Lehigh County commissioners will appoint a new county executive Wednesday night, selecting between candidates Matthew Croslis or Daniel McCarthy.
The commissioners’ intergovernmental & appointments committee interviewed both candidates Monday evening, then decided to recommend both men for consideration by the full board of commissioners rather than recommending one or neither of them.
Although McCarthy has been a Lehigh County commissioner for more than 11 years, he apparently is not a shoo-in to be appointed county executive by his eight fellow commissioners.
McCarthy is one of only two Democratic commissioners. Although seven of the nine are Republicans, they must appoint a Democrat because the last elected county executive was a Democrat.
Both candidates are lawyers and both sought to be appointed county executive in 2012, when commissioners selected William Hansell, who died last week.
Croslis, 40, ran for county executive in 2001. He is the owner of Croslis Realty, Croslis Law Offices, Croslis Realty Referrals and Legacy Title – all based in Allentown. He resides in Whitehall.
McCarthy, 64, works at the Davison & McCarthy law firm in Allentown. He resides in Allentown.
Whichever man is appointed executive will only serve for six months, until an elected county executive is sworn in next January. But the appointee will play a central part in developing the 2014 county budget.
The most provocative question of the interviews came from Commissioner Brad Osborne, a Republican who chairs the appointments committee.
“In the spirit of transparency and an effort to uphold the integrity of the process, I’m going to ask you a question,” said Osborne. “Have you been given an indication by any member of this board, or someone who is in communication with this board, that you have the five votes necessary to be appointed county executive?”
Croslis replied: “No, I don’t believe I have the five votes. I don’t know for certain I have the five votes.”
To the same question, McCarthy replied: “Oh no…No sir.”
Osborne declined to elaborate on his reason for asking that question after the meeting, only repeating that “I wanted to ensure the integrity of the process was maintained.”
Less than a dozen people attended the interviews, which were conducted in public.
Each of the three committee members -- Osborne, Vic Mazziotti and Scott Ott –asked the two candidates questions in separate interviews.
Also attending were Commissioners Percy Dougherty and Michael Schware, Both were invited by Osborne to also ask questions. Dougherty did, Schware did not.
Not attending were Lisa Scheller, chairwoman of the commissioners, Thomas Creighton and David Jones.
After the meeting, Osborne said advancing the names of both candidates to the full board was appropriate. He said the questions by his committee didn’t uncover anything that would disqualify either man from consideration.
This is the second time in less than a year that the commissioners are appointing an executive. In August 2012, they appointed Hansell to complete the unexpired term of Don Cunningham, who resigned.
Referring to Hansell’s death, McCarthy said he regrets “the circumstances that bring me here tonight. The county was well-served by his limited time here.”
Hansell resigned on May 17 because of failing health. He died June 4. Before his death, he appointed Thomas Muller, the county’s director of administration, as interim executive.
Muller, a Democrat, is running against Republican Scott Ott for a four-year-term as county executive. That race will be decided in November. Ott or Muller will be sworn in on Jan. 6, replacing whomever commissioners appoint executive Wednesday.
Saying the county executive should do as much as he can to keep politics out of the county government center, McCarthy said if he is appointed, Muller will not represent the county at official functions, such as groundbreakings or photo opportunities.
He also said Muller will be prohibited from engaging in any political activities, such as campaigning or fund-raising, in the government center, on county time or while performing county functions. And he said he would not contribute money to Muller’s political campaign.
On another ethical issue, Osborne asked how Croslis could operate independently as county executive if County Controller Glenn Eckhart still owes him money.
Croslis replied that Eckhart does not owe him money. “As of Dec. 17, I have been paid in full by Mr. Eckhart.”