Planes, Trains, and No Voter Fraud with Berks County, PA Commissioner Christian Leinbach

Trains, planes and criminals, that’s what the conversation with Berks County PA Commissioner Christian Leinbach is about. Christian Leinbach is working on reviving a railroad line to connect his county to Philadelphia. He is also working on the local airport and trying to bring in service to his city. And we check in on a program that successfully keeps people out of jail and working.

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Christian Leinbach: I believe good government comes down to leaders that care more about addressing problems than what their party thinks or what partizan individuals think. But I will give this warning. If you are not ready to be fully immersed in what you do, then being a county commissioner may not be something you want to consider. It is easier if you ask questions than if you make accusations.

I love what I do. I make a difference in people’s lives almost every day. And I, Lord willing, will be here and finish my career as a county commissioner here in Berks County. I enjoy very much.

David Martin: Welcome to the Good Government show. I’m your host, Dave Martin. On this episode of The Good Government Show, we’re talking with our good friend Berks, Pennsylvania, County Commissioner Christian Leinbach. Christian, I have talked many times and we always have lively conversations and this episode is no different. Writing is their largest city in Berks County. And as you hear Christian is working on reviving what was the old Redding Railroad, you know, the Redding Railroad, the Monopoly train.

Anyway, the new train not be called the Reading Railroad, but it will run through Reading. Is Mr. Line back here successful? He’s up for reelection for his fifth time to county commissioner and Christian. I talked a little bit about voter integrity and how the voting process actually works. There is no voter fraud in Berks County. It’s all under control.

Don’t worry. We also get an update on one of our first good government projects. We highlight it on this show. It’s called the R three Program. This teaches the construction trade to men and women who are in and all trying to stay out of the criminal justice system. It’s a program that’s still going strong. We always like to hear about good government projects we told you about that are still working.

So join me as I talk with our good friend, Commissioner Christian Leinbach on the good government. Show. And we’ll be back with that conversation right after this. The good government show is sponsored by NACO. That’s the National Association of Counties. County Government is actually the oldest form of government in the United States, and it touches more people directly.

Roads, highways, hospitals, schools, recycling law enforcement, water and sewers in most of the country, those services are maintained by the county. That’s county government. Naco is a nationwide organization that represents all 3069 counties across the USA. Naco helps county government work better together to things like sharing best practices. Because when county government works well, well, that’s just good government.

Welcome to the Good Government show. I’m your host, Dave Martin. And on this show we have one of the best friends of the good government show our friend Christian Leinbach Christian welcome county commissioner Christian line back of Berks County.

Christian Leinbach: Welcome David. Great to be on the show.

David Martin: We got into a little bit of politics before we turned to the microphone. US. We’re going to try to veer away from that because that’s when we did a long, a long meal and not a lot of people around us, right?

Christian Leinbach: That’s true. What we do need are more county leaders who are less likely to focus on party and much more likely to focus on problem solving.

David Martin: Yes, I can. I can certainly agree with that. And I just want to point out that for regular listeners of the good government show, all of you should very pay very close attention because there would be no good government show without Christian lined back. And let me just go into our birthing story. One of my partners here on the Good Government show, a friend of yours, Jim, said, So what is it you county commissioners do anyway?

And you said, Well, if you can answer that question and create a television show around that, you know what? You’ll have the county, you’ll have county government in your pocket. And that’s led us here is is that our fair creation story version?

Christian Leinbach: That is that’s the quickest version of it. But for our purposes, it is absolutely a clear explanation.

David Martin: Yes. So thank you for inspiring us to be here and thank you for coming on and always supporting the show. So welcome. Well, again, welcome, Christian.

Christian Leinbach: You’re welcome.

David Martin: All right. So let’s just talk a little bit about what’s going on in in Berks County. First, one of the reasons why we are glad to have you back is we did a show several seasons ago on something called the R three program Berks Connections Pretrial Services, just in inspired program. You have two very dynamic women who are running the show.

Why don’t you explain a little bit to our folks what this is and how it’s going? Give me an update.

Christian Leinbach: You are. Well, the dynamic women, I saw both of them on Friday. Peggy and Mickey are co-executive directors. This is a program that began with a federal grant back in 2017. And it is about taking individuals that are coming out of the criminal justice system, either out of our county jail or more recently, coming out of what we call our treatment courts and treatment courts, a DUI court, mental health court, veterans court, etc..

And it’s alternative to sentencing in that particular case. And what we focus on are the trades. Now, these individuals aren’t going to become certified electricians or carpenter ers or masons, but they get training over an eight week period through Associated Builders and contractors, Habitat for Humanity and the Redding Berks Muhlenberg Technology School. And they get some hands on experience.

In addition to that, they also get training in how to how to change your thinking, how you’re facing life to go back. Yeah, I’m showing you that.

David Martin: Yeah.

Christian Leinbach: Good common sense stuff. And this.

David Martin: Is you. That’s the hardest part, really is, you know, you show up on time. It is. You bring your lunch, you bring your work boots. Right?

Christian Leinbach: And the thing that’s been really amazing, it’s been an enormous success. When we talk about measuring success, probably the number one piece of data we look at is recidivism, right? That’s one word for people that are in jail, out of jail, go back to jail, etc.. Our recidivism rate for individuals going through this program is under 7%, which is just huge.

David Martin: National averages like 60% or something like that.

Christian Leinbach: Exactly. People that are in and out and frequent fliers in the system this past week.

David Martin: So nationally it’s at 60%. And in Berks County, thanks to the R3 program, it’s at 47%.

