EXETER — From potholes to police brutality to opioid abuse, four of Gov. Tom Wolf’s department secretaries took turns answering questions at a “Cabinet in Your Community” event at Wyoming Area Secondary Center on Thursday.
Audience members held up color-coded cards, each of four shades showing they had a question for either PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards, acting State Police Commissioner Lt. Col. Robert Evanchick, Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary Jennifer Smith or Education Secretary Pedro Rivera.
It was Rivera’s second visit to the area in as many months — he stopped by to learn about Misericordia University’s Women with Children Program in August — and he referred to that visit while answering a question about what the state was doing to prevent students from turning to drugs or alcohol to combat a life that seems empty.
Rivera cited resources on ways to engage students beyond the classroom available on the Department of Education’s web page, plus the Bully Prevention Hotline set up by the state. Then he mentioned the Misericordia program as a good example of how helping parents succeed can lift children form poverty.
Other topics addressed:
• Potholes and construction delays — Richards noted last winter was harsh and that the number of calls about potholes doubled from 15,000 to 30,000. She also said the wet summer has made it harder to keep up with needed work.
• Police brutality — Evanchick, a former Wilkes-Barre police officer, said PSP takes it very seriously and has an aggressive approach, with specially trained people investigating allegations and management applying either discipline or criminal charges when needed. He also praised the growing use of body cameras on officers. “They put police on notice,” he said.
• Opioid abuse — Smith began to answer a question about the complex problem by quipping “So I assume I get the rest of the time to answer.” Then she touted the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program implemented about 18 months ago for reducing opioid prescriptions by 20 percent and eliminating “doctor shopping” by addicts. She also mentioned the state hotline (1-800-662-HELP) for those seeking treatment options, and noted the pa.gov website includes multiple links to a wide range of options and assistance.
• School district consolidation — Rivera said Wolf wanted to see smaller districts consolidate, but “there were no takers.” He joked “the hardest thing to get rid of is the school mascot,” then said the strategy is now to get districts to share services and even administration buildings to reduce costs.
Smith answered one question about divisiveness in the nation.
“If we don’t see communities come together to solve problems, we’ll never get past this,” she said. “Don’t let what happens in Hollywood or the White House influence what you do here. It is what happens in your community that is going to shape what happens in your future.”
Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish