Process to narrow field of Lehigh Co commissioner candidates starts Wed. night
A recommendation will be made Wednesday night to narrow the field of 15 candidates for one seat on the Lehigh County commissioners, but a winner won’t be appointed until July 9.
On Tuesday night, six county commissioners conducted short face-to-face interviews with 14 of the 15 candidates, in a meeting lasting more than three hours.
The three members of the commissioners’ intergovernmental & appointments committee are giving themselves less than 24 hours from the time those interviews ended to make a recommendation to the rest of the commissioners.
That committee will meet around 6:50 p.m. Wednesday to make a recommendation.
It intends to pass that recommendation on to the full board during the regular commissioners meeting at 7:30 p.m.
“Our recommendation could be that we recommend no candidates, one candidate, or any number of candidates -- up to all the candidates,” said Commissioner Brad Osborne, who chairs that appointment committee. “That’s something we’ll be discussing in committee.”
Commissioners Geoff Brace and Vic Mazziotti serve with Osborne on that committee.
The person ultimately appointed will serve though December 2015, completing the four-year term of Commissioner Scott Ott, a Republican who resigned last month.
Originally, 16 Republicans applied for Ott’s seat. But one of them, former county commissioner Andy Roman of Whitehall Township, withdrew.
Lynn Donches of Emmaus, another candidate still in the running, was unable to attend Tuesday’s night’s interviews.
Two of the eight county commissioners – Thomas Creighton and Percy Dougherty --- also could not attend the interviews.
And both of those men will be absent at Wednesday night’s commissioners meeting, which is why a decision won’t be made until the July 9 meeting.
It will take five votes to appoint a candidate. Without Creighton and Dougherty, only six commissioners will be at Wednesday’s meeting.
The task facing commissioners did not seem any easier after the 14 interviews.
While the amount of prior political experience varied significantly among the candidates, none of the 14 seemed to stumble badly.
But the interviews were just one part of a tough puzzle commissioners must put together to pick a ninth member.
The candidates also submitted resumes and provided written answers to questionnaires sent to them. And all had been encouraged to meet one-on-one with commissioners.
While all the candidates are Republicans, political factors also may come into play.
Who do the commissioners already know, who do they like and who don’t they like?
Will they decide to go with someone who has prior experience, either as a county commissioner or in another local elected position? Or will they prefer fresh blood?
Commissioners might push for candidates with whom they feel the most politically attuned.
Some may favor an appointee whose political views are similar to Ott’s, to retain a conservative force on the board.
They might harbor resentment toward candidate Dean Browning, for example, because he ran against Ott in the Republican primary for county executive last year.
There could even be lingering animosity toward former Lower Macungie commissioners Ron Eichenberg and Roger C. Reis, because they supported a tax increment financing plan for the Hamilton Crossings shopping center in their township – a plan rejected by most county commissioners in 2013.
Reis, Browning and candidate James Kozuch all are former county commissioners, although Kozuch said he only served for 10 months.
The six Republicans on the board of commissioners also may lean toward picking a candidate who promises to run for a full term in 2015, because even an appointed commissioner has the advantage of incumbency and they will want to retain their majority – although they don’t always vote the same way.
"Tonight's meeting proves we have many candidates who will bring value to the board, each in their own way,” said Osborne after the interviews.
“Ultimately, I believe, the decision will rest on which candidate can convince the board they come with a fresh, conservative perspective, with no allegiance to individuals or group of commissioners, but simply have the best interest of county residents in mind."
The 14 candidates were interviewed, in alphabetical order, during Tuesday night’s meeting of the appointments committee.
Interviews of the first seven began at 6 p.m.
In that group were Angelique M. Bailey of Slatington, Nathan Brown of Emmaus, Browning of Allentown, Norma Cusick of Salisbury, Mike D’Alessandro of Lower Macungie, Kevin W. Dellicker of Weisenberg and Eichenberg of Lower Macungie.
Interviews of the second seven began shortly before 8 p.m.
They were Rob Hamill of Lower Macungie, Amanda Holt of Upper Macungie, Kozuch of Salisbury, Platte B. Moring III of Lower Macungie, Daniel A. Paschke of Coopersburg, Reis of Lower Macungie and Rene Rodriquez of South Whitehall.
At the request of commissioners, the second group of candidates did not attend the first round of interviews and the first seven did not stay for the second round.
One at a time, the candidates sat at a table before the six commissioners.
A couple of them took their iPads with them. Others had paper copies of their answers to the questions they had been sent, and/or their prepared closing remarks.
Each of the six commissioners was allowed to ask each candidate one question and commissioners were able to ask different questions of different candidates.
More than once, a commissioner complained that a colleague had just “stole” a question he or she was about to ask.
Sometimes, the candidates did not answer the question they were asked.
A different commissioner initiated the questioning each time. Some questions put to the candidates sought clarification of written answers they gave to the eight questions commissioners recently sent them.
Candidates were given one minute to answer each question. A few times, it seemed to take almost a minute for commissioners to finish asking their question.
Candidates also were given one minute to summarize why they feel they are the best person to fill the seat or, as Osborne put it, “a final opportunity to make an impression.”
Each candidate sat before the commissioners for a total of about 12 minutes.
Issues discussed included the future of the Cedarbrook nursing home, the budget deficit being faced in 2015 and the possibility of a county tax increase -- all issues the newly-appointed commissioner will face soon after taking office.
No air conditioning
The commissioners meeting room in the county government center was so warm that male commissioners soon shed their sport coats.
After Browning’s interview, Osborne said: “We’re going to pause for a minute, to see if we can cool the room off.”
“No indication that there’s a lot of hot air in the room,” quipped Commissioner David Jones.
“Although it has gone up a couple of degrees since we started,” said Osborne.
“And we’re not even in the hot seat,” said Commissioner Michael Schware.
An attempt was made to get air conditioning running in the meeting room, but that did not succeed.
As Eichenberg, the last of the first seven candidates, was being interviewed, two large fans noisily were hauled into the room.
“That’s more fans than we usually have here,” joked Mazziotti.
“Apparently, air conditioning is not a core county function,” quipped Browning.
Osborne asked the workers who brought in the fans not to turn them on while Eichenberg was being questioned.
“You want him sweat it out,” joked Commissioner Lisa Scheller.
Demonstrating an insider’s knowledge, Browning suggested opening the doors to the meeting room, which immediately allowed cooler air to flow in from the hall.
Osborne later asked that the fans not be turned on in the room because he was afraid their noise would drown out audio of recordings being made of the interviews.
He said videos of the interviews will be posted on the county’s website by the end of this week.
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