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Commissioners' Race Roundup, Sept. 22

Shapiro-Richards unveils student vet assistance plan; Castor-Brown calls DVRPC to account on 422 studies.

Shapiro, Richards appear at MCCC to propose assistance program for student vets

Josh Shapiro and Leslie Richards, the Democratic ticket for majority control of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, appeared at Montgomery County Community College yesterday afternoon to propose an assistance and psychological support program for veterans who are enrolling at the school.

"Almost half of military veterans enrolled in college have contemplated suicide, and almost 20 percent have planned to kill themselves," said Richards, citing a study presented this summer at a conference of the American Psychological Association. "The transition from the military to college campuses is very challenging for [veterans], which is why a Shapiro-Richards administration wants to do all that we can to help these residents who have served our country so well."

Tim Rayburn, 23, a veteran of operations in Iraq and Haiti, appeared with the candidates to speak about his experience as a veteran returning to school. Rayburn began attending classes in January.

"It's been limited in what they could do for us as veterans … but everything they did has helped a lot," he said. "You find yourself back in the civilian world, and you don't know what to do. I didn't know if I wanted to further my education or have a career choice in life. I didn't feel important."

The Collegeville native said the pace of civilian life paled to his experiences as a Marines Corps Corporal.

"It was really hard to come back to the school world … in Anbar Province in Iraq, I helped plan the daily routes for combat missions. My job was to make sure we were safe. After four years of doing that, you come back to the civilian world, and you don't know what to do. There's nothing that intense," Rayburn said.

Rayburn said he hopes to eventually become an international diplomat.

"I'm doing two years here, hopefully attending Temple [University] in two more years, and from there hopefully getting my law degree," Rayburn said.

The college currently has a part-time staff member who helps veterans enroll, navigate G.I. Bill tuition funding and register for classes. The veterans' assistance center would cost about $135,000 to operate, Shapiro said.

Castor-Brown wants DVRPC to release info used to "justify" 422 tolling proposal

The Castor-Brown campaign issued a "demand" Wednesday evening for the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), the interstate governmental agency that oversees much of the transportation development in a nine-county area spanning Pennsylvania and New Jersey, to release information the campaign says is being used "to justify a proposal to toll Route 422."

The campaign said its demand was in response to published reports claiming that the DVRPC has denied multiple right-to-know requests "regarding information gathered using taxpayer money that is being used to push a tolling plan that would take even more money out of taxpayers' pockets."

The campaign said the DVRPC is withholding information substantiating the projected ridership for a proposed rail line that would, in some iterations of the Route 422 plan, accompany improvements to the roadway. Such a rail line would most likely be an extension of the old SEPTA R6 line along the trackbed of the historic Reading Railroad, currently in use as a Norfolk Southern freight line.

A report in the West Chester Daily Local earlier this week quoted John Frey of the Pennsylvania Transit Expansion Coalition (PA-TEC), a self-described "network of transit advocates," in calling the DVRPC's projected ridership for such a rail line "inflated."

Frey told the Daily Local that PA-TEC had successfully appealed the DVRPC's denial of its information requests to the state's Office of Open Records, but had not yet received the information it asked for.

“We need to rebuild trust in government, and we can’t do that if a taxpayer-funded commission looks like it’s hiding something,” Castor said in a statement sent to the media.

Castor and Brown called on their Democratic opponents, Josh Shapiro and Leslie Richards, "to ask their ally, [sitting] Commissioner Joe Hoeffel, to push for the release of this information."

Hoeffel is a county representative on the DVRPC. A representative from the DVRPC did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment late Wednesday.

Castor-Brown: Shapiro "misrepresented" casino funds vote

In other news related to the controversy over Route 422 improvements, the Castor-Brown campaign accused the Shapiro-Richards campaign of falsely representing Josh Shapiro's voting record with regard to keeping public revenue from the planned Valley Forge Casino Resort inside Montgomery County. As it stands, that money will be allocated by the state government.

In response to the to redirect such revenue towards Route 422 upgrades, Shapiro-Richards spokesperson Frank Custer Jr., said that Shapiro had tried to keep that revenue in the county and that Castor "only seemed to become aware of the issue this week."

"In fact, the record of that day's proceedings in the General Assembly indicates that Mr. Shapiro voted in favor of taking the casino money away from Montgomery County's taxpayers," the Castor-Brown campaign said in a statement sent to the media Tuesday.

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