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Montgomery County Commissioners, Row Officers Take Oath of Office

(From a press release)

On January 3, Montgomery County hosted a public swearing-in ceremony for Commissioners Jamila H. Winder, Neil Makhija, and Thomas DiBello, as well as nine row officers, in the Montgomery County Community College’s Health Science Center Main Gym.

“Montgomery County has a population that is diverse in experiences and backgrounds,” said Winder, chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners. “Our community deserves to have leadership that reflects those lived experiences. This new Board of Commissioners, with our dedication to service and diverse perspectives, ensures that everyone who lives, works, visits, or invests in Montgomery County has a voice that speaks for them.”

“It’s an honor to serve alongside Commissioners Winder and DiBello to support the people of Montgomery County. And that is what we are here to do—to serve,” said Makhija. “I am looking forward to the critical work of protecting our elections in 2024, addressing housing affordability and homelessness, leading on the climate crisis, and many more issues we face as a county.”

DiBello said, “I believe we’re going to do a lot of good for the residents of Montgomery County. Together with my fellow Commissioners, we are committed to making advancements for this great county. I look forward to meeting more of the people who live and work here, as well as speaking with and learning from the 2,800-plus county employees who diligently serve our community every day.”

Over 1,000 people registered to attend this significant moment in Montgomery County’s history. Residents, community partners, representatives of federal and state elected officials, and other partners joined together to celebrate the new leaders of the county, with several historic firsts.

With the support of her fellow Commissioners, Jamila H. Winder became the first African American woman to hold the position of Chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners.

“This honor of being the first is not lost on me. I am filled with gratitude that other little Black girls and boys can now see themselves in a position of power and can aspire for greatness in their own way,” said Winder. “While this moment is historic, I maintain the same commitment that I have had since I joined the Board of Commissioners last year: creating sustainable solutions that benefit all residents and look out for the most vulnerable.”

Makhija, who made history as the first person of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) descent elected to a Board of Commissioners in Pennsylvania, also was named the Chair of the Montgomery County Board of Elections.

“As Chair of the Board of Elections for the next four years, I assure you that in Montgomery County, no matter who you support, no matter what outside pressures come upon us, we will protect every single vote,” said Makhija. “County government is the bedrock of democracy; it’s where we safeguard our fundamental right to vote which protects all other rights; where every citizen has a chance to shape our shared future.”

The ceremony also honored nine elected officials who head various departments within the County. Those include Clerk of Courts Lori Schrieber, Controller Karen Sanchez, Coroner Dr. Janine Darby, District Attorney Kevin Steele, Prothonotary Noah Marlier, Recorder of Deeds Jeanne Sorg, Register of Wills Tina Lawson, Esq., Sheriff Sean Kilkenny, and Treasurer Jason Salus.

Dr. Janine Darby and Tina Lawson made history as the first Black women to hold the offices of Coroner and Register of Wills in Montgomery County, respectively. Schrieber, Sanchez, Steele, Marlier, Sorg, Kikenny, and Salus continue their service to Montgomery County in their respective offices.

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Eight Contenders Run for Montgomery County Commissioner in May

Three Republicans and five Democrats will be on the primary election ballot on May 16, seeking two slots for each party for the November race to fill the three-seat Montgomery County Commissioners Board.

With Democrat Jamila Winder as the only endorsed incumbent in the race, the contest for commissioner is more competitive than it has been for years.

Commissioner Kenneth Lawrence, Jr. is not seeking another term. Republicans Liz Ferry and Tom DiBello gained their party’s endorsement. Republican incumbent Commissioner Joe Gale, who portrays himself as an outsider, did not seek it.

Locally the GOP is operating at a significant voter deficit, with 202,880 registered Republicans to 301,156 Democrats. Voter rolls show 95,653 registered independents or those belonging to other parties.

It is those independent voters that Ferry believes Republicans can sway. She argued Democrats have drifted too far to the left to appeal to most residents.

Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale

“We care about things the normal, working residents of Montgomery County care about,” Ferry told DVJournal.

Ferry is an Upper Dublin Township commissioner, the only Republican on a seven-member board there.

“I’ve been able to get things done,” said Ferry. “That’s my objection to Joe Gale. After seven years, besides voting no, he has no accomplishments. And I’ve been able to get no tax increases budgets passed, reduce expenditures and find innovative ways of doing things. And I think that’s what we need.”

Montgomery County taxes have increased 8 percent this year, 8 percent the previous year, and 5 percent the year before that.

“And again, nobody’s doing the homework to say what’s going on, why costs are increasing, and what can we do not to raise taxes on residents who already are feeling the effects of all the things that happened in the last couple of years, with the pandemic and now inflation,” Ferry said.

DiBello holds a master’s degree in information systems, has worked for large companies, and has owned a small business. He served as Limerick Township auditor from 2006 to 2014 and on the Limerick Board of Supervisors from 2002 to 2004, as well as on the Spring-Ford School Board from 2009 through 2021, where he was president five times.

He described himself as “very involved in the community.”

“Crime is rising throughout the county, carjackings, murders,” DiBello said. “I felt with my background and experience; it was time for me to run for county commissioner and focus on getting the county on the right track again.”

DiBello noted he would be a full-time commissioner and not have another job. He said he would address issues of election integrity, such as ballot-box stuffing, that have arisen in the past few elections. He plans to support military veterans and service members and work to address homelessness in the county.

Echoing DiBello’s remarks about crime, Ferry argued current commissioners had approved a “matrix” to reduce bail so that criminals charged with a crime are released rather than waiting in jail until their trials.

“It’s a more sophisticated version of what Larry Krasner is doing in Philadelphia,” said Ferry. “Bad apples are committing crimes on our communities and then immediately getting out and doing it again.”

Incumbent Joe Gale, meanwhile, said he has consistently voted against tax increases. He also voted against the recent 12 percent increase for commissioners’ salaries and pledged to refuse that pay increase.

First elected in 2015, Gale said he had been a watchdog for the county taxpayers during his tenure as a minority member. He claimed Ferry and DiBello had voted to increase taxes during their time in public office.

Commissioner Jamila Winder

In addition to Winder, Democrats running are Tanya Bamford, Kimberly Koch, Neil Makhija, and Noah Marlier.

Bamford is a Montgomery Township supervisor. Koch is a Whitpain Township supervisor. Makhija is an attorney and executive director for Impact, an Indian American civic organization. And Marlier is the county prothonotary.

Ferry argued that whoever is elected should be singularly focused on the commissioner’s job.

“We need a person who does not plan to run for other offices” and will be devoted to running the county well, she said.

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