Christian Leinbach: Correct. And specifically people that go through this program.

David Martin: So this is anywhere ticked up. I’m sorry, has anyone picked up on this program?

Christian Leinbach: The state has. We actually, through the State Department of Labor and Industry, have been recognized as the first non and it was say, non trades, but an apprenticeship program outside of union apprenticeship or construction trades. This is the only one tied to criminal justice system in this case a program like R3. So, yes, there’s been recognition I’m doing I’m not aware of any other counties doing it right now.

It takes a financial commitment from the county and that grant went away after three years and we decided as Berks County to keep on. We wanted to continue to fund it. So we won about 50% of the total costs of the program and they’re able BCBS Berks connection pretrial services are able to raise the other money through some grants through contributions.

But this past week I spoke at the 32nd graduating class. And for those that may wonder, you know, is this just something you’re pushing people through? We had eight graduates. I’m not sure of the number, but there were 12 or 13 that started the program. You don’t automatically graduate because you.

David Martin: Open.

Christian Leinbach: The program. You have to go through. You take a test. In the beginning, most people fail the test in the beginning, and you have to pass the test in the end. But it’s been really, really good to see. We had.

David Martin: So I’m sorry that you said that this is the 37th graduating class.

Christian Leinbach: 32nd.

David Martin: 30, 30 seconds. How how many classes per year do you go through at Berks?

Christian Leinbach: It depends, But there are normally about six classes, seven sometimes in the course of a year it’s continual.

David Martin: That’s an average of like 60 people a year that go through the program.

Christian Leinbach: Yeah.

David Martin: That’s and with a 7% recidivism rate. Now, I talked to one guy who wound up working in the restaurant industry, but quite successful. I think he was a cook in a vegetarian place in town. Do you know where these guys go to work?

Christian Leinbach: We do. And this is the other neat thing about the program. When they graduate and they get a job and most of them get a job right away, BCBS does not say thank you. Good to see you. Have a great day. They stay, a caseworker stays connected to that worker in the company they go to for one year and they tell the company when they’re hired.

If you have any issues, reach out to us. We’re here to support you as well as the individual that you hired. And it’s been good. I’ve talked to graduates that had been out of the program for several years that still have a relationship with Berks Connection, pretrial services because they realize it changed their lives.

David Martin: Yeah, no, I talked to a couple of guys who said that. Well, that’s that is good news. That is good government at its finest, and it’s working. And it all started with two women who said there must be a better way.

Christian Leinbach: Absolutely.

David Martin: So. All right. Well, good to hear that that that the R three program is alive and well and on track. Now, I know that, you know, we’ve talked about this, you know, in the past several times. You have been working on rail service into and out of Berks, I guess. Are you a Philadelphia suburb?

Christian Leinbach: Not really, where Berks is in an odd spot. Listener in Berks probably connects more with the Harrisburg and Central P.A. area, and Eastern Berks connects more with southeastern Pennsylvania and the silly suburbs. But what we are Redding is the fourth largest city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and historically it has been connected from a transportation and standpoint. Rail The Redding Railroad to Philadelphia.

SEPTA in the late seventies took over that line and that was the connection to Philadelphia.

David Martin: So you’ve been on your way to our train service from right, from Berks, from Redding into right here. How’s it going? Them I am trying to get any time soon.

Christian Leinbach: It’s pretty amazing. I wouldn’t buy my Amtrak ticket quite yet.

David Martin: Okay.

Christian Leinbach: But historically there have been numerous studies, government funded studies since the early nineties, trying to deal with the restoration of passenger rail. There’s two things that are very different this time. One, we are doing this not just as Berks County, but we’re working together with Montgomery County and Chester County. There are two counties that border Berks on the eastern border.

David Martin: So for those folks who don’t know, Berks County is sort of in eastern central Pennsylvania, more or less a direct line sort of east and south to Philadelphia. Yeah. So it’s sort of a natural corridor. Is that fair?

Christian Leinbach: That’s correct. And the reason we’ve connected together, each county has a municipal alty that once had the same service. We had Montgomery County, Pottstown Borough and no longer has service in Chester County, Phoenixville Borough, that no longer has service. And we’ve been able to come together in a way that’s never been done before. First as a committee in 2021, and then by 2022, June of 2022, all three counties voted to form the school river Passenger Rail Authority.

Since then, we’ve begun working with Amtrak. And what we’re looking at is a line that you could get on an Amtrak train in Redding, Pennsylvania, with stops in Pottstown, Phoenixville, potentially Norristown, Philadelphia. But it ultimately would be a one line where you get on the train, you don’t get off to. You would get off at Moynihan Station in a downtown New York City.

David Martin: Manhattan is like a Uber.

Christian Leinbach: They absolutely come visit you.

David Martin: They all right.

Christian Leinbach: Now we’re just going to go to New York. You don’t want to drive your car into New York that way.

David Martin: You can take the train.

Christian Leinbach: I take the.

David Martin: Train. I live in New York City. I take the train to Washington. I wouldn’t go any other way. So So, yeah.

Christian Leinbach: We’re we’re not unique. We’re in a unique point in this effort. We filed an application with the Federal Rail Administration in March of this year for something called the Corridor I.D. Program. And that is the critical next step in looking at potential additional Amtrak lines across the country.

David Martin: Would this open Berks up to better development and creating like a Philadelphia suburb? And, you know, fourth, more citizens with more industry, with more residents, with more housing.

