First female Commissioner will help steer county through economic change and restructuring –
By Patricia Beech –
Well-wishers packed the Adams County Common Pleas courtroom on Thursday, Dec. 29 as Teresa Diane Ward took the oath of office, officially seating the county’s first woman Commissioner.
Officiating the ceremony, Judge Brett Spencer told those in attendance, “This county was founded in 1797, and now, in 2016 we at last have our first female Commissioner.”
While Ward may have shattered the glass ceiling, she is emphatic her decision to run wasn’t based on gender.
“I am very excited to be the first woman Commissioner, but I didn’t run on that basis,” she says. “Some people may have thought I was running just for that reason, but that’s absolutely not correct – I ran on my knowledge, my experience, and my desire to serve this county.”
Despite her qualifications, Ward was confronted by undisguised misogyny throughout her campaign.
“I was told right to my face by several men that a woman would never be an Adams County Commissioner,” she said. “I knew I wasn’t going to get their votes, but I just got out there and I worked hard for the votes I did get.”
Having punched her way through the 220 year-old barrier, Ward must now contend with what’s on the other side – fiscal disjunction rising from the inevitable extinction of the county’s coal-fired power plants.
She is concerned, but undaunted by the economic changes and restructuring the closing of the plants will bring.
“I’m very worried about the situation with DP&L because it’s going to effect everyone in the county,” says Ward. “We have cut back what we can so we may be able to glide through the changes in 2017, but in 2018 it’s going to hit us a lot harder and it’s a major concern.”
Primary among those concerns are state-mandated programs.
“When you have programs that are mandated by the state, you have to provide for them,” Ward explains. “You have to provide for the treasurer’s office, the auditor’s office, the courts, the recorder’s office – this is all mandated and you have to have the funding to provide for these services and when you have a major funding cut like this – it’s a big job.”
A former Franklin Township Fiscal Officer, Ward is no stranger to the constraints of shoestring budgeting.
“We’re going to have to pursue more grants that are available to us and actively go after them – aggressively go after them,” she says. “We’re going to do the best we can to keep things going. I don’t want to see any employee lose a job because people in this county need their jobs.”
Like many other of Adams County’s elected officials, Ward believes tourism could play an important role in replacing revenue for the region.
“We have such a beautiful county, but we do not have the infrastructure that would allow people to come here and stay,” she says. “Tourists come to visit Buzzard’s Roost, the Amish country, Serpent Mound, and all these other wonderful places, and then they go somewhere else to spend the night, and we’re losing that revenue. I would like to see more Bed and Breakfasts open, or a small hotel, and I would also like to see a couple other restaurants come in to promote tourism.”
Ward, who took office on Jan. 2, says she plans on visiting other counties over the next few months to explore ideas for replacing the county’s lost tax revenue.
“I’m hopeful we can get some things accomplished, and address this issue with DP&L and the Medicaid tax which we’re going to lose,” she says. “When we lose this revenue, we lose services, and when those services are mandated we have no choice, we have to find the funding. It’s something that has to be dealt with or we may have to go to the state for help.”
Positioning herself as a reformer during the campaign season, Ward now says she plans to make good on her promise to bring transparency to Adams County government.
“This is an exciting time for me, and I want the public to know more about what’s going on in their county,” she added. “I want our county government to be as transparent as possible – as clear as glass. I’m not here to turn things upside down, I’m here to make sure government process is done properly and in a timely manner, I’m here to address issues in an immediate sense – if it has to be done immediately.”
In a year that saw the rise of a strong, inspiring woman at the forefront of American politics, it seems appropriate that trailblazers would also break out in local governments. While this is not the first political office Ward has held, winning the Commissioners seat is a singular accomplishment capable of producing rippling effects.
“I have spoken with several young women recently who were very excited that I have become Commissioner,” said Ward. “I told them one thing – work hard, be determined, and you can do whatever you want in this life because you live in a country where women have the freedom to attain whatever they want. You just have to have the determination and work ethic to attain it.”