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County Hall Corner: Sooooo Long, Farewell, Goodbye

The last Lycoming County Commissioners Meeting of 2023, held on December 28th, was sort of like watching the third film in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Every time it seemed to be over, one more scene popped up. The “Return of the King” lasted three hours and twenty-one minutes, and when the commissioners’ meeting hit the three-hour mark, I was afraid my wife might be calling 911 to report her missing husband. Seriously, I was already forced to cancel two appointments and was losing hope that I would be able to stick around much longer to give my own personal final congrats to the outgoing commissioners, Tony Mussare and Rick Mirabito.

This unique meeting was a combination of an official commissioner meeting sprinkled with a farewell party at the same time. Almost every public official of note was in attendance, along with former elected officials and other local politicians and dignitaries. This last meeting of the year, and especially for Mussare and Mirabito, had enough drama to be a Hollywood film, especially when the subject of reassessment came up and was voted on. (More on that in upcoming articles). But amid a good old-fashioned debate, there were many appreciations for the two outgoing commissioners, especially highlighted by State Representatives Joe Hamm and Jamie Flick, who both presented state proclamations for the two departing commissioners.

When the agenda was FINALLY finished, and the commissioners gave their last comments, Commissioner Chairman Scott Metzger was about to end the meeting when he was reminded that they still had to have “Public Comments.” I sunk deeper in my chair because I wondered what else could be said.

But not for the first time; I was very wrong. The last three speakers were exceptional professionals, and what they said was well worth the wait. The first was Jim Dunn, a former township supervisor for Armstrong Township, who thanked the commissioners for their support of an amazing conservation project known as the Robert Porter Allen Natural Area along Sylvan Dell Road in South Williamsport. This natural preservation project is something that generations yet to come will appreciate greatly.

Dunn was followed by Sheriff Mark Lusk, who always seems like he is auditioning to be a late-night comedian, but in truth, when Sheriff Lusk talks, he is worth listening to. He shared backstories related to the outgoing commissioners, especially how much work and problems they all went through during the COVID shutdowns. As much as I was following this in real-time back in 2020-2021, much of what Lusk was sharing was news to me. It was a memorable tribute.

And then came the final speaker, Director of Voter Services Forrest Lehman. Of all the department heads that I have engaged in the past decade, Forrest is the sharpest of them all. I am always impressed with his range of knowledge. So, it was not such a surprise that when Lehman went to the podium to congratulate Tony Mussare and Rick Mirabito, it was memorable.

Lehman’s comments were not just antidotes of his interactions with the commissioners, but rather, he broadened his remarks to congratulate all those who serve in public service: those who work the polls on election days, borough council members, township supervisors, school board directors, etc. He did it by citing Theodore Roosevelt’s 1910 speech entitled “Citizenship in a Republic,” which is popularly known as “The Man in the Arena.”

Lehman highlighted the most well-known portion of the speech to recognize these servants and what it costs them to serve: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

It was a tribute that was so inspiring; when Lehman finished, there was a momentary awe throughout the meeting room, and then Commissioner Metzger looked back at me and stated, “Mr. Stout, I think that you have your article for next week right there!” I couldn’t agree more.