The challenging process of appointing one new Lehigh County commissioner from among 16 applicants was outlined during the commissioners’ meeting Wednesday night.
“We have a very strong field of candidates,” said Commissioner Percy Dougherty. “I would consider it an honor to serve with many of them on this board.”
Lisa Scheller, chairwoman of the commissioners, said she is very happy that so many people are interested in county and local politics and want to be involved.
Within the next week, the candidates will answer written questions from the commissioners, then face more questions put to them during face-to-face public interviews later this month.
Commissioner Brad Osborne’s advice to the candidates: “With 16 people, you’re going to have to find a way to stand out and persuade five members of this board that you are the one to take the vacancy. It’s not going to be easy.”
While each candidate may speak for less than 10 minutes when interviewed on June 24, the commissioners anticipate the interview sessions will last up to three-and-a-half hours that night.
The commissioners must fill the vacancy by July 14.
The Republican ultimately appointed will serve though December 2015, completing the four-year term of Commissioner Scott Ott, who resigned last month.
The county initially released the names of 15 people who applied for the position.
But Robert Hamill of Lower Macungie Township, a former member of the East Penn School Board, also applied -- only nine minutes before the 4 p.m. Monday deadline.
Hamill applied via email to Scheller, which she did not see until the following morning.
Several of the candidates were at Wednesday’s meeting.
Osborne, who explained the appointment process, wants to make sure “we give every applicant an equal and fair opportunity.”
At 6 p.m. June 24, Osborne’s Intergovernmental and Appointments Committee will interview a panel of eight candidates.
All but one of the eight county commissioners are expected to participate in those interviews.
Each candidate will have one minute to answer questions from the commissioners, followed by one more minute for each to make any additional comments.
That process will be repeated with the second eight candidates, beginning at 7:45 p.m. the same night.
“I don’t want to underestimate the value of the interview,” said Osborne. “If there was no value to it, why would we take the time to do it?
“It’s an opportunity for candidates to impress, to stand out. But if they don’t do well, it could be a disqualifying thing.
He added: “I look for someone to stand out. The way you do that in a panel of eight is not going to be easy. But if you can’t find a way to stand out from the others, then you didn’t stand out.”
While the interview sessions are open to the public, candidates on one panel will be asked not to be in the meeting room during interviews with candidates on the other panel, out of respect for the process.
Who will be on which panel has not yet been determined.
Because of the large number of candidates, no additional interview nights are being scheduled for those who can’t attend on June 24.
Osborne already knows one can’t make it and expects there may be more.
The candidates also will be sent a number of questions before June 24 and asked to respond to them. All will get the same questions –- possibly one from each commissioner.
Osborne hopes his fellow commissioners get their questions to him quickly, so he can get them to the candidates and receive their responses well before June 24.