Christian Leinbach: And that’s how I tell people to look at it. So many people say to me from Berks, you really think there’s that many people from Berks County that want to go to New York or to Philadelphia? And I tell them, You’re looking at this the wrong way. It’s not so much about us going someplace as much as it is, is opening up our economy to the largest economy in the Western Hemisphere.

And that is the area between Washington and Boston. You look at mid-Atlantic region and the Northeast United States, this kind of train service opens us up to that area. So, absolutely, there is a real opportunity for economic growth and development beyond being a suburb of Philadelphia connects us really to the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, United States in a really big way.

David Martin: But if you can’t take a train, can I fly into Redding?

Christian Leinbach: You can fly into Redding if you’re flying a charter flight or you’re flying corporate link or you happen to have your own plane, We do have the Redding Regional Airport.

David Martin: We’re not that big a podcast. Yeah.

Christian Leinbach: Yeah. We we do not have commercial air service.

David Martin: I know in Berks County, one of the issues that that you’ve been working on is expanding the Redding Regional Airport. Yes, I do. People want to fly into Redding. Is there is there train, is there regular commercial service? You know, in the future there.

Christian Leinbach: There is interest. We are talking with a couple of entities right now. One, a possible start up of several flights a week between Redding and Orlando, Florida. Another that we’re talking to are a number of flights a month between Redding and Puerto Rico. For those that may not know, Redding in particular is one of the highest percentage of Latino population in the Northeast.

Almost 70% of the population is Latino. And when you look at the breakdown, the three big groups are Puerto Rican, Dominican Republic and Mexican. And there is a lot of interest in the connection to Puerto Rico. My colleague, Commissioner Michael Rivera, was raised in Puerto Rico is wise. He grew up in Puerto Rico as well. And he goes back to Puerto Rico on a regular basis.

David Martin: All right. Are you trying to expand all services at the airport? Is there is it a job creator? Is it is this the place? It is where people is their economic development tied to all this?

Christian Leinbach: Yeah. So a couple of things. Early this year, PennDOT and this will sound initially confusing, but PennDOT has a Bureau of Aviation and department, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. They have a Bureau of Aviation, and they look at all of the airports in Pennsylvania, general aviation, commercial, etc., and they listed the top 12 airports by economic impact. We are 12.

David Martin: OC out.

Christian Leinbach: Of 100 and some airports. And of the 12 only ten whether ten that have regular commercial air service, there are only two of us who do not. They are economic impact is about $77 million in our region that are directly attributed to the airport. There’s a couple of things that we’ve done because we initiated a study on the airport and it showed that over the last 20 years, airlines and flight activity on an average daily basis has been declining.

If you ignore that over time, you lose your airport and you lose an airport for Berks County, that would be a real problem to our community and overall economic development. So ultimately, what we did, we offered a different model. This airport was run by seven appointed volunteers Airport authority in 2022. They willingly resigned their position. The county appointed the three commissioners and our chief operations officer.

We then rewrote the bylaws so that going forward the county just doesn’t arbitrarily appoint. But now the bylaws of the airport require the members to be a total board of five. The three sitting commissioners was the sitting chief operations officer or his or her equal in the sitting director of Community and Economic development are his or her equal.

We’re now implementing an economic development strategy and we are acquiring two of the six based operators are at the airport so that we will create one county owned six based operator. Now, the airport has been owned by the county for the last several decades.

David Martin: So it sounds like what you’re doing here is you’re just streamlining the entire process, streamlining and making it a little bit simpler, a few less people, and bringing in professionals to actually run the airport.

Christian Leinbach: And because we’re full time, we went from one meeting a month to two meeting meetings a month, we heard from the tenants and there are quite a few of tenants. They are they, they can range from significant corporate tenants to somebody who has their own personal plane. There. We put together a tenant advisory committee, so in one meeting a month, it’s the third Tuesday of the month.

They have an opportunity to address the board and bring up any issues or concerns that they have and they have a seat at the table, which historically they’ve not.

David Martin: This is what’s fascinating to me about people like you and your position. We’ve talked about a recidivism program for for people in the criminal justice system, airport management, extension of rail lines. And, you know, how do you how does somebody pivot from, you know, one thing to I mean, you didn’t come into this knowing anything about airport or railroad operations.

And we haven’t even talked about sanitation. We haven’t talked about parks, We haven’t talked about roads. How how does a county commissioner stay on top of all of this?

Christian Leinbach: The one thing that I think is important, it’s what I love most about being a county commissioner is that one day you can be dealing with Veterans Affairs, another day you’re dealing with a jail and criminal justice reform and you may be dealing with trains, planes and automobiles. The variety to me is very exciting and fascinating. But I will give this warning.

If you are not ready to be fully immersed in what you do, then being a county commissioner may not be something you want to consider. This is all that I do, and so I have the time to dig in and learn what I need to learn. Now. Eight years. The key to not.

David Martin: Are you sitting home reading like how to manage airport schedules?

Christian Leinbach: Well, I do a lot of reading on airports and passenger rail, but yeah, what’s more important is I’ll never know what the experts know, so I need to be able to bring the right people in when we tackled this airport issue, we hired an aviation attorney that knew the aviation law.

David Martin: We hired asking the right questions.

Christian Leinbach: Yes. Because we want I want to see the data. I don’t want to make decisions on where I feel like this is a good idea. My in my gut, I think we’re going to win. You know, those are the kinds of things that take gamblers in the gamblers Anonymous. You just you can’t do that kind of stuff. We’re not going to gamble with the future of our county or with our taxpayers money.

