New legislature gets down to business


FONDA -- Experience reigns Montgomery County's brand new legislature -- it will be led by the pair who formerly served on the now-defunct board of supervisors.

District 2 Legislator Thomas Quackenbush was voted in as chairman, and District 7 Legislator Barbara Wheeler as deputy chair at the group's organizational meeting Wednesday.

"It's a new beginning, and a new start," Quackenbush said.

Quackenbush's nomination was split, 5-4; the dissenting votes cast by legislators Roy Dimond (District 3), John Duchessi (District 6), Alexander Kuchis (District 9), and Joseph Isabel (District 8).

Isabel would later vote for Quackenbush on the formal resolution, after the nomination was approved, changing the final vote to 6-3.

The dissenters called for a fresh blood in the appointment to go with the new form of government.

"Voting no has nothing to do with Tommy," Dimond said. "There was a mandate by the people to have a new form of government, and also to have new faces represent that form of government. That's what my district wanted, and that's why I'm voting no."

Dimond was the other legislator nominated for chairmanship, but he couldn't garner a majority of votes.

Others who voted for Quackenbush disagreed that his experience disqualified him for the position. Quackenbush, Minden's former supervisor, served two terms as chairman of the board of supervisors.

"I agree there was a mandate to change the way things were done in county government, not necessarily the names on the placard," said Weitz. "Moving forward, I do not think we can dwell on the chains of the past, and I think Tom is the best candidate."

"The people wanted something different, and they did. This is something different," Quackenbush said of Wednesday's meeting.

In addressing the legislature after his appointment, Quackenbush made note of the chambers' new setup -- the dais that formerly towered over the rows of supervisors' desks has been removed, and the legislators' seats form a semi-circle that faces the audience.

"We're all on a level playing field now," he said. "We need to leave politics at the door, support our executive, and make this new form of government work."

Wheeler was unanimously designated deputy chairwoman. District 1 Legislator Martin Kelly said it would provide geographic and political balance, as Quackenbush is a Democrat from the west, and Wheeler a Republican from the east.

"Being a Republican deputy on a Democratic-strong board is an honor, and a privilege," Wheeler said.

In the board's other appointment, Cheryl Reese was unanimously appointed board clerk.

The legislature also unanimously confirmed appointments recommended by new County Executive Matthew Ossenfort:

* Douglas E. Landon as county attorney.

* Brenda Rava as director of the Department of Youth/Alternatives to Incarceration/Veterans Services.

* Kenneth Rose as director of the Department of Economic Opportunity and Development

* Dale Furman as Fire Service director.

* Outgoing Undersheriff Jeffery T. Smith as director of the Emergency Management Department and STOP-DWI coordinator.

There was some debate, however, about a resolution requested by Ossenfort to upgrade the position and salary of the clerk typist in his office to a communications specialist. It requires a $5,873 increase to raise the salary to $39,393.

Ossenfort's office is currently set to have two staff members. In addition to the clerk typist, the board of supervisors in November approved an administrative aide position with a $45,020 salary, as well as a vehicle lease and gasoline budget.

Ossenfort told the supervisors in November the administrative aide position was one more suited for the work he expects for his office, as he was originally only set up to have a confidential secretary.

He gave a similar explanation about the communications specialist to the legislators, and said it would be a better fit than the clerk typist.

"We need to communicate with the public," Ossenfort said.

Wheeler said she supports it, because the position could also be used by the legislature and the county departments.

Others said they would support the resolution. There was debate, however, whether it should go through the legislature's new committee system because it had financial implications.

"It's foolish for us to start on day one and take money out of the general fund," said Kelly. "We have committees for a reason."

Several others agreed, including Quackenbush. But Quackenbush said he would have scheduled a special meeting so the resolution could be approved.

Quackenbush, Kelly and District 5 Legislator Terry Bieniek voted against the resolution, but it still passed.

Duchessi said there was no point in waiting if the resolution had support.

"The resolution is destined to go in place, and on its face, it's worth supporting," he said.