Commissioner reflects on first year
It’s been almost a year since Washington County Commissioner Kevin Ritter took office, but he said he’s happy with how things have gone this year.
“It’s a steep learning curve, but that’s the case with any job,” he said. “Every situation I walked into, I was encountering for the first time. With the experience I’ve gained, I expect next year will be even better.”
He said he had a good idea of what to expect with the job and having this opportunity is humbling and exciting.
“For years I’ve taught history and government at the high school and college levels,” he explained. “I have a profound respect for the founders of our nation and the experiment in self-governing they laid out.”
Commission Clerk Ben Cowdery said Ritter’s teaching positions have been a benefit.
“He’s definitely different from the other two (commissioners),” he said. “He teaches at Veritas (Classical Academy) and Washington State (Community College). He has new perspectives and new things to talk about.”
Ritter said he had goals as a commissioner.
“Most important for me are stewarding the people’s money, and continuing to build relationships with city, village and township officials. As a county, we’ve got limited resources and growing needs,” he said. “We’re not like the federal government. We cannot spend more than we take in. That means we need to watch every penny and work smarter.”
He said one of the ways they’ve worked smarter is to merge Children Services with the Washington County Job and Family Services earlier this year.
“With that move, we’ve been able to leverage state and federal monies. That has enabled us to pull Children Services out of debt and significantly increase the daily reimbursement for foster families for the first time in 17 years,” Ritter said.
Another goal he had was to marshal the county through the Devola sewer project.
“I was very opposed to (the Devola sewer) during the campaign and I was very disappointed that it was decided before I got in,” he explained. “But now we need to make sure we do a good job, not just for the people of Devola, but also the other sewer customers around the county. Knowing this will be an economic hardship for a number of people, not just in Devola but around the county, is the toughest issue I’ve had to deal with this year.”
Walking through the steps of the project will take up most of his four years in office.
The sewer project isn’t the only issue he’s had to face in his first year in office. This past summer, he saw the near-implosion of the Washington County Board of Health.
The board of health saw several people resign, including board members and the director of population health.
Ritter said the most difficult thing about the Board of Health situation was that county residents expected the commission to fix the problem.
“The county health department is a stand-alone health district designated by the state,” he explained. “It is funded by the townships, not the commission. As such, we have zero control over the board of health. I am pleased it appears they now have things moving in the right direction.”
Cowdery said since Ritter has become clerk, he’s seen the other commissioners step in to provide guidance where needed.
“I have been able to see more experienced commissioners providing insight with his learning about the commission,” Cowdery said.
Ritter said Commission President David White and Commissioner Ron Feathers have been good about sharing information.
“I have the benefit of two fellow commissioners who have been here for six years, so they were able to point me in the right direction for resources,” he noted.
Feathers said Ritter has come a long way in the last few months.
“In the budgetary process, he’s definitely come a long way in grasping the concept of all the different accounts and funds. I think his biggest asset that he’s been for me is just being able to reason through issues to come up with solutions,” Feathers said. “Really, he’s a great asset to the county.”
Michele Newbanks can be reached at email@example.com.
About Kevin Ritter
• Sworn in as commissioner Jan. 1.
• Term will end Dec. 31, 2022.
• Toughest issue this year has been Devola sewer project.
• Most important aspects of the job are stewarding the people’s money and building relationships with local officials.
Source: Commissioner Kevin Ritter.