David Martin: All right? So I’m gonna help.

Christian Leinbach: I do like I do.

David Martin: I’m going to give you $1,000,000 idea. Well, you play the. But you get to buy the Reading Railroad. So are we going to get like, what’s his name? Johnny? Big bucks to come out and promote the new Reading Railroad and it has a little Monopoly car as your as your logo.

Christian Leinbach: We made we may do that we thought about it would be named the air of the passenger rail authority. We tried to get rating in there, but then we recognized we’re working with Montgomery County and we’re working with Chester County. They’ve got seniors from Pottstown.

David Martin: All right. Well, there there’s other your loan is there? There is there the 20th Century Limited and crescent. Sure. So, you know, there’s all kinds of cool names.

Christian Leinbach: The Gulf Coast special.

David Martin: Right? Exactly. So so the Redding Railroad special. I don’t know. Something like that. We’ll get to be discussed. We’ll have to yet to be determined, as we discussed earlier, came through all that. Now, I know, Commissioner, you’ve got an election coming up, and I want to ask you a little bit about that, because.

Christian Leinbach: We’re.

David Martin: Certainly there’s been a lot of controversy nationally about the election security and election integrity. How can you work to make sure that people understand that we do have an unfettered, free and fair election and certainly at the county level?

Christian Leinbach: Well, I think one thing that is vitally important, there are 3069 counties and one of the great security components of elections in the United States is that they are not centralized. The election isn’t being run in Washington, D.C., and all the results being telling in Washington, D.C. In fact, in most counties, those totals are being determined outside of what we call provisional ballots and mail in ballots.

The in-person voting is being determined on Election Day at the various precincts. So you look at Berks County, we have 201 precincts. Those precincts get their data. They figure out their numbers before they come in to the county services center or County AG Center on election night with their materials. But these election totals are determined and certified at the county level.

That makes it difficult, extremely difficult for somebody to come in and want to impact statewide races. It’s not like they can go to some data center in Harrisburg and now manipulate all the numbers. I know some people think that, but that’s not the way it works.

David Martin: Is that the massive disinformation that, you know, some sides are putting out like early and often.

Christian Leinbach: It’s very difficult if you look not just in Pennsylvania, but across the country. Counties across the country have lost over the last several years a lot of institutional knowledge because election directors and election staff have walked away.

David Martin: How big have you had? Have you had that?

Christian Leinbach: We we lost a 30 year election director. I just prior to the 2020 election, and we’ve gone through three since. I feel good about where we are right now.

David Martin: They just don’t need I don’t need this hassle. I don’t.

Christian Leinbach: Need this crap.

David Martin: Weather.

Christian Leinbach: This is crazy.

David Martin: I know that in some places some people who run elections have been threatened and they’ve had security issues. Did you have any of that?

Christian Leinbach: Not really. We’ve well, and what’s important when we’re running for reelection, we do not serve as the election board, But all the other years. Yeah. When we’re not running, I actually serve on the election board. So we’re dealing with election requests, accusations, challenges, etc.. And so I’m very aware of what goes on. It’s important that you have very good legal people on your staff that understand the election law, too.

I found it’s important as a rule not to answer any questions quickly and by quickly off the costs. All right. You need to dig in and look at what our policy says. Look at what the law says. But it’s I don’t think it’s going to get easier, at least in the foreseeable future. We’re in a very tough environment.

David Martin: Yes.

Christian Leinbach: And I could go into why I think that is. But the reality is counties run elections. There are 3069 separate counties and each of those counties are the ones pulling their results together, ultimately certifying their results within the context of the law. And that in and of itself makes it very, very difficult for a lot of this idea of massive election fraud to occur.

One one other thing I will say, none of the election machines, electronic machines across the country are connected to the Internet. That’s another thing that is just widely misunderstood. They are not allowed to be connected to the Internet when Homeland Security and they have a tool that they run for a number of years, We’ll do a cyber security test of all your election equipment and accounting.

One of the things they make sure is that that equipment is not able to connect in any way. Wireless hard wire to the Internet because that would be an enormous risk.

David Martin: Have you had to change anything, any of your operations as a result of the massive misinformation that’s been put out there in the last few years?

Christian Leinbach: I think the only and I don’t know if I would say massive information and misinformation on the drop boxes. We out of the gate, we put in our drop boxes and we have two of them. Yeah, we had shares deputies there for security purposes while they’re open. And last year we added 24 seven video. Okay, We had a number of people ask, Can you do that?

And initially I was opposed to it because all that video does is confirm something bad happened, but it made people feel better. Okay, videotaping these 24 seven and we archive the footage for a period of time that that was probably the only change I can think of. Now, I do want to acknowledge that while counties run elections, state legislators are responsible for and the governor for the law.

So there are things that need to be changed. Pennsylvania We went last summer. We went through the wringer because the Pennsylvania law requires that the outside of a mail in ballot, it said the law says shall be signed and dated. And believe it or not, we were not counting any of the mail in ballots that weren’t dated because that’s what the law says.

And last summer, first, a Republican candidate for Senate sued several counties like us. That wouldn’t count Those from the primary. And we said the law doesn’t allow us to count them. And ultimately that there was a recount going on. That individual was losing the recount, withdrew his claim. But then the commonwealth of Pennsylvania told us we had to count them.

And we said we can. They sued us. We went to Commonwealth Court, we lost. It was challenged not by us. Somebody else came in and challenged. And a week before last year’s general election, the Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court and said, You cannot count a ballot that isn’t dated. Part of the.

