BENSALEM >> The Bucks County Commissioners closed out the old year by saying goodbye.
During a sometimes emotional meeting held at the Bucks County Visitors Center in Bensalem, Republican Commissioners Rob Loughery and Charlie Martin and Democrat Diane Ellis-Marseglia presided over their final meeting together.
Loughery and Martin are turning over the leadership of the county to Marseglia and newly-elected Commissioners Bob Harvie and Gene DiGiralamo who will be sworn in during a reorganization meeting on Monday in Doylestown.
The reorganization will mark a major political shift in county government with Democrats taking control of the board of commissioners and all but one of the county’s nine row offices.
Democrats Marseglia and Harvie, a former Falls Township Supervisor, will take majority control of the board of county commissioners with Republican DiGiralamo assuming Marseglia’s former role as minority commissioner.
On the eve of the political shift, Marseglia struck a conciliatory tone, speaking about her departing board colleagues and wishing both well.
“We have come a long way,” she told Martin. “If you told me 10 years ago I’d have a slight tugging at my heartstring I would have laughed at you and told you no, that’s not going to happen. But I do feel that.”
She then shared one of her infamous "gratitude lists" with Martin, her political polar opposite on the board. Martin, the longest-tenured county commissioner in Bucks County history, is leaving the board after almost 25 years in office.
“I’m grateful that we overcame the negativity. I am grateful that we found humor. I’m grateful that we found a way to laugh together,” she told her colleague. “I am grateful that we both love dogs, which made all the difference in the world. I am grateful that I was raised by a Republican father. It helped me to understand you. And I am somewhat grateful for your obsession about money and spending. It has locked in the back of my brain so I have a feeling that I will hold onto that the best that I can in the next few years. And I’m grateful that you do have a soft spot, Charlie, because I’ve seen it and I know that’s why you kept running for office.”
Marseglia then turned to departing commissioner chairman Loughery who lost his re-election bid in November and will be leaving the board after nine years in office.
When Loughery was selected to replace James Cawley on the board, Marseglia said she “tried very hard not to like him" based on what she was hearing from people around her.
“I kept waiting for that untrustworthy, calculating, mean Rob Loughery to blow into town, but that never happened,” she said. “I kept waiting for something to happen and sometimes I thought, this is it, here it is, but every time he had a mostly reasonable and mostly logical explanation. Then I met your kids and I met your wife and I thought, ‘This is real. He is a real person.’”
Her remarks filled with emotion as she spoke about a few turning points in their relationship, including the time Loughery’s then seven year old daughter, Evelyn, delivered a letter to Marseglia that now has a place of honor on her office shelf. The letter thanked Marseglia for being nice to her father and said she was glad they were going to be able to work together.
There was also the time a vicious website attacked Marseglia and Loughery came after her when she left the room in tears.
“While you were in the wrong political party, you became an important part of my life, an important part of the life of this county and someone I considered a friend," Marseglia told Loughery. "Our relationship, as it grew over the years, we have learned that you can disagree and then you can end up agreeing again,” she said. “And that you can have words and you can forgive and forget. And even though political people may get their volunteers from different pools, as long as our hearts have the county at its basis everything will turn out in the end.”
Marseglia added, “While the truth be told I’m a little bit scared about doing this without you because of your talents, I’m going to remember everything you taught me.”
Loughery thanked the many people who have supported and encouraged him over the years, from the county staff and administration to the division leaders, row officers, his administrative assistant Karen Nagy and COO Brian Hessenthaler.
When speaking about his colleagues on the board of commissioners, he had to pause for a moment and apologized for getting emotional.
“You have been a big part of my life for the past nine years,” he told Martin and Marseglia.
“Charlie, you are fatherly and you have been fatherly to me. I want to thank you for your wisdom. It really has had an impact on me - thinking about what’s the right thing to do, but when you do it, the timing of it and how it impacts the county and people.
“One of the things I enjoyed most among the three of us are those moments when we were able to talk about things that were life things for us. I think that helped us in making the decisions that we needed to make over these last nine years together.
“Charlie, you’ve been a mentor. You’ve been a friend. You’ve been a partner," said Loughery. "You’ve been someone who I can rely on and you’re always there. You’re rock steady. And I appreciate that you’ve done that for me and being a big supporter of mine and helped guide me in this process.
"Diane, I think I can reciprocate everything you said. I was told you’ll never be able to work with Diane. I got everything from everybody and nothing could be further from the truth about how we worked together and how much we accomplished.
“I’ll never forget when Evelyn wrote that note. She asked me to give you this note,” Loughery told Marseglia. “I had no idea what was inside ... That was the moment when I realized that if my daughter can do that, I needed to follow the example she just set for me because I don’t want to let her down ... How crazy is that that a seven year old set the tone for her dad. From that moment on, it blossomed. And I thank you for giving me insights about things like trauma and poverty. That tugs at my heart to begin with and its important.”
Loughery shared that a big moment for him was when Marseglia approached him with a request for between $250,000 to $300,000 to establish a treatment program in the county’s prison.
Loughery said he approached finance director David P. Boscola and asked him to find the money, which he did.
The program started as a pilot and was so successful for the men that the county expanded it to the women’s facility.
“That became so successful that this year we were given a state award for the program as a model for best practices for correctional facilities,” said Loughery.
“I didn’t know what a treatment program was. I trusted her on that,” said Loughery. “It turned into something good. That’s an example of our working relationship. But that award the county got wasn’t about me, Diane or Charlie. It’s just another example of what the County of Bucks does year in and year out.”
He concluded his remarks by thanking Martin and Marseglia “for allowing me to be part of this team and also for bringing us all together to make things work.”
Evoking a scene from the movie, “Saving Private Ryan,” Loughery said, “Just tell me that I did a good job. And that’s all I wanted to do. I just wanted to do a good job and I hope I did a good job. And I thank everyone for helping me do the job that I did.”
Martin had the last word, first expressing his appreciation for the comments from his board colleagues.
“I retired once before in January 1995. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I figured maybe I’d be a teacher or a township manager. Lo and behold, I was called to the basement in Croydon and decided maybe I would like to run for office. So that’s what I did in 1995.
"Twenty-four and a half years later I’m retiring for a second time and most likely the last," said Martin.
“The years go by quickly and over that time one of the best things is the great people we had to work with,” Martin continued. “Certainly inheriting the administration from Commissioners Andy Warren and Mark Schweiker, this county was in good shape. We just tried to improve it and make changes as necessary.
“The county has been fortunate with the quality of folks who have served as commissioner as well as the folks who have served in the row offices," he said. "And our staff, from Brian on down, has been great. And our 2400 employees who provide great services to residents each day, they are just wonderful."
Revealing something about himself and his thought processes, Martin said, “I’m someone who believes in self-responsibility and personal responsibility. If someone who truly needs help for something that has happened to them they deserve all the help they can get. Others, they are kind of responsible for themselves. That’s what I believe. And I think the county has done a great job for people who truly need help.”
Martin called the county’s financial condition and its Farmland Preservation program among the county’s biggest successes over his term in office.
“One goal I’ve always had was to improve the quality of life for the residents who pay taxes, live here and don’t get into trouble. They go to their jobs everyday, they pay their taxes, they are good people,” added Martin. “We try to have a little better quality of life for them - a wonderful parks system.”
Martin then had everyone laughing when he revealed that during his time on the board he had calculated that he has attended 1,201 commissioners meeting.
“That’s a record I will challenge anyone to beat,” said Martin. ”So I think I know a little about Bucks County and how it works. Bucks County is at the top of counties in Pennsylvania for how things have been done, thanks to the people and administration we’ve had and the programs we have.”