County officials sworn in

BELLEFONTE — Newcomers to elected office joined seasoned Centre County officials Wednesday morning for a swearing-in ceremony that filled the courtroom.

Charles C. Brown Jr., who retired at the end of 2007 as president judge of the Centre County Court of Common Pleas, presided over the session.

“Those reading (that) I’ve retired may wonder exactly what has happened,” joked Brown, who will now serve as a senior judge.

Among those sworn in was the woman who will take Brown’s seat on the court, Pamela Ruest, and newly elected county Commissioners Jon Eich and Rich Rogers. Judge Bradley P. Lunsford swore in new Magisterial District Judge Leslie Dutchcot.

“These people have been chosen by the people. There have been no coups, no wars, no threats of war,” Brown said during his opening remarks to a room crowded with family, friends and supporters of the elected.

After taking the oath of office, Ruest donned a judge’s robe and sat behind the bench for a few moments.

“I am honored and humbled to be serving as Centre County’s newest judge,” said Ruest, the first woman to hold the position.Ruest said she will spend next week in judge’s school before taking her first cases. She acknowledged that she will be nervous.

“It’s a huge responsibility that I take very seriously,” she said.

She joined the other judges in the swearing-in ceremony for elected county officials, beginning with Eich, who received the most votes in the commissioners’ race.

A Democrat, Eich said he’ll have three priorities: the county’s 2008 budget, Centre Crest nursing home and the 911 emergency system.

The outgoing board approved an $86 million budget with no tax increase, but the incoming board may reopen the budget. Eich would not rule out the possibility of a tax increase.

The commissioners’ oversight of Centre Crest was one of the major issues on which Eich campaigned.

The county has also started to look into options for the emergency communication system, including replacing it. The system has been experiencing dropped calls between the dispatch center and stations, and it lost its ability to page firefighters one night in August.

Eich and Rogers both said they would like to form a community task force to make recommendations about the county’s touch-screen voting system, including whether it should be replaced. Both have said they favor systems with voter-verified paper trails.

Eich said he does not think there will be time to change the voting systems before the primary.

Rogers said he would like to look into long-range budget and capital improvement planning for the county.

He said he hopes taxes do not have to be raised this year and that the county can avoid increases in the future.

In keeping with county code, Rogers’ and Eich’s terms in office won’t begin until next week — the first Monday in January. A reorganizational meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. that day in the Willowbank Building.

Also sworn in Wednesday was re-elected Commissioner Steve Dershem, re-elected county row officers and Kim Barton, who has served as acting register of wills since October 2005 and who won election to the office in November.

Anne Danahy can be reached at 231-4648.