Legislators approve Mead's appointment as county DPW head

Wednesday, October 26, 2016 - Updated: 10:16 AM


Recorder News Staff

FONDA -- The Montgomery County Legislature confirmed the appointment of Eric Mead as the Department of Public Works commissioner once the new year begins.

Mead, town of Florida supervisor, will replace retiring commissioner Paul Clayburn come Jan. 1. The legislature voted 8-1 Tuesday to approve the appointment made by County Executive Matthew Ossenfort.

District 9 Legislator Robert Purtell, who voted against the appointment, said he was happy with Mead's qualifications, but he questioned why Mead would stay on as supervisor during a new position that "is probably going to be overwhelming to start out."

"I don't feel comfortable with the person in that position also being a supervisor in a municipality that we provide services for," Purtell later said.

During a confirmation hearing prior to the legislature's full meeting, legislators questioned how Mead's role as town of Florida supervisor might affect that of public works commissioner.

"I'm satisfied with your resume and credentials, I really am," District 2 Legislator Thomas Quackenbush said.

Quackenbush, however, said there are relationships between the town and county DPW, such as snowplowing contracts, that could spark rumors.

"There is going to be, without doubt because it's a small county, someone who says 'Oh, Eric, he's doing more for the town of Florida' for instance. How do you defuse that? Do you plan to proceed on and run in the future or play it by ear?" he said.

Mead said while he wants to serve the town of Florida residents and continue his term as supervisor at least until the position is up for election next year, he wants to care for his family. Mead previously said when Ossenfort first approached him about taking on the position, he and his wife decided it was best for them after long consideration.

"If push came to shove and that would be a deal breaker, I would pass the torch," Mead said.

He added that he has attended seminars and classes with the Association of Towns and has been told since he does not have a voting position as Florida supervisor, there would be no legal conflict for him to be DPW commissioner.

He also said he deals with such situations already of people asking for favors as the town supervisor. He cited the town's decision to end a contract with the Fort Hunter Volunteer Fire Department.

"I lost from friends with that decision because I didn't play favorites," Mead said.

One of the exciting things about the appointment, District 4 Legislator Ryan Wetiz said, was since Mead is both supervisor and owns his own business, Mead Plumbing and Heating, he can bring an outside perspective to the department.

"I think your background in private business, running a small business, those are the strengths we need. ... You can highlight our strengths and fill in those gaps when we need a little strength," Weitz said.

District 1 Legislator Martin Kelly agreed.

"I think from your resume being a small business owner and working as the supervisor of other employees, that you understand that moral is important but at the same time you're willing to get your hands dirty and not ask someone to do something you wouldn't do," Kelly said.

Weitz continued that there will likely always be some kind of conflict and said "it's all about disclosing and recusing" if the situation calls for it.

District 5 Legislator Terry Bieniek said one such situation might be the snow plowing contract with the town.

Bieniek also asked if Mead would want to change some ways the department is run, to which Mead said he doesn't yet know leadership capabilities or work ethics of department employees.

"I guess given the opportunity, on day one, it's going to be bringing everyone in, getting to know them first, see what their strengths are," Mead said.

District 7 Legislator Barbara Wheeler said her concerns leaned toward "growing in size in government," although said taking politics out of the situation, she supported Mead and his qualifications.

Mead will replace Clayburn, who has been with the county for 30 years, but Clayburn will stay with the county for about another year and a half, until he reaches full retirement age.

Clayburn's current appointment ended in September and he was appointed as interim commissioner until Jan. 1. He will stay on as "commissioner of highways" with Mead as DPW commissioner for a short time. The new position will be eliminated once Clayburn leaves.

Mead thanked the county legislature for the confirmation and said he looks forward to servicing the county.

"I look forward to service in the county to the best of my abilities and I appreciate the support. Thank you very much. It means a lot to my family," he said.