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PRESS PHOTO BY DOUGLAS GRAVESNew Lehigh County Commissioners Amy Zanelli and Nathan Brown attend the Nov. 8 meeting of the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners. PRESS PHOTO BY DOUGLAS GRAVESNew Lehigh County Commissioners Amy Zanelli and Nathan Brown attend the Nov. 8 meeting of the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners.

LEHIGH COUNTY COMMISSIONERS

Friday, November 17, 2017 by DOUGLAS GRAVES Special to The Press in Local News

Commissioners-elect attend first meeting

In a short meeting Nov. 8, the Lehigh County Commissioners approved some appointments, one bill and listened to citizen’s complaints and suggestions. They also welcomed the two newest Commissioners-elect who won their elections the night before.

Amy Zanelli, the new representative for District 3, which includes West Bethlehem, attended with her wife and children. Zanelli will replace David Jones who will step down from the commissioner’s office.

Nathan Brown, representing District 5, which includes Emmaus, also attended the meeting. Brown currently serves on Emmaus Borough Council, but said he will have to resign the position since he has been elected to be a Lehigh County Commissioner. Brown replaces Mike Schware who will step down.

During the citizen’s comment portion of the meeting, Lehigh County employee Sam Bourizk asked the commissioners to make the county’s website as it relates to the section on benefits easier for employees to calculate their retirement benefits.

Bourizk also lamented what he called the current policy of allowing a subsequent spouse to assume the life-time benefits that might have been due to an employee’s first spouse.

“I know I’m opening a can of worms,” Bourizk said, “but nobody gets a free ride.”

In other business, Schware withdrew a proposed bill designed to amend the Home Rule Charter to give the commissioners the authority to determine which media forms can be used to present the budget. Schware said he has been convinced the commissioners can resolve the issue without passing a new ordinance.

According to Commissioner Dan Hartzell, a request by one of the commissioners for an electronic version of the 2018 annual budget was not immediately granted by the Lehigh County Executive’s office. It was released electronically a few days after it was publicly released in paper form. This led to a general idea that electronic versions of the budget should be released together with the traditional paper “budget books” commissioners receive at the time the Lehigh County Executive holds the public conference announcing and explaining the proposed budget for the coming year.

According to Commissioner Amanda Holt, the proposed ordinance “will clarify that the Board of Commissioners has the authority to request and to receive an electronic copy of the budget when the Executive releases the budget on Sept. 1.”

This will give the commissioners the most time to propose changes to the budget, according to Holt.

At least one Lehigh Commissioner wants the Lehigh County Executive to present the annual budget to the board of commissioners at a meeting in the Seventh Street meeting room instead of at an offsite venue such as Cedarbrook Nursing Home or Coca- Cola Field or other venues as has been done by for the past several years.

For example, this year Lehigh County Executive Tom Mueller introduced the 2018 budget at Cedarbrook Nursing Home.

Newly re-elected Commissioner Percy Dougherty said the practice of having the annual budget presented at off-site venues is, “demeaning to the commissioners.” Dougherty currently has 24 years of service as a Lehigh County Commissioner.

Dougherty said in a later interview, “We’ve been caught by surprise in the past. It used to be presented to us before anyone else got it.”

He said he also wants to see everything available online.

“The budget should be online immediately when the budget is released. The current board believes in transparency in government,” Dougherty said.

The Lehigh County Commissioners also approved a motion approving the expenses for Dougherty, Marty Nothstein, Brad Osborne and Commissioner-elect Brown to attend the 2017 County Commissioners’ Association of Pennsylvania’s fall conference in Hershey Nov. 19 to 21.

The commissioners also approved a perpetual easement between the County of Lehigh Administration building and the adjacent Trust Building to extend and connect roof flashing.

Director of General Services Richard D. Molchany addressed the commissioners and suggested, since the meeting was being held just before Veterans Day, the commissioners might want to recognize the veterans present who served their country. The commissioners agreed and recognized Jones who served in the U.S. Army from 1981 to 1985, Schware who served in U.S. Army Green Beret/Special Forces from 1983 to 1987 and Molchany who served in the U.S. Navy Nuclear Propulsion/Submarine Service from 1977 to 1981.