That's how Chairman Percy Dougherty started last night's meeting of Lehigh County's Board of Commissioners. It was appointing a vacancy on its own board last night, and had to choose one from five strong applicants. Daugherty only half-jokingly ordered a deputy sheriff to close the doors, locking twenty-five of us in the room, very much like the college of cardinals.
Under the procedure followed, any commissioner could make a nomination. No second was required. After that, the first round of voting would follow, continuing until one nominee had five votes. David S. Jones, was elected on the first round, surprising commissioners the most. Jones is the first person of color ever selected, by appointment or election, to serve on Lehigh County's legislative body. Don Cunningham and Frank Kane ecstatically sent white smoke billowing from the chimneys of Lehigh County's Government Center.
Jones will represent District Three, succeeding Kurt Derr, who suddenly resigned from a term that extends to January, 2010. District Three covers East Allentown, north to Hanover and Catasauqua.
Commissioner Glenn Eckhart, a Republican, nominated David S. Jones. Commissioner Dan McCarthy, a Democrat, nominated Kevin Easterling. Commissioner Sterling Raber, a farmer, nominated Freddy Lutz. Dean Browning, Gloria Hamm, Andy Roman and Chairman Dougherty joined Eckhart in voting for Jones. McCarthy was joined by Bill Leiner in supporting Kevin Easterling. Raber, of course, voted for Lutz.
Jones has been Executive Administrator at the 2,300-member Life Church (Allentown, PA) for the past four years, both managing a multi-million dollar budget and supervising a staff of forty. Prior to that, he worked for Averydennison Global Operations (Boston, MA), most recently as Talent Development Manager, Divisional Training Manager, and Regional Training Manager.
Jones, accompanied by his wife and cute son, remained for the rest of the meeting. The other applicants, excepting Kevin Easterling, also stayed for the duration. And at the end of the meeting, the commissioners thanked those who had expressed interest. Eckhart noted, "We had five excellent candidates," and asked that they "please stay involved." Chairman Dougherty agreed, adding, "I had no idea how many rounds this would take. I thought we'd be here three or four rounds. Usually, there's a swing one way or the other, but not this time."
I've seen vacancies filled in both Northampton and Lehigh Counties. How do they compare? Last time Northampton County appointed a vacancy, it resulted in litigation. I know because I'm the idiot who filed it. I withdrew my lawsuit only when council agreed to undergo Sunshine Act sensitivity training.
In vast contrast, Lehigh County's Republican-dominated commissioners selected a strong Democrat who will be hard to beat. They could have selected Lutz, who makes Lehigh County's Democratic chair, Rick Daugherty "very uncomfortable" and has no experience running for office. They could even have selected Pearson. He's had plenty of experience running, but has never won an election. Instead of following political expedience, they followed their conscience. Jones was actually my last choice, which is probably why he was selected on the first round.
Lehigh County is the Lehigh Valley's largest municipal government, and it is also very refreshing to see four Republicans and three Democrats support the two persons of color seeking appointment to its legislative body. As I learned last week, there is unity in diversity.
Freddy Lutz, ever the class act, publicly congratulated Jones. Nancy Wilt did so as well, and told commissioners that the idea of sitting on the dais is still "far out of my comfort zone." But Dennis Pearson was really steamed. After all, he is "a native of Lehigh County whose family had connections with the PA branch of the Sons of Liberty." In fact, he had nothing but sour grapes. "I had to turn my cheek. I was hit very hard. I was even called autistic on one of the blogs. I can't help but be disappointed. I was prepared to serve on this board and, for whatever reason, you chose someone else."
After the meeting was over, Jones was also congratulated by Allentown City Council Prez Mike D'Amore and party boss Daugherty. But Pearson was still pretty upset. He pointed at D'Amore and said to me, "Look at him! He dresses sloppier than me!" Mike smiled and shrugged.
I told Dennis the commissioners passed him over because the space program needs him more.
Then I ran like hell.