David Martin: Problem. Yeah.

Christian Leinbach: Well, it’s the law. But here’s the other problem. The law doesn’t say what date. And so we’ve said this in 1717. The Governor Well, here’s what happened. A number of voters put their birth date.

David Martin: Oh.

Christian Leinbach: So is that wrong? Well, technically it isn’t. No, it just says Shelby signed, dated. There also is nothing in the law that provides any way to verify the signature on the mail in ballots. There’s nothing. Whereas if you vote in person, you sign a poll board and the poll worker has your signature that’s on on record.

David Martin: So that was a decision. And all you do is you go, yeah, that looks, that looks so I know Handwriting Alice analysis. Those are.

Christian Leinbach: Examples of laws that need to be tweaked or worked on that was you haven’t been touched over the.

David Martin: Last four years to get reelected at work that was you.

Christian Leinbach: Want we.

David Martin: Will. All right. So you now we’re down. We’re going to get to the fun part. Are you ready? Here we go.

Christian Leinbach: I’m ready.

David Martin: So when we spoke to you a couple of years ago, we did not have our good government show questionnaire quite prepared. So this will be new to you. Three term. You’re a three term county commissioner for four term county commissioner.

Christian Leinbach: So I’m running for myself.

David Martin: Running for yourself from where you sit, from your perspective in all these years, find good government.

Christian Leinbach: I believe good government comes down to leaders that care more about addressing problems than what their party thinks or what partizan individuals think. You look at an issue and try to determine how does this affect the residents in my county? How does this affect the taxpayers that are paying for this and not just on a short term basis?

I think you have to look long term in Berks County. One of the things we do and very few counties do this, we do something called five year budgeting. So we look at a budget decision whether we’re adding or taking away. We ask the question, what is the impact? Not next year, but five years from now, You have to do that business due that you make a determination, an investment that might cost me money today makes sense in five years.

So it’s about solving problems. You’ve heard me say this before, but it’s something I heard years ago at the National Association of Counties. There are no red or blue potholes, right? There are potholes.

David Martin: Yep.

Christian Leinbach: And our constituents expect them to be repaired. Yep. That to me is the simplest thing. Essence of good government. It’s doing the job that we’ve been called to do, focusing on what’s right. Understand Being that at times I might have a different way to look at a situation than someone else. But we work it out and we get the job done.

David Martin: And if you’re an office, I don’t care if you’re a Democrat or Republican, I want the pothole filled.

Christian Leinbach: Absolutely. And at the end of the day, it also can’t be about credit. I see from time to time people that, you know, I’m not going to do this unless I get the visibility that there really is no limit to what we can accomplish when it doesn’t matter who gets the credit. And we’ve seen that with our passenger rail efforts so far.

We’re working together towards a common goal. And I say this all the time when we have a common vision, it keeps us focused on why we’re here. And I think you’re much more likely to be successful in what you do when you have that common vision.

David Martin: How do you judge your success in providing good government?

Christian Leinbach: Well, one way to judge it is do I get reelected? Although I, I don’t know that that is always the best.

David Martin: Barometer every four years. But, you know, every.

Christian Leinbach: Four years, a.

David Martin: Month, a month, year to year.

Christian Leinbach: I get an employee evaluation every every four years. That, in essence, is what an election is. But I think there’s a there’s a couple different ways to do that. There’s some of the obvious. You look at your financial one, what’s the rating of your county And I’m proud Berks County is in rare company. We have a Moodys triple-A bond rating the highest that you can get.

We’re one of only three of 67 counties in Pennsylvania with that rating and one of only 4% of the counties in the United States. That that is a measurement. It’s not the only measurement, but that’s a measurement of success. It shows that your county is being financially managed well. But I think there are other measurements as well, looking at your local economy relative to surrounding communities.

Again, one of the measurements we look at is growth. A healthy county has consistent growth and over the last 30 years, Berks County is one of about 13 counties out of 67 that have had growth. If you know anything about Pennsylvania since I was born in 1969, we lost a congressional C every ten years because as a commonwealth we lose population.

So that’s another way to measure. People don’t want to move to a community that is in decline. And then you look at other things that we don’t necessarily have direct control over your schools, the quality of your schools in the community. You look, I think at the services that we’re able to provide and not just the social services, but looking at your areas like Parks and Recreation, I tell people all the time I would put our core parks, greens mill or the Heritage Center or Antietam Lake Park, which total about 1200 acres of park and right up against almost any parks in any county.

So those are some of the things, David, that I think when you look and measure success, you have to look at from a firm accounting standpoint. And the other thing that I would say as a leader, whenever you come to the point that you say, I just I don’t want to go to this event, go to that event, there’s too much going on.

It might be time, honestly, to move on and do something else. This might strike you as odd if I had my preference in life apart from family and apart from the calling that I’m in and I do see it that way. I’m attracted to programs like a loan from PBS. The guy that moved out. I think it was Alaska.

Yeah, by himself in the wilderness. I find that attractive much more than living 10,000 people or 100,000 people in a community. But I love making a difference in county government, you actually can make a difference on a day to day basis, more so than what you can do as a federal ledger, Slater or a state legislator.

David Martin: So let’s stay on that for the next questions. How do the constituents, the people, the citizens of Berks County, how do they know they may not be paying, you know, as close attention as certainly yourself? But how do they know if they’re getting good government and how should they hold you accountable?

