By a 5-4 vote Wednesday night, Lehigh County commissioners narrowly approved the appointment of Daniel McCarthy as the county's new director of administration
In another 5-4 vote, the commissioners expanded Lehigh County Authority's board of directors from seven to nine members, with two of the nine representing Allentown.
Voting no on both issues were Republican Commissioners Vic Mazziotti, Scott Ott, Lisa Scheller and Michael Schware.
Scheller, chairwoman of the nine commissioners, was singled out for criticism twice during the meeting - first by fellow Republican Dean Browning, a former county commissioner and unsuccessful primary candidate for county executive in 2013, and later by County Executive Thomas Muller.
Muller stood to respond to one of Ott's criticisms that the appointment of McCarthy had the appearance of cronyism, because McCarthy was "a major, if not the major" campaign contributor to Muller in last fall's county executive race, which Ott lost.
Muller told Ott that bringing up McCarthy's $6,500 contribution "is almost nonsense given how your campaign was funded."
Muller said McCarthy was far from his largest contributor, but Scheller and her husband Wayne Woodman gave Ott's campaign almost 10 times more than McCarthy gave Muller's campaign. "She also funded about 40 percent of Commissioner Schware's campaign and about 100 percent of Commissioner Mazziotti's campaign when he ran."
Charged the county executive: "There appears to be a bloc, all funded by the same source, trying to vote in one direction here."
Ott said if he had been elected county executive and then tried to hire Scheller, it would be appropriate for people to ask why one of his major campaign contributors "was now taking the top position in the county."
On a different matter, Browning held Scheller personally responsible for lack of public access to the county commissioners' office.
Browning said the commissioners represent and serve 350,000 county residents. "To be effective, you have to be available to those citizens and you have to be engaged with those citizens," he said. "You're falling short in that responsibility."
Browning said the commissioners' office in the county government center in Allentown often is closed; calls go to voicemail because no one is in the office to answer phones, and reports and agendas are not being put online for people to see. Browning said the agenda for the Jan. 28 commissioners meeting was posted three weeks after that meeting was held.
"Without having information online, you're short-changing the public and the press and you're not fulfilling your responsibilities."
Browning singled out Scheller, saying: "It was under your watch as chairman to cut the commissioners' staff by one-third. That was done for a political purpose without considering the full impact of the ability of the commissioners' office to fulfill its responsibilities."
He quoted Scheller saying she wanted to set an example. "The example you have set is not that you can do more with less, or even do the same with less. The example you have set is you're going to do less with less. We believe in smaller government, but we believe in effective government. Please make the necessary changes to fulfill your responsibilities."
Scheller said the decision to reduce the commissioners' staff from three to two was not arbitrary, but done after careful discussions with the commissioners' clerk. She added financial resources have been set aside to make adjustments if commissioners see things are not going well with only two people on their staff.
The two staffers in the commissioners' office have dealt with both serious illness and family deaths in the past several weeks.
"If things aren't going as well as they should, the proper adjustments will be made," promised Scheller.
Browning wasn't satisfied, saying: "That sounds more like excuses, when you expect results. We as the citizens who are paying your salaries expect results and you're not fulfilling them."
Before Browning spoke, resident Stan Bialecki, who regularly attends commissioners meetings, complained he has not been able to find agendas for the main meetings, or the committee meetings that precede them, where they usually are posted on the county's website before the meetings.
Bialecki said he has been going online to see those agendas, and print them out, before commissioners meetings for several years.
Ott apologized to Bialecki, saying: "You're right to bring it up."
McCarthy finally appointed
As the number two man in Muller's administration, McCarthy will develop county budgets, serve as the administration's liaison with commissioners and handle union negotiations.
His annual salary will be $94,744, considerably more than the $75,000 a year that the county executive makes.