Rick Patrick: Greene Publishing, Inc.
It was almost like the plot of a classic Jimmy Stewart movie. Two local County Commissioners from a small rural county travel to the nation's capital at the invitation of the White House. Yet, for Madison County Commissioners Ronnie Moore and Alston Kelley, traveling to Washington D.C., at their own expense, from Wednesday, July 26 through Friday, July 28, the trip was very real with a very real purpose.
The trip to Washington was at the invitation of the Trump Administration's Intergovernmental Affairs office in an effort on the part of the Administration to reach out to local leaders from large and small counties at the local, grass-roots level. The program began earlier this year with Pennsylvania. Florida was the second state in which all local County Commissioners received invitations to attend a summit, meet with their Senate and Congressional leaders and make connections with various governmental agencies. Much of this is an on-going effort to streamline access local leaders have with Washington. While in Washington, Moore and Kelley met with Rep. Al Lawson, Sen. Bill Nelson, Sen. Marco Rubio and staff members from numerous governmental agencies. Among the agencies with which the two Madison County Commissioners made contact were: the Departments of Commerce, Energy, Interior, Agriculture, Health and Human Services, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and many others. The message for the Commissioners from the Trump Administration was clear, “We want to talk directly with you.” In total, close to 200 County Commissioners from across the state participated.
Two items of particular interest to Moore and Kelley were the fate of the Amtrak rail system and the loan Madison County Memorial Hospital (MCMH) has with the USDA. Currently, the hospital has a loan for $32 million. Although the hospital has vowed the loan will be paid back, the idea of the forgiveness of the loan was explored. Although the two local Commissioners were told the loan could not be forgiven outright, the USDA did express a willingness to extend the terms and/or reduce the interest rate. “[We] will work with you to restructure [the loan],” said Gary Bojes, Senior Level Program and Policy Advisor for Policy Analysis and Risk Management for the U.S.D.A. After Moore and Kelley met with Bojes, a meeting was scheduled in Madison between MCMH administrators and representatives from the USDA from Washington.
Both Moore and Kelley felt the trip was very advantageous to the citizens of Madison County.