Christian Leinbach: They hold us accountable first by elections, secondly, by me and my colleagues making ourselves available on a regular basis, not just virtually, but going into the community. We do town halls throughout the year on unscripted. We’ll go in, give an update and open up to Q&A right from the audience. We take our commissioners meeting, which is historically 10 a.m. on a Thursday morning in downtown Redding, where people, if they want to come to it, they have to drive into Redding, pay to park, come up to the 13th floor.

David Martin: Now most people are working at 10 a.m. on a Thursday.

Christian Leinbach: Four times a year. We do those in the evening at municipality in the community. We just did one of those last week. But you you connect in that way with with the people that you represent. You have to be in and among those individuals and you have to give them an opportunity for that. Yeah, I mean, not too late.

David Martin: No, I understand what you’re saying, but how should how should the people know if you’re getting good government?

Christian Leinbach: Well, here’s the other problem that we have nationwide, and that is the decline of the daily newspaper. Berks County is not immune to that. When I took office in 2008, the Redding Eagle was the standard in the county.

David Martin: And I really got to deliver it at home.

Christian Leinbach: Well, the circulation was somewhere around 85,000 households.

David Martin: Okay.

Christian Leinbach: And when the Redding Eagle was sold from the family that owned it, it’s been bought by a company out of Denver, Colorado. It is a shell of itself. They don’t even publish their circulation numbers. We estimate that around 17,000 households today and it is forced us to take some steps, one in late 2020, we hired a public relations officer for the first time in the history of the county that would really work to get information out to the public.

Early this year, we launched our own magazine. And this is not, you know, our feel good stories. This magazine and I have one right here. I just.

David Martin: Happened to have.

Christian Leinbach: I just happened to have. All right. It’s called Berks first.

David Martin: Okay.

Christian Leinbach: It is. The circulation is about 87,000 households throughout the county is inside Berks.

David Martin: Add discover fresh food. So you’ve got a couple of articles in there so people can.

Christian Leinbach: Very good. But it’s county government focus.

David Martin: Okay, great.

Christian Leinbach: And people. The third issue will be coming out in a couple of weeks, three times a year. We find that people really like it because it not only gives them access to county government, there are some feature stories on significant areas. There are QR codes on the cover.

David Martin: Yep.

Christian Leinbach: But then articles that QR codes. And in the back we recognize that we have a significant Latino population. So we have a section that is in Spanish.

David Martin: Oh, all right.

Christian Leinbach: But then online we have the entire magazine electronically in Spanish. And this is one of the things we found because we listen to our constituents, they were telling us why. Why didn’t I hear anything about this? Why don’t I know about this program for veterans? Why can’t you do a better job getting this information out? Well, that wasn’t an issue.

16 years ago when I started because we had a daily.

David Martin: Paper write.

Christian Leinbach: Local paper. And now that is in saying it’s in decline is putting it mildly.

David Martin: Sure. So if people don’t like what they’re see from their government, from you, from your county commissioners, what should they do?

Christian Leinbach: Well, I think there’s a couple of things that they should do. One, they should reach out to their officials. And I challenge people. It is easier if you ask questions than if you make accusations. I will tell you, even when I get those nasty communications, I still read them and I ask question, is there something here that makes sense that even reading through the anger, there might be an issue here?

The other thing I do is I respond to virtually every one phone call, email, postal service communication. Yeah, that’s the first thing you should do. Don’t assume that every government official is out to get you. It doesn’t. It doesn’t care about you. We do. We want to know what people think. We need to hear from you. So that’s number one.

Number two, if you’re doing that, you find you have a legitimate disagreement. You kind of have to determine what level is that and the value of that disagreement. And I’m not saying that because you disagree with me, you’re wrong. You have to determine, is this something that you want to get a group of people together and discuss it and determine how can we better influence the commissioners on this particular issue?

And I’ve had that happen. I will tell you again that it is very hard for any elected official to respond favorably to threats and attacks.

David Martin: Yes.

Christian Leinbach: So it’s just for two reasons. Number one, I don’t want people to think that because they threatened me, I changed. I’m one to understand that if they can make a viable argument and defend their position with facts, I’m I’m here to listen, discuss and in sometimes in some cases change my mind. A worst case scenario, run for office.

David Martin: All right. Don’t threaten. Ask you’ve served in your office you said for many years now. Most people don’t really know that much about government. They don’t really get that involved. What would you like them to? What’s the one thing you’d like people to know about how government works?

Christian Leinbach: I think the one thing I would like people to know is that when they hear or read something about county government, Berks County government, that they’re only seeing a small, small piece of the information it’s taken me years to understand this myself, but I see people react and respond, and they’re responding to a couple sentences in the Berks edition of the TV news or maybe a couple of paragraphs in the newspaper, and they don’t have all the information and they just need to ask questions.

And we will readily get them the information by asking questions. To me is where life in general you learn. A You don’t learn a whole lot. If you’re yelling at your teacher at school, you learn by saying, I don’t understand what you’re saying. I don’t understand how to solve this math problem or I don’t understand why we’re studying geography.

It’s no different in life in general.

David Martin: Students can study algebra. But anyway.

Christian Leinbach: Yeah, I know math was tough for me.

David Martin: Good. So who is your political hero?

Christian Leinbach: And I don’t think there’s any question. If you look at my office, you can see. But over here to the side, I have a picture of Abraham Lincoln.

David Martin: Okay?

Christian Leinbach: And I all through my life, I’ve read about a lot of presidents, a lot of seniors. George Washington’s very significant. But Lincoln, to me, was a man that very possibly would not have been suited to be president at any other time. Then the Civil War, his personality, his his life experience, perhaps the challenging life experience that he had before he became president made him an amazing individual, not perfect.

