with every other state, too.

Snyder, Schuylkill and Lycoming were among the other local counties represented, Schiccatano said.

He admits he was skeptical about the program at first.

“I wasn’t sure if this was going to be something where we just sat through six hours of listening and then they could say they met with the county commissioners from Pennsylvania,” he said.

That was not the case.

“They answered every question every county commissioner had,” he said, on topics ranging from CDBG funding to regulations and fracking. “And not only did they answer the questions, but they gave their emails and personal cell phone numbers to contact them with any questions.”

Schiccatano said the nine or 10 agencies involved included small business, transportation, agriculture and even NASA.

“I thought, what’s NASA talking to us for? Well, Pennsylvania manufacturers a number of things” that are used in the space program, Schiccatano said. “NASA has a stake in Pennsylvania.”

Also, Conway addressed funding related to combatting the opioid crisis, he said.

“I was overwhelmed that they reached out that well,” he said, noting he went to the young man from Georgia who was a lead organizer of the program, thanked him for the opportunity and noted how counties don’t have the same communication even with state agencies.

The Progress newspaper in Clearfield County cited County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania Executive Director Doug Hill this week as saying he’s never seen an invitation like this extended directly to commissioners. It’s usually done through his organization or other groups.

Schiccatano noted he had two calls to his home from secretaries at the White House in advance of the trip responding to his questions about logistics. His wife took the one call and, not knowing where it was from, Schiccatano at first told her he couldn’t take the call.

“She said, ‘It’s the White House!’” he said with a laugh. “OK, give it to me,” he replied.

Next time, he might be the one making the call to Washington. He noted a federal grant the county received under President Obama related to the cell tower project on Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area land, which he coordinated through U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta’s office.

“Now, I just think this has given us more people to reach out to when we’re dealing with any type of federal grant or questions that maybe affect the county,” he said. “I will not hesitate to call and test them to be sure they’re not blowing smoke — and I don’t think they are.”

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