Lehigh County has a new leader.
Veteran local government official William Hansell of Lower Macungie Township has been appointed the new Lehigh County executive.
Eight county commissioners unanimously named Hansell as their choice Wednesday night in their first round of voting. Three of them later cited not only his government experience, but his government management experience, as their reason for selecting him over three other candidates.
“I’m really thrilled, excited to be able to serve the people of Lehigh County one last time,” said Hansell after the meeting. “I’ve been doing this since December 1963.”
The 75-year-old Hansell is coming out of retirement to serve as county executive.
He said his appointment will end in December 2013, exactly 50 years after he began his local government career as borough manager in Catasauqua.
Hansell will complete the term of Don Cunningham, who resigned as executive July 9. Like Cunningham, Hansell is a Democrat.
Brad Osborne, chairman of the commissioners, said the unanimous endorsement of Hansell “speaks to the strength of his application. I’m pleasantly surprised and happy that we were able to come to a quick decision on this important matter.”
Osborne said having the strong support of the full board is the way to bring a new county executive into office.
Osborne expects Hansell will be sworn in as executive within two weeks, at Hansell’s convenience.
Hansell thanked the commissioners for their confidence. “I look forward to working with them to make our county government more effective for all our citizens.”
Hansell said he was surprised and pleased that the vote was unanimous. He said someone must have been working on his behalf behind the scenes. He added he’d rather go into office on a unanimous vote than a divided vote.
He noted the commissioners often are a divided board. It is a board with a 7-member Republican majority. But he added: “We share the goal of making the government effective for everybody.”
Commissioner Percy Dougherty said he also was surprised the vote for Hansell was unanimous, but not that he was picked, saying: “Bill is an excellent choice.”
Before the roll call vote, none of the commissioners offered a comment regarding which candidate they preferred and why.
Some in the audience seemed surprised by the vote, with whispering increasing as commissioner after commissioner named Hansell as their choice. The biggest surprise was when Commissioner Vic Mazziotti named Hansell.
When the four candidates were interviewed before the commissioners last week, Mazziotti said he has known Hansell for 40 years and that Hansell’s “political positions are probably further from the positions of some of us on the board than any of the other candidates. It’s not the direction I want to see the county go.”
Hansell was not at Wednesday’s commissioners meeting. Contacted later, he explained his decision to not attend was deliberate, because commissioners were making a difficult decision and he felt it would be better for them to do that without the candidates staring them in the face.
Two other candidates for the position -- Matthew Croslis and John Ingram --
did attend the meeting.
Daniel McCarthy, who is the ninth county commissioner and also was a candidate to be appointed county executive, did not attend. Osborne read a letter from McCarthy, which explained he had not lost interest in becoming executive, but was absent because he was locked into a vacation he had planned before Cunningham even announced his intention to resign.
Just before the vote, Commissioner Michael Schware said “we had four very good candidates” and all were “very worthy of the position.”
Hansell is a former county commissioner. He was appointed, served in 2010 and 2011 and was vice chair that second year.
In addition to serving as Catasauqua’s manager, he was manager of South Whitehall Township and Allentown’s business administrator from 1970-73 and again from 1978-81. He also was executive director of the Pennsylvania League of Cities in 1982-83 and of the International City/County Management Association from 1983 to 2003.
Osborne said another “strong selling point” for Hansell was his commitment to institute a performance management system that will improve “the structural imbalance in Lehigh County.” Osborne explained that imbalance “is the continuing trend of expenses being greater than revenue” and added it involves evaluating personnel performance in relation to the financial efficiency of various departments.
During his Aug. 1 interview for the position, Hansell told commissioners he would introduce that system of performance measurement, which he said would serve as a benchmark for continued improvement. He also said he would submit multi-year financial projections with the 2014 budget.
And he said more frequent and open communications with commissioners would be the most important feature he would try to bring to the job.
During that interview, Hansell said he has devoted his entire professional life to local government and institutions of local democracy. He said he was enjoying a very pleasant retirement, but would be honored to serve the people of Lehigh County one final time.
When commissioners asked his biggest concern about becoming executive, Hansell said: “I’m old.” He said his health is OK, adding he has conditions, not diseases. He said he did not think he could serve a full four-year term as an elected county executive, but “I think can do 16 months. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think that.”