Centre County Officials, Judges Sworn In
January 03, 2020 12:38 PM
by Geoff Rushton
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Don Hahn has been sworn in to elected office before, as a State College borough councilman and later as mayor. But Friday's swearing in at the Centre County Courthouse marked a new chapter in his career of public service: magisterial district judge.

Hahn was one of 13 newly elected and re-elected Centre County officials and district judges to be sworn in to office by Centre County President Judge Pamela Ruest. New Bellefonte Borough Councilwoman Deborah Cleeton also was sworn in during the ceremony.

"I’m really looking forward to the new role. This is going to be quite a bit different from my previous public offices," Hahn said. "But I have some really good role models and hopefully they will guide me. I’m really excited about it and anxious for it begin."

Succeeding retiring District Judge Carmine Prestia, who held the post for 24 years, Hahn was joined in taking the oath on Friday by District Judges Kelley Gillette-Walker and Steven Lachman, who were both re-elected in November to their second terms.

Ruest recognized Prestia and three-long serving row office holders who will be retiring after Friday: Prothonotary Debra Immel, who served five terms; Controller Chuck Witmer, who served four terms; and Treasurer Richard Fornicola, who served five terms.

"The swearing in this year is a little bittersweet," Ruest said. "On the one hand we are saying goodbye to some longtime public servants who are retiring... I’d like to thank them for their dedicated service to Centre County. On the other hand, we’re here to welcome their successors, so we’re looking forward to that."

Centre County Treasurer Colleen Kennedy is sworn in by Judge Pamela Ruest on Jan. 3, 2020 at the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte.

Newly elected officials sworn in on Friday were Prothonotary Jeremy Breon, Controller Jason Moser and Treasurer Colleen Kennedy.

"It’s a little overwhelming, but it’s exciting," Kennedy said. "I’m very much looking forward to starting this new chapter.

"Like any new position you have to come in and know the lay of the land before you start making changes. I do want to make some changes and have spoken to the staff about some possibilities. We’ll be meeting and discussing prioritizing what changes to be made and when. But the first thing we’ll do is keep things rolling, because I need to hit the ground running on Monday morning."

Recorder of Deeds Joseph Davidson and Coroner Scott Sayers were both sworn in for their sixth terms. Sheriff Bryan Sampsel and Register of Wills Christine Millinder both took the oath for their second terms.

Register of Wills Christine Millinder is sworn in for a second term by Judge Pamela Ruest on Jan. 3, 2020 at the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte.

Centre County's three commissioners also began another term together after each was re-elected in November. Democrats Michael Pipe and Mark Higgins were re-elected to their third and second terms, respectively, while Republican Steve Dershem won his fifth term. It marked the first time in more than 70 years that the county's Board of Commissioners was re-elected in its entirety.

Dershem said that while he may be from a different political party than his two colleagues, they have worked together with the best interests of the county in mind.

"You can disagree about issues but you don’t have to be disagreeable," Dershem said. "Working together for the common good of the county is really where I’m at. Knowing what I know about our county and its future, I think it’s very bright. We have to use every opportunity to make our county shine. Part of what we all understand is that the working relationship makes that happen."

Among the first orders of business will be reopening the county's 2020 budget for review, a typical procedure when new row officers are elected.

"We’ll have to look at the budget again and probably tweak that a little bit because as new elected officials come in, they have certain wants and needs we have to address," Dershem said. "Moving forward we have some construction projects. You’ll see the courthouse [renovations] being at the forefront of that. We’ll be pushing real hard to make sure that project gets done not only under budget but on time."

Centre County Commissioner Steve Dershem is sworn in for a fifth term by Judge Pamela Ruest on Jan. 3, 2020 at the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte.

Higgins said he's optimistic about the future with positive things happening in all corners of the county. Some priorities for the board, Higgins said, will be the completion of the solar array project at the Centre County Correctional Facility; planning for the future of the Centre Crest building in Bellefonte after the nursing home moves to the new Centre Care facility in College Township later this year; continued work on the opioid crisis; and possible expansion of the public-private partnership providing broadband internet to underserved areas.

"There are new ideas out there and new initiatives we can work on countywide in 2020 and future years," Higgins said. "We’re looking forward to working with federal and state officials, other county officials, our local elected officials, all of our volunteers, town and county staff, and the citizens of Centre County. This is a great place because everybody knows you’ve got to work hard continuously. You’ve got to work together."

Centre County Commissioner Michael Pipe is sworn in for a third term by Judge Pamela Ruest on Jan. 3, 2020 at the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte.

Like Dershem, Higgins said the three commissioners have a good working relationship.

"There are 67 counties in Pennsylvania and several where the commissioners just do not get along. That’s not happening here in Centre County," Higgins said. "We work well together and get a lot done. There are maybe a half a dozen votes a year where it’s not unanimous and it’s not like it’s always Steve. Sometimes it’s me being against something or Mike being against something… but it’s a very rare occurrence. We spend a lot of time chatting with each other, bouncing off ideas, working with the staff and administrators... We have 560 great people working for us who have the interests of Centre County citizens in mind."

Centre County Magisterial District Judges Kelley Gillette-Walker and Steven Lachman talk following a swearing in ceremony on Jan. 3, 2020 at the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte.

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