There is no such thing as a person who never makes a mistake. But what he was able to do where Washington helped lead and bring the country together. In the beginning, the.

David Martin: Standard for what.

Christian Leinbach: A president is. Yes. And save and for parties. He didn’t believe in political parties. It was the only presidency that we had without partizan politics. But Lincoln. Lincoln understood the past and the present at that time. And his reference so many times back to the Declaration of Independence was so important. And I believe that’s equally important today. We get so caught up in society today about me.

I want you know, I’m concerned about me. If I don’t watch out for me, nobody else will. And we forget. The core instruction of the Declaration of Independence is that all people are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. And among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But then it says, And for this cause, governments are instituted among people.

What cause to protect those core rights for all people? Lincoln understood that he evolved through his life on the issue of slavery. But isn’t that what we all need to do? So Lincoln to me, is the most powerful example in history. And I, in reference to him often our team of rivals, is probably one of the best books on Lincoln that I’ve ever read, although I recently read a book and I’m going to.

Jon Meacham Yes, Lincoln and there was also an incredible book on Lincoln, and I recommend both of them.

David Martin: They both. All right. So three.

Christian Leinbach: Different.

David Martin: Areas. Okay. It’s been a while since we’ve had a meal. I’m going to come out to Burks. There is a lot of food traditions going on out there. What are we here? Are where are we going? What are you serving? What? What do we have? What’s what’s a great Burks dish?

Christian Leinbach: Well, I’m going to say the the great Burks dish. People look at Pennsylvania Dutch and I and Pennsylvania Dutch, but that’s not where I would take somebody doing it. We have, you know, the the potatoes, vegetables.

David Martin: Pine, shoo, fly. What do we do?

Christian Leinbach: My shoe fly piping. But I restaurant in some Berks County. I will tell you my favorite.

David Martin: Okay.

Christian Leinbach: Is braces 21st Century Cafe is absolutely my favorite in eastern Berks County. We have no five star restaurants. In my opinion, this is the closest thing to a five star restaurant with some unique locations. Widow cities, which you and I were talking about before. That’s connected with Judy’s on Cherry hearing about widows widows, cities goes back to the 1800s and then a little pub that I know you would love called the Liberty Oyster.

That’s just a couple of blocks from the services center. It’s a classic Irish pub and you feel like you open the door and you walk back in time.

David Martin: They’ll probably be a rugby game on TV. So I mean, all right, so. So no shoo fly pie, no potatoes.

Christian Leinbach: Shoo fly pie. You can buy that at the local store. Wagner said She’s like, line.

David Martin: I’m looking for a true Berks County experience. Okay, So, you know, you you’ve been a county commissioner for four terms going on the fifth. Is this something you always aspired to? Were you like class president? Did you want to be president? Was did you want to be the next Abraham Lincoln, the wise sage of the of Berks? What was your plan?

Christian Leinbach: So in college, two of my aunts took me to visit Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Wow. In 1979, my middle name is Yan, so my grandfather and grandmother immigrated around 1900 from what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire. So why the line box side of my family goes back to 1723 and coming to America? Yeah, my mother’s side of the family.

I’m only the second generation born in America. My two aunts, both of them have since passed away, took me to Czechoslovakia and Hungary to visit relatives. They had been going about every third year since 1959.

David Martin: To.

Christian Leinbach: Communist countries.

David Martin: Yeah, and.

Christian Leinbach: I really came back from that, wanting to change the world, wanting to change my country. I jumped into politics right away, volunteered in the Reagan campaign in South Carolina. Oh, the Super Tuesday in 1980. Got to meet him a couple of times. And when I graduated in 1981, you bet. I figured out what year I would be old enough to run for president.

Yeah, I came out. Maureen, as all get out and ran for the endorsement in Chester County for the state House and didn’t get the endorsement, I backed the man that did our Hershey hour that night asked me to run his campaign. My wife and I ran his campaign. He won in 82. He won in 84, and he served until 2008 as a state rep from Chester County.

But I never saw myself in county government. I stayed involved in politics but worked in the private sector up until 2007 and really became aware primarily because of an incumbent county commissioner at the time had built a reputation for being very arrogant, having a temper that often was displayed in public.

David Martin: So you did what you advised other people to do. You say, and I’m going to I’m going to make a difference. I’m going to run myself.

Christian Leinbach: But I could I didn’t. I even then I thought I knew what a county commissioner did. It was far more complex than I had anticipated, to be completely honest, When I ran for County Commissioner. And once I was elected, I was already looking at what’s next. And I thought about being running for governor about probably eight or nine years ago, actually brought a consultant in and I concluded, I love what I do.

I make a difference in people’s lives almost every day. And I, God willing, will be here and finish my career as a county commissioner here in Berks County. I enjoyed very, very well.

David Martin: I was talking with somebody who said, you know, somewhere out there there’s a kid that’s sitting in a classroom right now and probably a a civics class thinking, oh, I want to be president or I want to be governor or I want to be senator. There’s no kid sitting there thinking, I want to be a county commissioner.

Christian Leinbach: And part of that is because of our education system. All right. We teach a lot and a fair amount about how the federal government works, how a bill becomes law, the president or senator or congressperson, and to a lesser degree, about state governments. Yeah, nobody learns anything about county government.

David Martin: All right. So the name of the show is The Good Government Show. We like to end on some good government projects. If you could a commissioner linebacker. Just give me a brief example of a good government project that you’ve worked on lately.

