Montgomery County’s brand new Legislature on Wednesday chose as its chairman the one member with past county leadership experience.
Shortly after the new government was sworn in, District 2 Legislator Thomas Quackenbush, a Democrat, was installed as chairman by a 5-4 vote. District 7 Legislator Barbara Wheeler was chosen as deputy chairwoman.
Until Wednesday, the county was run by a board of 15 town and city ward supervisors. In the last election, many of those supervisors ran for the nine-member Legislature that replaced the board. Only former Minden Town Supervisor Quackenbush and former Amsterdam 4th Ward Supervisor Wheeler were elected.
With Quackenbush, the legislators chose the one person with chairman experience and more than a decade in county government.
“What we need is a smooth transition,” he said. “I have the necessary experience to move the county forward.”
Democratic District 3 Legislator Roy Dimond challenged Quackenbush for the chairman seat.
District 1 Legislator Martin Kelly, a Republican, voted for Quackenbush, but not without pause.
“When the Democratic majority was split,” Kelly said, “I thought I might be able to sway one vote for the chairmanship myself.” On the day of the meeting, he said, the votes just weren’t there, and Quackenbush seemed to be a better option than Dimond.
“Some people have questioned my choice,” he said, “Some people said the voters wanted a new government, not the same people in charge, but Tom has experience.”
John Duchessi, Joseph Isabel and Alexander Kuchis — the district 6, 8 and 9 legislators, respectively — voted for Dimond, as did Dimond himself. Having done that, Isabel subsequently voted in favor of the official resolution naming Quackenbush the chairman.
Despite knowing he faced a close vote, Quackenbush came in with a list of committee appointments should he be chosen.
“Oftentimes, the whole month of January is wasted,” he said. “I didn’t want to do that.”
Among the appointments, he chose Kelly and District 4 Legislator Ryan Weitz to head up the Finance Committee and the Education and Government Committee, respectively. Both are in their 20s, the youngest members of the new Legislature, but Quackenbush said they’ll be up to the jobs.
“They’re smart beyond their years,” he said.
Quackenbush came to the Democratic Party only in the last election. As a Republican, he served as chairman of the old Board of Supervisors in 2006 and 2011. This time around, he said, his job will be easier.
Also Wednesday, Matt Ossenfort was sworn in as Montgomery County’s first elected executive. He’ll handle daily business like putting projects out to bid.
“The board used to have to do all that,” he said. “Now I can concentrate on the laws.”