Dan McCarthy may not be a shoo-in to become Lehigh County’s next director of administration.
The former Lehigh County commissioner was grilled by two of his colleagues, while supported by two others, during a Wednesday night meeting of the commissioners’ intergovernmental & appointments committee.
At the full commissioners meeting later Wednesday, it was announced that Dennis Reichard has decided not to become the county’s next fiscal officer.
Commissioner Brad Osborne said Reichard “has rescinded his interest in this position.”
Reichard, who just ended a long career as Bethlehem’s business administrator, was being appointed by new County Executive Thomas Muller. Commissioners intended to act on that appointment Wednesday night.
Wednesday was the first time McCarthy met with commissioners since Muller announced his appointment as director of administration in late December.
Commissioners will vote on McCarthy’s appointment at their next meeting on Jan. 22. The appointments committee did not make a recommendation on his appointment.
Two commissioners questioned whether McCarthy is taking the job for the pension, if he is willing to make necessary budget cuts and if he is tough enough to squeeze those cuts out of county department heads such as District Attorney James Martin.
They also questioned whether, as an Allentown lawyer, McCarthy will face too many conflicts of interest in relation to the county court system.
“I may seem like a nice guy, and I am,” said McCarthy. “But I can say no with a smile. It’s still a no.”
McCarthy, like Muller, is a Democrat. Seven of the nine county commissioners are Republicans.
Commissioner Percy Dougherty, one of those Republicans, announced McCarthy has his complete support “because it’s been too long since we’ve had a county commissioner across the hall. He is going to able to think like we think and add that to the administration. In many cases over the last eight years, the administration has not understood how we think and how we operate over here.”
Republican Scott Ott, who lost the county executive election to Muller in November, asked Muller why he even needs to fill the director of administration position, saying: “You’ve been doing the job of county executive for eight years now. You’ve just been doing it under the title of director of administration.”
Muller said he has no intention of redefining the position, because the county needs a director of administration.
Muller said after just 48 hours as county executive, he already has learned there are aspects to the job that he was not involved in previously. He plans to do much more outreach to county residents than was done by former executives.
After the committee meeting, Muller said he’ll be surprised if McCarthy’s appointment is not approved in a 9-0 vote by commissioners. He said two or three of them “may try to make a fuss over his pension enhancement and so on, but ultimately the votes will be there. He’ll definitely be approved.”
Muller said he’s heard nothing but rave “thank yous” from county personnel since he nominated McCarthy as director of administration.
He indicated that includes department heads, regardless of their party affiliation.
McCarthy said being director of administration will be his full-time job. He will be the administration’s chief negotiator on labor contracts and responsible for preparing the county’s annual budget.
McCarthy grilled on budget votes
“I strain my memory to think of a time when you were enthusiastic about a particular cut to the budget,” Ott told McCarthy. “I think there were even times when you were trying to add more expenditures back into the budget.”
Ott said the county’s reserves have been drained down to their lowest sustainable level, the county has a substantial deficit and it has a financial crisis at its Cedarbrook nursing homes.
McCarthy said the focus of the county’s director of administration always is to minimize costs and enhance revenue while still providing needed services to county residents. “All those issues will be foremost in my mind.”
Commissioner Vic Mazziotti, also a Republican, told McCarthy nine amendments reducing the 2014 budget were passed by the county commissioners, “and you voted against every one of them.” He added in two cases, McCarthy was the only one who voted against those reductions. “You didn’t want to cut the budget.”
Mazziotti said the county now is facing a deficit of $8 million to $10 million. “What’s your solution to the problem? If we don’t cut the budget, what’s the alternative?”