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Northampton County Council sends residency requirement packing

By Len Righi, WFMZ.com Reporter
Published On: Feb 22 2013 10:41:11 AM CST
Updated On: Feb 22 2013 12:46:22 PM CST
Northampton County Council

Northampton County Council

EASTON, Pa. -

A residency requirement for certain appointed row office holders in Northampton County has been sent packing.

Only three of county council's nine members voted Thursday night in favor of an ordinance that would have required, in the future, that the sheriff, the coroner, the recorder of deeds, and the three clerks of court to be county residents.

One of the votes against the ordinance came from council member Bruce Gilbert, who, along with Ken Kraft, brought it before council.

Gilbert said before the vote that he was retracting his support because he had taken to heart comments made by a county administrator at council's meeting two weeks ago, that the ordinance "may be placing limits on his ability to bring in the best candidate for the job."

Two people testified against the ordinance at a public hearing before council's vote.

County controller Steve Barron said he didn't think it was necessary, "because these officeholders do not make public policy decisions." However, if council considers a residency requirement in the future, "it should extend to the [county executive's] cabinet members as well."

Local blogger Bernie O'Hare, who lives in Nazareth, called the ordinance "silly" and "discriminatory." He also predicted it would "stifle 30 percent of the [county] workforce who live in New Jersey and Lehigh County from doing their best ... because they won't be able to get more than a minor promotion."

Council member Kraft tried to rally support for the ordinance by saying, "There are 350,000 people in the county. Are you telling me we can't find qualified people to serve?" But only council members Robert Werner and Lamont McClure sided with him when the vote was taken.

Most of council seemed to agree with Barbara Thierry, a former small business owner, who said with such a rule in place, "You never know who you're going to miss."

In other business, council approved a lease agreement of up to 10 years with Bethlehem Township for space in the former township building at 2740 Fifth St. that will be used as the county's new DUI processing facility.

The county will pay $1,000 a month during the first year of the lease, and $1,450 a month if it stays with the lease for the full 10 years. After five years, the county has the option to extend the lease in each of the next five.

The county's current DUI processing facility in the city of Bethlehem's police department. The date of the move has not yet been determined.