ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Amanda Holt, a 32-year-old piano teacher whose research led to a Supreme Court decision that changed state legislative districts across Pennsylvania, was appointed as the ninth Lehigh County commissioner Wednesday night.
Holt, one of 15 Republican candidates considered by the county commissioners, won the votes of five commissioners in their fifth round of voting.
The Upper Macungie Township resident has never held an elective office, yet she was selected over three former county commissioners and several other candidates with experience as elected municipal leaders.
She will serve for 17 months, filling the seat vacated by Scott Ott, who resigned in May to move to Texas.
In each round of Wednesday's voting, the eight commissioners named which of the 15 candidates they wanted to see join them on the board.
Holt got only one vote in the first round, none in the second round, three in the third and fourth rounds and the five she needed in the fifth round – which followed a 10-minute recess.
Voting for Holt in the final round were Commissioners Lisa Scheller, Vic Mazziotti, Brad Osborne, Michael Schware and Thomas Creighton.
Realizing Holt had the five votes she needed, Commissioner David Jones got the best laugh of the night when, as the last to vote, he said:
Holt briefly stood to thank the commissioners for the thought and attention they gave to the appointment process and to say all 15 candidates were excellent.
She was not sworn in after the vote, so she did not take the empty seat on the dais.
Scheller, chairwoman of the commissioners, said that will happen before or at the start of the commissioners' next meeting on July 23.
In the early rounds of voting, Kevin Dellicker of Weisenberg Township and Rene Rodriguez of South Whitehall Township were the leading candidates. Dellicker got four votes in the second round and Rodriguez got four in the fourth round.
While Dellicker also never held elected office, Rodriguez is a former South Whitehall Township commissioner.
The only other candidates who got any votes were Angelique Bailey, who got three during the five rounds, and Roger C. Reis, who got one.
Jones, vice chairman of the commissioners and one of only two Democrats, described Holt as a bright and intelligent woman, but he is concerned because she has no prior experience serving on a municipal government board.
New commissioner is conservative
Jones also wished a more "middle-ground" candidate would have been selected. He hopes Holt's appointment will not result in a continuation of the conservative majority on the board, but that she will have "an open-minded approach to how we fund the government."
"I would say she's conservative, but she's fair," said Scheller.
Scheller said Holt did not work to get the state Supreme Court to order statewide legislative redistricting in 2012 to benefit Republicans, but to benefit Pennsylvania residents.
Holt later agreed that she is a conservative Republican. She said she's interested in "adhering to the law and doing what is best for the citizens of Lehigh County under the law. I think that's the role of a commissioner and where the focus needs to be.
"I'm a hard worker and I really care about people. I'm interested in doing the right thing for the people of Lehigh County."
Scheller predicted Holt will do an exceptional job looking out for the interests of county residents. "She has great analytical skills, she's fair and she's willing to stand up for what she believes in."
Said Osborne: "Amanda Holt meets an important criteria in my personal consideration for this vacancy -- that of being a conservative, yet independent thinker. She has demonstrated she is not afraid to stand alone on principle."
When Holt applied to become a county commissioner, she wrote that she can consider all sides of an issue "without prejudice;" analyze and understand intricate reports and financial records; master complex concepts "and explain them to others," and approach the decision-making process with "thoughtful deliberation."
When interviewed by the commissioners in public on June 24, Holt said her strengths include analytical and research skills, independent thinking and an ability to consider all sides of an issue – including "working with others of differing opinions to achieve a common goal."
She said commissioners hold positions of great responsibility and public trust, adding it's a position she would not take lightly.
"With dedication and hard work, I would strive to do what is in the best interest of the people under the law," she said. "I would bring independent thinking, thoughtful consideration and attention to detail, without losing sight of the bigger picture.
"The skills and experiences I bring would be an asset to the board."
She told commissioners she is a researcher by nature—"I like to look into a matter and gather the facts."
In deliberating issues, she said she would listen to what the public has to say, "because the decisions we make will be affecting the public."
She also said she will listen to what the county's administration has to say, because it will implement decisions made by the commissioners, and to what her fellow board members have to say, "because one person can't think of all the answers or all angles."
She said each county commissioner brings different values and skills to the board. She wants "to work together and help each other examine complex issues from all sides."
In response to questions, she said working to help end the county deficit will be one of her top priorities.
She said she would want to examine that deficit "in-depth and see if we can go back to the heart of the matter and where things started.
You can't really solve something without finding out the cause first."
Regarding her 2012 redistricting accomplishment, which her resume defines as non-partisan, Holt told commissioners she went to the state Supreme Court only after the state Legislature decided not to implement changes based on her research.
Holt based her action on the state's Constitution, which maintains political subdivisions – from townships to counties – should not be split up to form state legislative districts unless absolutely necessary.
"How we're represented and how we choose the people that represent us is a very fundamental and basic issue in our government," she told commissioners.
Holt, who is a life-long resident of the county, said she was home schooled and does not have a college degree.
She is self-employed as a part-time piano teacher and also is an independent data research contractor who works for Allentown-based Phoebe Ministries.
Her current community involvement includes being a Sunday School teacher, a weekly devotional program helper at Cedarbrook Nursing Home and a judge of elections.
Running for a full term?
After Holt was selected Wednesday night, Commissioner Percy Dougherty told her she should be proud and honored to win the seat, adding: "It worked in your favor that you said you were not going to be running for this office again."
He said he had hoped the candidate selected would run for a full term as commissioner so a new person would not have to be "trained" at the end of Holt's term in December 2015.
Dougherty later added "She does extensive research and she is very detail oriented. She's going to be a very quick learner."
Schware said commissioners will continue to try to get Holt to run next year.
Although saying "never say never" after the meeting, she confirmed she's still not interested in running for a full term.
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