In August, the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP) announced that Lisa Schaefer, a Lebanon Valley College graduate and CCAP’s former director of government relations, would become the organization’s executive director.
Schaefer, now officially the acting executive director appointee, will assume the role currently held by Douglas Hill in December. Organization insiders say that Hill leaves the position he held for almost 36 years in capable hands — “Lisa has proven to have the skills, respect and vision to continue to move counties forward as we work to enhance the lives of residents throughout Pennsylvania,” said CCAP President Kathi Cozzone of Schaefer’s experience.
Read More: [Column] County Commissioners Association asks for more support from General Assembly by Douglas Hill
CCAP is a nonprofit organization representing employees of county government across the 67 counties of Pennsylvania. Lebanon County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz acted as President of the CCAP Board of Directors in 2012 and still serves on the board.
LebTown interviewed Schaefer via email about her new position, past experience, education, and roots in the area.
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For each county in Pennsylvania, a Board of County Commissioners operates as the chief governing body, with three elected commissioners overseeing a variety of county systems and practices, including human services, business, elections, property assessment, and more. Lebanon County’s current commissioners are Robert Phillips, William Ames and Jo Ellen Litz. Thanks to the support of our members, LebTown is able to report on the twice-monthly commissioners meetings, and covered the 2019 Republican Commissioners primary race in-depth earlier this year.
How would you describe your current position and the responsibilities it entails? In what capacity do you work with County Commissioners?
I am in the process of transitioning to be the next executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania. I, and CCAP staff, are responsible for overseeing all of the programs and services CCAP provides to its members–the commissioners, chief clerks, administrators, their equivalents in home rule counties, and solicitors of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. CCAP’s services, including legislative, education, information technology, insurance, communications and others, help counties to improve their governance and the services they in turn offer to residents.
I’ll also be working to build and maintain relationships among our members, CCAP staff and our other partners, and will work with our Board to provide strategic direction for the organization’s future. Because we are a membership organization, I (like the rest of our staff) interface with county leaders on a regular basis, whether through county visits, answering questions, connecting counties with resources or working with our policy committees, just to name a few. That interaction with the members is truly what provides us with the continuous insight we need to make sure we are meeting their needs.
As a graduate of Lebanon Valley College and Shippensburg University, were there opportunities or directions that you took during your academic career that led you into working with CCAP (major, programs, etc.)?
At Lebanon Valley, I was initially an English major with a communications concentration, and then added a political science minor to complement those studies. This led me to seek a position within state government after graduation where I gained experience that has served me well working in government relations.
I began my master’s in public administration at Shippensburg after starting with CCAP, and was fortunate to have several professors who understood the importance of local government and the role it plays in policy development and implementation. Having that experience helped me to think even more intentionally about the practical impact of proposed legislation and policies on our members and how we might convey that to legislators.
What did you accomplish previously as CCAP’s director of government relations? Would you describe your current position a natural continuation of that one?
I’m proud of all of the work our government relations team does, because counties are engaged in so many areas of their constituents’ everyday lives — everything from elections to mental health and substance abuse services, to running the local court system to recording deeds and issuing marriage licenses, to maintaining the assessment system and much more. We track hundreds of pieces of legislation on counties’ behalf each legislative session, working with our legislative partners improve counties’ ability to govern themselves.
Working together with our members on the grassroots level, we’ve achieved several of our priorities in recent years, including more flexibility in human services funding, reauthorization of the 911 program, working with the state to address the opioid crisis and development of new assessment tools. And we’ll continue to work on other priorities such as funding for voting systems and human services programs, addressing the mental health needs of those in our criminal justice system and expanding broadband access in our rural communities.
My background in government relations will serve me well in my new position, because I will continue to act as a lead voice with the state and federal governments representing our organization and our members. But the scope of my responsibilities will also broaden beyond just the policy realm to include all of the other ways we serve the counties.
Did you grow up in Lebanon County? Did you have any experience of what county commissioners and CCAP did?
I grew up in Lancaster County, and although I had taken the requisite course in state and local government in college, it wasn’t until I began working in the state legislature that I began to really appreciate the significance of county government (and the unique nature of Pennsylvania’s local government system!).
As I continued in my career, I had multiple opportunities to work with counties and better understand their functions and how they touch the lives of Pennsylvanians every day, often in ways we don’t see in a tangible way. I’m proud to work with our county officials and county staff every day to improve the commonwealth and our communities.
This interview has been lightly edited for formatting and readability.