At the August 26 County Commissioners Meeting, Ben Vonderhiede concluded a series of three appearances representing the concerns of Daddy Justice, a local group committed to promoting the custody rights of fathers. After the group concluded their remarks, the Commissioners weighed in on the issues raised, and Commissioner Scott Martin explained his plan to bring these concerns into a dialogue between District Attorney Craig Stedman, President Judge Louis Farina, and the County Commissioners.
In previous appearances, Daddy Justice has presented the Commissioners with complaints regarding the use of protection from abuse orders (PFAs), which are imposed twice as often in Lancaster County than in York County; and regarding the staffing of the County’s Domestic Relations Office, which is 92% female.
Following the group’s presentation at the previous Commissioners Meeting, Martin requested that speakers who described personal grievances with Lancaster’s Domestic Relations Office provide him with their complaints in written form. Vonderheide, during the August 26 meeting, indicated suspicion regarding Martin’s request: “It is my understanding, in my experience, that while the Commissioners and government officials will look out to defend all the action of their employees and agencies, if we make one misstatement on there, that’s what they’re looking for.”
Commissioner Dennis Stuckey sought to rebut Vonderheide’s implication—that, in Stuckey’s words, “Commissioner Martin asked for information so that we could circle the wagons.” Stuckey asserted that Martin’s interest, first and foremost, is in the well-being of the County’s citizens: “Believe me, no one is more passionate about working with things and seeing that people are treated fairly than Commissioner Martin.”
In his comments, Martin was careful to recognize the sensitive balance of power in County Government. For instance, Martin asserted, the Commissioners would not hold the authority to enter a Domestic Relations office and demand the release of documents and confront their staff. “They aren’t our employees,” he said.
As a model for the Commissioners’ potential for influence in these matters, Martin looked to their recent efforts to reduce the prison budget by adjusting corrections policies and procedures. The Commissioners had no authority to order the introduction of reforms such as on-site hearings, work release expansions, and an expedited judicial process; however, Martin explained, the Commissioners did bring together the DA and the President Judge to discuss the potential of such practices.
Martin will take a similar approach with the issues discussed by Daddy Justice: “I’d like to take that same type of relationship that we’ve had looking at changes in the criminal side of things…and having those same kinds of dialogues with those same entities in regard to the issues that have been brought to us regarding PFAs and Domestic Relations.”
Martin said that he has already been compiling a file of citizen complaints for discussion and will arrange a meeting when Stedman returns from vacation.