Copyright 1998 The Philadelphia Inquirer
All Rights Reserved
The Philadelphia Inquirer
JANUARY 9, 1998 Friday CNORTH EDITION
SECTION: NEIGHBORS; Pg. B02
LENGTH: 574 words
HE ACKNOWLEDGED A "PRIVATE DIALOGUE" WITH THE GOP.
HE SAID THE OTHER SIDE FAILED TO HONOR COMMITMENTS.
BYLINE: Karen E. Quinones Miller, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
In 1995, Mario Mele knew he wanted to run for reelection as Montgomery County commissioner. He knew he had a lot of money to do so. He did not know whether he would get his party's endorsement.
In a series of meetings that year with Republican Party leaders, Mele agreed that if he and Commissioner Richard S. Buckman won the election, he would serve as commissioners chairman for two years, then step aside in December 1997 and let Buckman serve as chairman for the last two years.
Yesterday, at the commissioners' first public meeting of 1998, Mele acknowledged making the commitment.
He also said he had no intention of fulfilling it.
"There was a private dialogue, political conversations that were held, that I don't feel would be appropriate to comment upon publicly," Mele said. "But I will say I have no intention of stepping down as chair."
Buckman said that he was not disappointed over not being named chairman and that he would not "whine."
"I'm not upset, but I do feel a commitment was broken," he said.
Commissioner Joseph M. Hoeffel 3d, the only Democrat on the board, said simply, "I have a great deal of respect for both of my colleagues, but I do think the Republican Party should keep its machinations the hell out of this boardroom."
In 1991, when Mele and now-U.S. Rep. Jon Fox ran in the Republican Party primary for county commissioner, the GOP endorsed incumbents Paul Bartle and Floriana Bloss.
After Fox and Mele won the election, Mele shocked and angered party leaders when he did not vote for Fox as chairman and instead nominated himself. That vote was seconded by Hoeffel.
When Fox went to Congress in 1994, Buckman, then county controller, was appointed to finish his term. It was common knowledge that Buckman would have no trouble getting the Republican endorsement for the 1995 race, but Mele's chances of getting the endorsement were considered up in the air.
Then, after several meetings between Mele and county Republican Chairman Frank R. Bartle, the party announced it would endorse Mele. After the announcement, Mele gave the party $150,000 he had raised for his campaign.
Mele said GOP leaders had not honored some commitments made to him at the time. "That being the case, I do not feel I have an obligation to honor any commitments that I made," he said.
Though in past administrations the chairman may have wielded special powers, Mele said that during his tenure, all of the commissioners had equal access to information and an equal voice.
"The only function of the chair is to generate consensus on the board, smooth out any differences, and promote harmony," Mele said.
Earlier yesterday, members of the Board of Assessment Appeals answered property owners' questions about the recent $7 million county-wide reassessment.
Paul Jacobs of Cole-Layer-Trumble Inc. was in attendance, along with Edgar Hayes, an independent consultant hired by the county to oversee the reassessment.
Most of the property owners present complained about their inability to access information about data CLT used to come up with reassessment figures.
Jacobs acknowledged that software that would enable residents to access the information themselves had not been delivered to the county, although the contract required that it be delivered by Dec. 31.
Jacobs said that he did not know when CLT would be able to deliver the software but that he hoped it would be soon.