For the first time in more than two centuries, Montgomery County has a chance at a fresh start.
“There are no lines yet,” said County Executive–elect Matt Ossenfort. “Everyone wants to work together to make this county better.”
On Jan. 1, the current board of 15 town and city ward supervisors will turn over the reins to Ossenfort and a nine-member legislature, seven of whom had no part in the current county government. The nearly clean break provides an opportunity to redirect the county’s path — an opportunity Ossenfort plans to leverage.
He’s in the process of assembling a transitional committee made up of 15 local business professionals, educators and members of the new government. They’re set to meet Dec. 19 to plot out a cohesive, attainable vision of the county’s future.
Committee members include incoming 1st District and 6th District legislators Martin Kelly and John Duchessi along with several other county and future town-level officials. Fulton Montgomery Community College President Dusty Swanger will also be there, as well as Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce President Mark Kilmer and representatives from the St. Mary’s Hospital.
Transitioning between governments requires a lot of logistic maneuvering. For starters, the new legislature will have to correct certain errors in the new government charter. Ossenfort is gearing up to deal with the Montgomery-Otsego-Schoharie Solid Waste Management Authority’s impending dissolution and employee contract negotiations, but the transitional committee won’t be tackling any of those issues.
“This is a big-picture thing,” he said. “We need a vision of where we’re going in the next five or 10 years.”
Those in the business, education and local government, he said, will have to collaborate to build the county into what it should be. Ossenfort couldn’t be totally sure what will be discussed, but he had some ideas.
“Kelly is president of the Montgomery County Farm Bureau. He knows farming inside and out,” he said. “I’m sure he’ll have something to say about economic development through agriculture.”
He’s also looking to hear from Kilmer about a more regional approach to industrial development, and from Swanger about how the college could partner with businesses and the county government to train the workforce for accessible jobs.
“About 10 years ago, St. Mary’s came to us with a problem,” Swanger said. “They didn’t have enough radiology technicians.”
Since then, he said, FMCC created a program teaching locals how to operate precision medical imaging devices. Now there are roughly 30 students in the program, with graduates maintaining a nearly 100 percent employment record. Ossenfort said he hopes to get the county involved in creating similar partnerships with other industries.
Such ideas will provide a road map for the new government, but more than that, Ossenfort said the meeting is meant to set a precedent of openness and collaboration. The current board of supervisors, he said, is divided by long-standing disagreements. The new government, for the time being, is not.
“We’re at a unique moment in Montgomery County,” said Ossenfort, a Republican. “I have Democrats calling me up and asking what they can do, but it won’t last forever.”
Before people develop problems with each other, before the spirit of hopeful cooperation fades, he wants to get done what needs to get done most. After that, he hopes, meeting to collaborate will become a habit.