Posted by: webmaster | March 16, 2011

Board selects Democrat as vice chairwoman


By MICHAEL P. RELLAHAN
Staff Writer

WEST CHESTER — Chester County Commissioner Kathi Cozzone made history Tuesday when she became the first elected Democrat to win election as vice chairwoman of the three-member board.

The unanimous vote came after newly appointed Commissioner Ryan Costello nominated Cozzone for the position during a brief reorganization meeting of the commissioners at which Commissioner Terence Farrell was also re-elected chairman.

“For a politician, I am relatively speechless,” Cozzone told the audience at the commissioner’s meeting after trying unsuccessfully to “third” the motion by Costello and Farrell.

She thanked her fellow board members for “recognizing the contributions I have made to the board. I’m looking forward to working with you to make the best decisions for the citizens of Chester County.”

“Many of the decisions that we will be making over the next nine months will not be easy ones, particularly as we plan for the 2012 budget,” she added later in a statement. “I look forward to working with Terence and Ryan to make the best decisions for Chester County citizens.”

The vote came less than three months after Cozzone had nominated herself for he position of chairwoman and vice chairwoman and failed to win a second for her motion from either of her two Republican colleagues at the time. But on Tuesday, Costello, who was appointed to the board by the Common Pleas Court judges last month, pushed for her nomination.

“When I went before the judges (to interview for the appointment), I said that I think it is important that we work together in a cooperative fashion as best we can,” Costello explained. His support of Cozzone, he said, was in “that spirit of cooperation.”

After all, he noted, Cozzone has been in office for 3 1/2 years and gained a world of experience in the job, while he has been on board “only 3 1/2 weeks.”

“I think it is sensible and appropriate,” Costello said. He added that with a challenging set of budget decisions that the commissioners will have to make in the coming nine months, Cozzone’s position as second in command of the board “would remove any whiff of politics” as the board moves forward.

Farrell, who has served with Cozzone since their election in 2007, agreed and seconded the nomination. He stressed that unlike other county commissioners, the three members here have been “a very collegial board” recognized as such recently by the Exton Chamber of Commerce.

With Cozzone as vice chairwoman, “we can continue to achieve things for the citizens of Chester County going forward,” he said.

Costello pointed to the historic nature of Cozzone’s election to the post, saying that she would be if not the first, then the first Democratic leader in “a very long time.”

Historical records were unclear whether any minority-party commissioner had served in a leadership position on the board in the 290 years since the post of commissioner was first created in Chester County to handle the business of the county, but most observers agreed that it had never been done.

“I never thought in my lifetime that I would see that,” said West Chester attorney Samuel Stretton, a longtime Democratic Party activist now running for district attorney, when told of Cozzone’s election. “I think that bodes well for government in Chester County. Partisan politics are one thing when you are running for office, but once you are elected, politics should go by the wayside.”

County GOP Chairman Joseph “Skip” Brion, said that having Cozzone in the vice chair position made sense, for the moment, because she was elected to the job and Costello is serving by appointment by the judges.

“I think that Kathi has been a very, very good minority commissioner,” Brion said Tuesday. “Until such time as Ryan Costello is elected by the people of Chester County as commissioner, I think it is fitting that Terence and Kathi be the officers of the commissioners.”

One need look only to the neighboring Montgomery County to see the difference between Cozzone’s election to a leadership position and that of fellow Democrat Commissioner Joe Hoeffel. There, Hoeffel bargained with Republican Jim Matthews to take a leadership seat, cutting out Republican Commissioner Bruce Castor, who both Hoeffel and Matthews held in contempt.

The collaboration between the two resulted in both men losing favor with their respective parties. Neither is seeking reelection this year. Cozzone, Farrell, and Costello are all seeking election as commissioners $#151; Farrell and Costello as Republicans and Cozzone as a Democrat, with fellow party member Susan Bayne, a West Chester borough councilwoman.

Costello was appointed to serve out the remaining months of the seat left vacant when Carol Aichele took a job in the Corbett administration in Harrisburg. At the time, Cozzone criticized the decision, saying the appointment should have gone to someone who was not seeking election in the fall. But she promised to continue working with her fellow Republicans.

Unlike legislative bodies in Harrisburg, Washington or Philadelphia, the leadership positions of chairman and vice chair on the commissioners are largely ceremonial. Neither act alone in setting county policy or have authority to control debate among board members; and the chairman is paid a nominally higher salary — $1,000 more — than the $80,072 that other county commissioners receive.

Cozzone brought experience in business when she came to the board in 2008, succeeding Commissioner Patrick O’Donnell.

According to her biography, Cozzone “brings a versatile corporate financial management background to the highest office in Chester County government. With more than twenty years’ experience, Kathi brings a seasoned accumulation of financial skills to the county management table.”

Cozzone received a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the College of New Jersey. She managed a variety of large and complex budgets in several industries. Before her election, she was corporate business manager at Rodale, Inc., a world-renowned publisher of books and magazines focusing on encouraging people to improve their lives, and the world around them.

She lives in Uwchlan with her husband, Victor, and their son, Victor.

To contact staff writer Michael P. Rellahan, send an e-mail to mrellahan@dailylocal.com.

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