Christian Leinbach: Well, other than the two that I’ve already mentioned, which I think are great, nonpartisan, good government projects working on the restoration of passenger rail service, actively working on the regrowing the Redding Regional Airport. I think looking at our Parks department, actually, I’m going to back off our ag department is a great example. In the last year we have restructured our ag department to become it’s a little bit larger but able to address publicly more of our ag needs that are community we’re an unusual county of 400 and almost 430,000 people, fourth largest city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

But that city is geographically central to the county. You go find Miles in almost any direction and you’re in farmland. And our number one industry by gross revenue. So that’s production processing. Wholesale retail is agriculture in a really big way. Some of the things that might surprise you would be Duck’s one of the largest duck growers and processors in the United States, is based right here in Berks County, Jersey.

David Martin: I like a good roast duck.

Christian Leinbach: So we have expanded our role with our County AG Department and we have a new ag director, Emily Wang, going on, and we are partnering with our Greater Redding Chamber Alliance in a contractual relationship. They are working with us to really push the ag component in the chamber business area, which had not been the case for a couple of decades.

And then thirdly, we have started implementing a new economic development strategy for the county called Emagine Berks, and it also has an ag component to it. One of the things that are ag arena, we’ve preserved now over 78,000 acres of active production agriculture land in Berks County. We are number two in the Commonwealth in total preserved ag land and number three in the United States.

So working to focus on growing our ag department and working with not just farmers but processors, producers, wholesalers and retailers has been very important. We launched that.

David Martin: So what are we growing up there? What is the farm, What’s the farmland being used for primarily?

Christian Leinbach: So most of the crops that are grown are for chickens, ducks, cattle, dairy and hogs. Those are the main animals and we actually are a net importer of grain. We don’t grow enough grain for all of the needs.

David Martin: Mostly it’s two but vineyards.

Christian Leinbach: We have nine different vineyards here in Berks County. The orchards, we have several large orchard operations here in the county and more interesting in our county. We’re a little over 800 square miles. We have over 200 variations on farm stores. So they could be something like we resort to, which as a large farm store, whey are the source of staples?

David Martin: Pears? What do we grow in in the orchards.

Christian Leinbach: And the weavers? Everything. They actually have a northern kiwi that they grow really a variety of apples, cherries, peaches, grapes. But then they have a farm store where they have a number of other products that they produce.

David Martin: Okay, our.

Christian Leinbach: Way here is a dairy, and so their anchor is dairy products from their dairy. But we have a map at county of Berks dot com on our ag department that lists over 200 farm stores here in Berks County from all across the county. And I was shocked when I found out there were that many stores we have a neighbor lifesavers, they raise beef, but they also just added organic chicken from another grower that they have.

And I tell people all the time, organic isn’t nearly as important as buying local. And so our focus on our AG department and our ag community has been very beneficial for our local ag producers, and it’s something that helped make available.

David Martin: Here’s what there’s doing. What I’m going to come we’re going to have a roast duck. We’re going to get apple pie. All right.

Christian Leinbach: You got.

David Martin: All right. That’s all local ground. Well, once again, Christian, it is always a pleasure chatting with you and catching up with you and hearing about what’s going on in Berks County. So thank you for that. Thanks for coming.

Christian Leinbach: On. Thank you.

David Martin: You’re welcome.

Christian Leinbach: Thank you for doing all you do to tell the story of good county government. On the Good Government show we’re working.

David Martin: Well, that’s that’s our goal. Good luck in the election. And we will to we will talk to you. And you are in your fifth term as county commissioner. So good luck. Thanks for that. And we will talk again.

Christian Leinbach: Thank you, David. We’ll see you in.

David Martin: The Good Government show is sponsored by our CO. That means our community, our CO has found a way to make government even more effective. Article provides a platform that blends in-person and digital interactions and that connects people with their government. Their mobile app transforms meaningful conversations into reliable data, and the result is actionable insights that inspires a positive change.

It’s sort of like having a flagpole. Do you want to know if the community would rather have a dog park or a bike trail? Arco can get you an answer immediately from the folks in your community. With our code, you can your citizens or any group learn what they want and build programs and policies that advance your county, your job creators and your constituents.

So visit our COCOM. That’s 0urco dot com and learn how they do it. And while you’re there, book a demonstration. County leaders more focused on problem solving. That’s what we like to hear on the good government show. As Kristin and many leaders have said when that pothole needs to be fixed, citizens don’t care what party you’re in, they just want the hole fixed.

Christian also said there is a way to approach civic leaders. If you want to see something changed, he said, don’t scream, ask questions. This is a recurring theme we hear on the good government show. It can sometimes be so easy. Just put out a complaint against your elected officials. But reaching out, asking questions and listening that goes a lot farther to real solutions.

It’s always good to check in with Kristian and hear how things are going. When two people can have a good conversation. It helps everyone look at government in a different and I hope a better way. If you agree and if you’re listening, you must tell your friends about the good government. Show like us, share us and comment in all our social media pages.

That’s how we can keep telling these great stories and meeting inspiring government leaders. Thanks for listening Till next time. I’m Dave Martin and this is a good government show. The good government show and a conversation with is produced by Valley Park Productions Jim Ludlow, David Martin and David Snyder are the executive producers. Our editor and producer is Jason Stershic.

This is the Good Government show. Thanks for listening.

**This transcription was created using digital tools and has not been edited by a live person. We apologize for any discrepancies or errors.