Matthew Croslis is Lehigh County’s new executive.
The 40-year-old Whitehall resident, who claims no previous government experience, was appointed in a 5-3 vote by county commissioners Wednesday night.
The majority favored Croslis over one of their own: Daniel McCarthy, who has been a county commissioner for more than 11 years.
The audience in the county government center applauded Croslis as he walked to the podium, stopping to shake McCarthy’s hand.
Croslis thanked commissioners “for the opportunity for letting me explain how I think I can help the county and I’m looking forward to getting to work. Tomorrow I’ll see how quickly I can get sworn in.
“I’m going to jump right in and try to do my best.”
Croslis must be sworn in before he can go to work. That could happen as soon as Thursday, according to commissioners clerk David Barilla. “That’s really his decision,” said Barilla, adding some previous appointees were sworn in the next day, while others waited for various personal reasons.
Lisa Scheller, chairwoman of the nine commissioners, said: “I think it would be the feeling of this board to have Mr. Croslis sworn in as soon as possible.”
Croslis will serve as county executive for six months, until an elected executive is sworn in the first Monday in January.
Both McCarthy and Croslis are Democrats. Although seven of the nine commissioners are Republicans, they had to appoint a Democrat because the last elected county executive was a Democrat.
Voting for Croslis were Republican Commissioners Scheller, Thomas Creighton, Vic Mazziotti, Scott Ott and Michael Schware.
Voting for McCarthy were Jones, the only other Democrat, and Republicans Percy Dougherty and Brad Osborne.
After the meeting, Scheller declined to comment on why the majority picked Croslis over McCarthy.
McCarthy said they voted that way because Croslis “is more likely to carry forth their agenda than I would be.”
Croslis unsuccessfully ran for county executive in 2001 and, like McCarthy, offered himself as a candidate to be appointed to the position in 2012 when elected executive Don Cunningham resigned to become president and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation.
William Hansell was appointed county executive to complete Cunningham’s term in August 2012. The 76-year-old Hansell resigned on May 17 because of failing health. He died on June 4.
On Monday night both Croslis and McCarthy were interviewed, separately but in public, by the commissioners’ intergovernmental and appointments committee. Five commissioners participated in those interviews.
That committee decided to forward both candidates to the full board of commissioners for consideration.
When interviewed Monday, Cross said he’s not interested in running for any office and told commissioners: “I will be willing to take on things that other people with political ambitions might not be.” He called it a unique opportunity to do public service without being involved in politics or the baggage that comes with politics.
Croslis stressed his business success when interviewed by commissioners and said he was not intimidated by the prospect of running the county.
He is the owner of Croslis Realty, Croslis Law Offices, Croslis Realty Referrals and Legacy Title. He said a multitude of people work for him and rely on him, “but it’s at the point now where I feel I can step back a little and devote my time to something I’ve wanted to do since 2001.”
Saying “I’m smart enough to know what I know and I’m smart enough to know what I don’t know,” Croslis told commissioners he intends to immediately form a committee of local business leaders and retired government leaders to help him prepare the 2014 county budget.
He said he has no pre-conceived notions about cutting the budget and will first talk to those directly involved, including commissioners and department heads.
But he also said the county’s financial priorities are to take care of what it is mandated to do. “Everything else is up for discussion,” he said, indicating that could include funding for parks, arts and the county zoo.
Croslis is married and has two children. He is a 1991 graduate of Allentown Central Catholic High School. He earned a bachelor of science degree at East Stroudsburg University and a law degree at Temple University School of Law.
When the appointment of a county executive came before the commissioners for action Wednesday night, McCarthy told board chairwoman Lisa Scheller he felt it appropriate for him to leave the dais “and I ask that the clerk note my vote as an abstention.”
While the room was crowded with people attending the commissioners meeting about other issues, no one from the public stood to express support for either Croslis or McCarthy or to ask any questions about the candidates or the process.
Only a few commissioners spoke before the vote.
Jones said on paper the two candidates might seem equally qualified to become county executive. But he said only McCarthy has been chosen to represent and lead the county’s residents, when he was elected county commissioner “on three separate occasions.”
Jones said commissioners would be disrespecting the county’s voters and shirking their responsibility if they failed to appoint McCarthy to “the highest office in the county.”
“The voice of the people ought to be recognized.”
Osborne also expressed a preference for McCarthy, saying he “has been through many of these issues, including budgets, for the last 11 years and will be able to give the perspective, experience and guidance through that process in a way that will serve the citizens of Lehigh County.”
Schware thanked both candidates for coming forward and said he could find no fault with either “other than the fact that both are attorneys.”
After the vote, McCarthy returned to his seat at the dais. When Scheller asked if he wanted to say anything, he replied: “I’m back.”