Thursday, March 27, 2008

Lehigh County Appoints its First Black Commissioner

"We'll stay 'till midnight if we have to."

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.
Update: Freelancer Sarah Fulton has a well-written account of last night's meeting, published by The Morning Call.


michael molovinsky said...

perhaps the presence of two black candidates out of five was too much for the commission to intelligently process. monday evening, bethlehem school board member judith dexter said "While some have suggested that the choice of candidate should be based upon ethnicity and the need for diversify our board, our district policy and our Constitution require that we give equal consideration to all applicants..."
Mr. jones only moved back to the area three years ago. His comment at the interview sessions that he wished to empower people has nothing whatsoever to do with the function of the commission. he was clearly a weak candidate, shame on the board!!!!

Anonymous said...

This out of the same man who the NAACP has referred to as a racist. Hey Mike: insinuating that the presence of blacks would make people dumber certainly does nothing to detract from the NAACP's argument.

You have zero credibility on any racially charged argument.

geoff said...

race wasn't discussed during the voting, by Jones when he was given the floor to speak or at the end of the meeting. Yes, he is the first black commissioner. It's worth noting that at this point. I don't think it entered into the votes cast by Browning, Eckhert, Hamm, Dougherty and Roman. Knowing the political bent of Browning, Eckhert and Roman, I'm not inclined to believe that they are going to appoint somebody b/c of their race.

and if gov't doesn't serve to empower people, then gov't doesn't serve people.

michael molovinsky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

While it is historic that Lehigh County has appointed its first commissioner of color, it should be clear that he was very clearly chosen because of his qualfications.

It's a nice plus that in the year 2007, we have appointed our first African-American Commissioner in the Lehigh Valley, but he's got an impressive resume a mile long. I think that that is why the commissioners chose him.

I was at the meeting last night and saw first hand.

Bernie O'Hare said...

A few weeks ago, Dean Browning appeared with Ron Angle on Business Matters. Browning spoke quote eloquently against affirmative action. I disagree with them both, but that's how they feel. And that's why I think race had little or nothing to do with Browning's thinking.

Clearly, he was more impressed by Jones than Molovinsky or me. I'll be talking to Mr. Browning this afternoon and he has agreed to fill me in on some of his thinking and why he voted as he did.

michael molovinsky said...

Anon 7:41, i deleted my previous reply because i wish to elaborate and contain my response in one comment. at the naacp candidates night in 2005 mr. bosket, then president, speculated that since i thought allentown's problem was being a poverty magnet, and many low-income people are of color, perhaps i should prove i'm not a racist. after the meeting, several people told me they were embarrassed by the question. at the time(and still) mr. boskett was employed by Community Action, a frequent target of mine. in the real world, the pastor of a small black church, familiar with my interaction with people for over twenty years, made his facilities available to me upon request. in my earlier comment i wondered if political correctness, if the the prospect of rejecting two black candidates, intimidated the commissioners. as i know, accusations of racism pop up to easily; mr. boskett took a cheap shot at me, and did you, anon 7:41

Bernie O'Hare said...


If I thought your objection to Jones was racially motivated, I'd be all over you. I don't. But just as you resent the accusation of racism, LC Comm's should resent the accusation that they were being "politically correct." I saw none of that.

People can look at the same facts and reach different conclusions. You and I looked at Jones and were unimpressed. Smart Blonde rated him #1 and Geoff rated him #2. You believe Jones is unqualified, but you (and I) may both be wrong. Time will tell.

I'll be watching.

Anonymous said...

Jones is a mouthpiece for the Mayor. You should be out of your mind, Bernie.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Jones is a mouthpiece for the Mayor. You should be out of your mind, Bernie.

I was out of my mind long ago.

I'm not so certain Jones is a mayoral mouthpiece. Jones told me that Pawlowski goes to a different church, which allays one of my concerns.

I will be watching. Next year, he has to run and win an election.

michael molovinsky said...

bernie, you wrote,
" The other applicants, excepting Kevin Easterling, also stayed for the duration."

although you brushed over it, i think the commissioners saw the last of easterling for quite a while, did he have another youth meeting to run off to?
on the other hand, pearson got a post selection beating from you, complete with another spacesuit photo.
in spite of this pearson will most likely continue to attend meetings and follow the budget.
Bernie, when your the pope, who do you ask forgiveness from?

Joe Hilliard said...

Congrats to Commissioner Jones. We have cleared another "race hurdle" and I hope he does a good job. And hopefully, that is all we focus on. How he does his job.

We have come so far in the last 140 years, yet we still need to suspect the motivations of everyone when race is involved - even if it isn't an issue. It has become so ridiculous. "They opposed the person because of his/her race." "They supported the person because of his/her race." It has become almost a farce anymore, similar to the infamous question, so when did you stop beating your wife?

Are we getting to that point? You opposed so and so, are you a racist? You supported so and so, are you a racist?

How much longer till we move beyond this?

Bernie O'Hare said...


Easterling did leave the meeting soon after the vote was over. All the other candidates remained.

Pearson did get a post-appointment beating, and this time he deserved it. Throughout the process, he posted anonymous comments on this blog that ripped other candidates and I had to confront him and tell him to knock it off. Last night, after being rejected, he acted like a little baby. Instead of congratulating Jones, he went off on a childish rant, criticizing comm'rs bc he did not get his way. He was insulting to several people who had dropped by, including city counil prez Mike D'Amore. That continued with 2 or 3 emails last night. His behavior confirms that the board was right to give someone else a shot.

Maybe all those trips to outer space have made him cranky or tired.