Zaffino: ‘The people of Warren County are important to me’
¯ Why are you running? What prompted you to run?
¯ What experience do you have to prepare you for office?
¯ We know you worked at Warren County Children and Youth Services. We’ve sensed from some issues raised at commissioner’s meetings that your separation from the county wasn’t entirely amicable. Are we correct in that assumption? If so, can you clarify what happened?
¯ Your yard signs are frequently with those of Judy Albaugh and Cindy Morrison. Can we infer that you are a defacto running mate? If so, why did you choose to align with them? (Did you sign on with them to block another individual’s candidacy?)
¯ What do you see in the future for Warren County? What do you hope to accomplish if elected to a term?
Democratic candidate for Warren County Commissioner Connie Zaffino said the primary reason she is running for office is that she would “like to be a county commissioner who is a representative of the people of Warren County” and keep the people’s money, needs and wants in mind.
“I decided to run because the people of Warren County are important to me,” she said. “This is where I live. I’ve lived here for more than 33 years. I’ve raised my family here. I’ve worked for the county for 31 years.”
“In that time, I’ve worked under numerous sets of county commissioners,” she said. “I have some concerns as far as the spending that’s going on. I have concerns as to the direction the county is going in. That’s what prompted me to run.”
Zaffino cited an aging population and a lack of family-sustaining jobs for young people as concerns she would address as a county commissioner. “I’m concerned that people are being taxed to death,” she said. She added that too often young people “go off to college and they don’t come back.”
“I want to help grow our community. I want to work with stakeholders to see what we can do to bring things to Warren County. I think that’s extremely important,” she said. “We have a lot of people who pass through Warren County but not a lot of people that stay here, raise families here and become invested in the community. I want to work with stakeholders in the county and see what can be done about that.”
Zaffino envisions some community growth stemming from an increase in educational opportunities in the county, specifically via an accredited trade school.
“We have a lot of industry here,” she said. “I’ve talked to a lot of people from industry and the words I keep hearing are ‘we need a trade school.'”
Zaffino feels a trade school could fill a need not currently addressed in the county. “If there is someone looking to get a promotion, say at United Refining, and they need to have a certain skill set,” she said. “There isn’t someplace they can go and get that skill set. They would have to send the person out.”
“I think something like that (a trade school) would be an asset not only to our community but to surrounding communities,” she said. “I think we need to make sure it’s an accredited school. If someone were to get their degree there or diploma there, whatever courses they took could then be applied if they wanted to pursue a bachelor’s degree.”
While Zaffino has given a lot of thought into the prospect of a trade school in the county, she clarified that she considers it an idea worthy of investigation at this point. “I think rather than jumping into things, there needs to be a little more due diligence and research it,” she said. “Talk to people who know what they want. The industries in this county know what they want and know what they need. I think as a commissioner, we should be talking to them.”
In addition to improving communication with stakeholders, Zaffino said she feels commissioners should be prioritizing courthouse renovation projects. “As a county commissioner, I would think it would be my job to look at what we need to do and prioritize and use our bid process and try to have local people doing the work,” she said.
“I think as a commissioner, we have to be stewards of people’s money,” she said. “The last figures that I heard were over $3 million (for courthouse renovation). That’s a lot of taxpayer money. Even if you get a great interest rate, that’s a lot of taxpayer money.”
“I think it would have been more prudent if we needed to fix an elevator to take out a loan for $195,000, I believe that’s the figure, pay it off and move on to the next project,” she said. “No matter what your interest rate at that amount of money you’re not saving money. It just doesn’t make economic sense to me.”
Zaffino said her background and work experience will serve the county well should she be elected. “I worked for Warren County Children and Youth for 31 years,” she said. “I began in the residential program and worked all the way up through to the last 12 years when I worked as a supervisor.”
“I have management experience. I have 12 years of it,” she said. “I have experience working with people fresh out of college to people who have been in the field for years.”
“I have experience working in teams,” she said. “I have experience working with the community because we bring resources together to try to problem solve with a family to fill their needs.”
“I have union negotiation experience,” she said. “I was in the union and for about 10 years I was the chief steward and sat in on all the negotiations for contracts.”
“I’m familiar with the workings of Human Services. I’m a licensed social worker,” she said. “I worked my full-time job and in the evening would do mental health therapy. Since retirement, I continue to do mental health therapy.”
“I bring a lot of experience to this position,” she said. “It’s not like I have to learn about Human Services or learn about Drug and Alcohol or learn about Mental Health. I’ve already worked in those areas.”
Zaffino retired from her position as supervisor of Warren County Children and Youth Services after 31 years in November 2018.
“I can tell you as a 31-year employee, I had very good reviews every time, as recently as Feb. 2018,” she said. “I had a glowing report.”
“I was turning 55 in Oct. 2018. With my years of experience that meant that I was eligible for superannuation retirement which includes my retirement, which I earned, and includes medical benefits and that type of thing,” she said. “There’s a package with retirement. At 55 I was eligible to receive that.”
The question about her separation from the county was drawn from Zaffino’s attendance at county commissioner meetings where she inquired about a Right to Know request she filed with the county.
“I acknowledge that there is a Right to Know that I filed on, I think, June 24 for some information,” she said. “The Chief Clerk disclosed in a public meeting that it was a video because one of the commissioners was unsure what it was.”
Zaffino said there are things about the request she cannot discuss at this time.
“I will tell you that I was absolutely not fired. I did not do anything that would cause me to be fired,” she said. “I did retire and that’s all I’m able to say on that.”
The placement of Zaffino’s yard signs does not indicate that she has a running mate. “I’m running as a Democrat,” she said. “The fact that our signs are together (Zaffino, Cindy Morrison, and Judy Albaugh) are a symbol of the fact that we believe Democrats and Republicans can work together and that we believe three strong women can absolutely work together.”
“We have differing parties but we have core values of putting the taxpayer and the people of Warren County first,” she said. “We want to work as a team and are willing to work as a team but we are all running as individuals.”
“There was no malicious reasoning,” she said. “We’re three strong, qualified women.”
“The last four years of this board of commissioners there has been a lot of fighting and a lot of unproductiveness,” she said. “I think one of the things I’ve heard as I’ve been speaking to people in the community is that they’re very discouraged.”
Zaffino’s vision for the future of the county is one of progress through an “atmosphere of cooperation and working together.” “People should be able to get along,” she said.
“What I also see as the future for Warren County is that I will be one of the Democratic candidates that makes it through to the general election,” she said. “I’m qualified. I’m invested in this community.”
“I intend to put in full-time hours as a county commissioner and I think I will do a good job for the people,” she said. “I did for 31 years.”