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March 15, 2013

Commissioners audience made up of two students

MERCER COUNTY — A routine county commissioners meeting turned into a real-time civics lesson for two West Middlesex students who came as part of a school assignment to see government in action.

The students were the only “public” in the assembly room, and were offered their turn, twice, to speak to the three-member board of commissioners on any subject they wanted, though both declined.

Chairman Commissioner John Lechner who routinely moves the board easily through agenda items stopped at nearly every item, explaining what it was and why the commissioners decisions matter when it comes to spending the public’s money. He also asked the county comptroller, financial administrator, treasurer’s office, election office and county clerk to explain their day to day role in running the county.

Lizette Olson, director of AWARE, explained to the students how a grant the commissioners applied for was going to help renovate two homes, one in Greenville and one in the Shenango Valley, that aid victims of domestic violence.

“Unfortunately the need for our services rarely keeps pace with the funding,” she said. She told commissioners her agency sees about 1000 people a year but the agency has identified about 4,800 families who could use assistance.

The $100,000 grant the county obtained was matched by other funding sources at AWARE, Olsen said, and will be used to make the shelter in Greenville handicapped accessible.

The students observed as commissioners also voted to:

• Spend $10,008 on maintenance projects on a storage garage, a move Lechner said was recommended by the commissioners insurance providers.

• Declared a used Chevrolet sedan worth less than $1,000 and posted it for sale to the public.

• Reviewed returns on financial investments

• Hired a part-time custodian, a part-time 911 telecommunicator, an administrative assistant and approved some changes in Judge Christopher St. John’s courtroom staff.

• Adopted a resolution with the Building and Trades Construction Council of Mercer County, allowing for local contractors to have a slight advantage when bidding on county projects.

Commissioner Brian Beader encouraged the students to return anytime but also said he hoped that as adults they would participate in local government wherever they live.

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