The Berks County commissioners began the new year with a flurry of activity.
The commissioners approved the promotion of nine public defenders and two assistant district attorneys; authorized salary adjustments for more than 30 county employees from various departments; announced the creation of a new leadership post at the Berks Heim Nursing Home; and welcomed several new people who have joined the county.
Among the new people at the meeting Thursday morning was Michael Rivera, who made history as the first Latino to serve on the board. The Bern Township Republican said his first four days on the job had been a bit of a whirlwind but he is looking forward to spending the next month meeting with department heads and touring county facilities to better understand the challenges facing the county.
"I will be spending the next few weeks getting up to speed on everything that is going on," he said.
Rivera said his executive assistant, Barbara Lopez, is helping him settle into his new role. He said he hired Lopez to work with him for several important reasons.
"I wanted an assistant who I knew and trusted," he said of Lopez. "But also important was having someone in that position who is bilingual because I want to be able to reach out to the Latino community and get them engaged in local politics."
The board highlighted a few other new faces at the meeting:
• Mary Kozak, who was sworn in last week to serve as the recorder of deeds, said she has been pleasantly surprised by the number of people who have stopped by her office to congratulate her on the new position. The Reading Republican said she has been humbled by the outpouring of support.
"These four days have been overwhelming in a good way," she said.
• David Hunter, who was recently hired to lead the county planning commission, said he is honored to serve in his new post. Before coming to the county, he had served as director of planning and headed community development efforts for Reading.
"I count it a great privilege to lead this great team," he said. "The planners role is to collaborate, and we are going to do just that. And I'm looking forward to working with the entire county and certainly with the new mayor in Reading."
• The commissioners also announced the creation of an assistant administrator post at the county-owned nursing home.
Christie Kennedy, who has experience as a nursing home administrator in Lancaster County, was chosen to fill that position. The county will be responsible for covering 75% of her salary while facility manager Complete Healthcare Resources will cover the remaining the cost.
Commissioners' Chairman Christian Leinbach said the board felt it necessary to create the post in response to the announcement by current administrator Terry Brennan will be retiring in April 2021.
"We felt it was important to have someone in place that is highly qualified to take that leadership position and to send a clear statement that we believe in the future of the Berks Heim," he said. "The Berks Heim is an important facility, and we have invested a lot in it."