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White House invites local county leaders to visit

White House invites local county leaders to visit

Some don't want to attend; others see opportunity
White House invites local county leaders to visit
Then-candidate Donald Trump at a rally in Albany in April 2016
Photographer: Peter R. Barber/Gazette Photographer

CAPITAL REGION -- County leaders from across New York will have a chance to attend a White House conference on county issues later this month, though it remained uncertain how many will attend.

Some invitees want nothing to do with President Donald Trump's White House, while others said attending would be a valuable experience, regardless of whether they support Trump and his policies.

Invitations from the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs went to a large number of county-level elected officials on a non-partisan basis, meaning both Democrats and Republicans are being asked to attend the Aug. 23 event, which includes a White House tour. The conference itself will be three hours long.

"It's our understanding they invited all or most elected county leaders," said Mark LaVigne, deputy director of the New York State Association of Counties, which is tracking those who may attend the event but isn't otherwise involved.

Schenectady County Legislator Rory Fluman, D-Scotia, said an invitation to the White House should be an honor, but he doesn't believe there can be a meaningful discussion, given Trump's controversial Twitter posts and attacks on the media.

"Going to the White House and having a productive meeting with the President's staff seems highly unlikely," said Fluman, who is also chairman of the county's Intergovernmental Cooperation Committee. "My decision to decline the invitation has nothing to do with the party of the president but the bombastic politics he engages in."

A pair of Saratoga County Republicans, however, said they would like to go, though in both cases, personal commitments will keep them from attending.

"I think you have to engage rather than disengage," said Saratoga Springs Supervisor Matthew Veitch, who is on the board of the National Association of Counties. "You have to engage regardless of whether you agree or not."

"Get over it; your candidate lost," said Edinburg Town Supervisor Jean Raymond, in response to criticisms Democrats's criticisms of Trump. "I wish I was going. I think it would be an opportunity."

Raymond said she visited the White House and stood on the lawn while President George W. Bush boarded a helicopter when she was on the Association of Counties board, but in more than 30 years in public office, she hasn't seen a White House conference focused on county issues.

"You get to meet and network with people, and that's valuable," Raymond said.

The White House has been holding a series of such meetings with county leaders, state-by-state, since at least the fall.

"I've never been asked in my 11 years as a county official to come and attend a briefing, so this is a first," Veitch said.

County governments nationwide are typically responsible for building and maintaining road systems, law enforcement and local jails, and delivering social services, most of which are paid for with federal dollars. Counties are also providing many of the programs that deal with drug abuse issues and environmental hazards, according to a New York State Association of Counties summary of their role. They are also responsible for election security -- a key point, given Russian efforts to interfere in U.S. elections.

The National Association of Counties will host a dinner reception the night before the White House event to brief attendees on what to expect and discuss national county priorities.

LaVigne said there are federal issues county leaders would like to raise, if given the opportunity.

"Federal funding for opioid addiction and abuse has been flowing fairly slowly, so that is an issue," LaVigne said. "There are water issues, like contamination with PFOA or harmful algae blooms. I'm sure the infrastructure proposal will come up."

Specifically related to New York, LaVigne said there are issues around new limits on the federal deductions of state and local income and property taxes to discuss.

LaVigne said the state Association of Counties doesn't have a count yet on how many elected officials will attend, but it will be dozens.

"We expect at least 100 by the time the deadline comes around," he said.

Invited officials have until Aug. 17 to respond to the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, according to a copy of the invitation. Travel and lodging costs will be the responsibility of those attending.

Trump, who last year said that upstate New York residents should "just move" out of the state, will be at Fort Drum, near Watertown, on Monday, at the invitation of U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro. He will sign the new defense bill and will also attend a fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-New Hartford. Both are in contested re-election campaigns.

Reach Daily Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.



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