Lebanon County Commissioners approved Fresh Creative, a Lebanon-based marketing agency, to lead the $2.8-million mask-wearing public relations initiative as part of the CARES Act funding received from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
A motion by Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz to approve the local firm, pending review by counsel, to quarterback the campaign was amended to include as many local businesses and nonprofits as possible after Commissioner William E. Ames voiced concerns over awarding the project to just one vendor.
“I don’t think we should hand this total ball of wax to one provider without some indication, or at least make part of the motion, that there will be involvement of other agencies and providers of PR services in the county,” Ames said.
As part of the lawsuit settlement between Lebanon County and the state after the Wolf administration was sued for withholding CARES Act funding, the county agreed to conduct a mask wearing public relations campaign as part of the overall $12.8 million block grant funding released through the Department of Community and Economic Development.
Read more: Lebanon County CARES Act agreement explained
In voicing his concerns about awarding the PR campaign contract to just one business, Ames noted the other proposal came from another local firm which has done work for the Chamber of Commerce as well as the county’s tourism office.
“I need to be assured as to how that’s going to happen because I think the other proposal certainly has merit,” Ames said. “I certainly don’t want to see anyone slighted. The worst thing we can do is be eager to get this money spent and have a lot of unhappy businesses and folks within the county. That’s my goal: to not have that happen.”
After Litz said Fresh Creative’s proposal does include the stipulation that numerous vendors would be utilized, Commissioner Chairman Robert J. Phillips said he agreed with Ames, noting that this opportunity should include businesses and other organizations who can provide the necessary services to promote wearing masks as a way to lessen the spread of COVID-19.
“Bill, I share your concerns that this thing is for as many businesses as possible throughout the county that relate to this mission that we’ve been charged with,” Phillips said. “I feel comfortable that the provision from Fresh Creative is in there but I would also assure you that I would not proceed with them if that was not part of [their proposal].”
Jamie Wolgemuth, Chief Clerk/County Administrator, noted that both local PR vendors who bid on the project “equally, thoroughly and completely” understand that the wish of the board is to “include as many agencies, vendors, ancillary services and anyone else who can legitimately play a role in the contribution to this campaign.”
“The way the CARES settlement was written, it didn’t describe it this way, but it, in a way, can behave in somewhat of a stimulus manner by providing business to local vendors,” Wolgemuth said.
He added that the settlement was written in three tiers to include: county agencies that want to participate in the PR campaign; vendors, including printers, broadcast media, publications, and other media outlets; and, lastly, any party that might not typically involve themselves in PR campaigns.
“If a theater company that wants to do a video, for example, to be part of the mask campaign and has an idea or a concept for production, then that’s something that could be approved,” Wolgemuth said. “So I do think this is going to cast a very broad net and that has been part of the conversations that I’ve had [with the PR agencies] and that is something that is broadly understood.”
Wolgemuth noted there will be numerous opportunities to include many local businesses as the initiative, which must be completed by Dec. 30, moves forward, and Chairman Phillips added that’s the commissioners’ intent.
“We want every penny possible to be spent in Lebanon County through those businesses,” Phillips said. “The impact could be huge, in terms of the stimulus, but also give a good shot in the arm to players who maybe wouldn’t be in those positions otherwise.”
It was not said how much Fresh Creative would receive of the $2.8 million allotted for the public relations campaign or when the work would begin. The wording of the agreement will be vetted by the county’s legal counsel.
In other county business, Michael Anderson, Chief Clerk, Voter Registration, told the commissioners that all 60 polling places have been certified as accessible for all voters for the upcoming general election.
The county has received the final applications for the Governor’s Electronic Messaging System (GEMS) contract, which is a 60 percent reimbursement from the state for the purchase of voting equipment. The reimbursement from the state totals $516,839.45 for voting equipment purchased by the county at the end of 2019.
Anderson also asked and received permission to apply for a pandemic-related grant, which would be for at least $5,000, via the nonprofit organization Center for Tech and Civic Life, to use as part of a COVID-19 response during the 2020 election cycle.
In other county business, Erin Moyer, Administrator, Children & Youth Services, presented the final report for the fiscal year 2019-20. She said that her department overspent by $214,328 due to increases in court-ordered placements.
“Specifically, we’ve been placing a lot of large sibling groups,” Moyer said. “From October 2019 to March of 2020 alone, our agency placed 39 new children, and those placements accounted for $360,000 during the remainder of the fiscal year.”
Moyer added that there were 25 more children placed than the previous fiscal year, adding that despite maximizing state grant at 113 percent, the allocation was utilized quicker than anticipated.
“I will be filing an appeal and budget amendments to attempt to secure this over-expenditure,” Moyer added during her report.
Judge Charles T. Jones, who handles a majority of the juvenile cases in county court, said he was responsible for the over-expenditure of the juvenile probation department. It was noted that juvenile probation overspent by $484,147 during the past year.
“If you are upset with anybody, you need to be upset with me because I direct where people go,” Jones said during the commissioner’s Zoom meeting. “I tried to be there in person so you could give me a stern lecture but they wouldn’t let me in your offices.”
The past fiscal year was unique for the juvenile probation department compared to previous years.
While fewer children were placed by the juvenile probation department overall, juveniles spent more time in the state-secured unit, which is the highest level of security — and therefore, the most expensive level of care to provide to offenders. While traditional juvenile services cost about $250 per day, the cost in the highest secured level runs $550 per day.
Of the five youths placed at this level, two were violent, predatory sex offenders who had also attacked staff working at the lower levels of care. Another placement involved a girl who has been in the system twice within the same year while a boy, who had absconded from a less secure program, became violent with staff.
The five within the state system, it was noted, display violence tendencies, have mental health issues and have suffered significant trauma in their lives, which requires these individuals to be placed within the most secure level to ensure the safety of local residents.
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Full Disclosure: The campaigns of Bill Ames, Bob Phillips, and Jo Ellen Litz were advertisers on LebTown during previous election cycles. Ames Home Services and the Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce are current advertisers on LebTown. LebTown does not make editorial decisions based on advertising relationships and advertisers do not receive special editorial treatment. Learn more about advertising with LebTown here. Additionally, Lebanon County Solicitor David Warner has a financial interest in the ownership of LebTown’s parent company Lebanon Publishing Company. He has no involvement in editorial operations, including this article.