Bel Air bids farewell to town administrator Chris Schlehr

After 21 years of service growing and overseeing the viability of the town, Chris Schlehr is set to throw in his hat as administrator for Bel Air.

Current and former town commissioners, elected officials, close friends and colleagues gathered during a town hall meeting Monday evening to bid Schlehr farewell.

Town Mayor Robert J. Reier said while Schlehr would prefer to gather his belongings and quietly move on to his next phase in life, the town commissioners saw it fit to acknowledge him with a proclamation from the town.

"Thank you for your time, patience and assistance during my time in government, especially when I was a greenhorn," Reier said. "He showed me that government is where the rubber meets the road."

In 1992, after a lengthy 20-year career as a commander of the civil engineer corps with the U.S. Navy, Schlehr set his sights on his hometown. He started with the town as director of public works and in 2000 became the town administrator.

Harford County District Court Judge David Carey, who served as town commissioner and mayor for 16 years until last month, said Schlehr leaves quite a legacy with the town of Bel Air.

"He is universally held in high esteem by the employees and by the citizens," Carey said in an interview. "It's obvious that the only thing that matters to Chris is what is best for the town."

Carey said Schlehr's background in engineering, construction and maintenance made him an asset to the town.

A Bel Air High School graduate, Schlehr received a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy and continued on to receive a master's from Penn State University.

Schlehr was also adept in dealing with the diverse background of Bel Air employees and personnel issues, Carey said.

"We have a diverse staff," Carey said. "One-third are police, there are well-educated employees and some who are laborers. Chris seemed to have a gift at knowing how to treat everybody."

Town Commissioner Robert M. Preston called Schlehr "a proponent for Bel Air." He said it was nice to have a town administrator who really knows and understands the town and the people in it.

"He's done an excellent job of being kind of conservative and has helped Bel Air to keep our taxes low in this financial crisis," Preston said during a recent interview.

Preston said Schlehr has had a hand in most of the great accomplishments of the town, including First Fridays and the Bel Air Armory.

"The future of Bel Air looks very promising because of [Schlehr's] conservative stance," Preston said.

Commissioner Susan U. Burdette said that before announcing her candidacy, she asked Schlehr for a meeting to discuss her questions and concerns about the town.

"He gives everyone the same respect, encouragement and mentoring, as he does with the commissioners," Burdette said.

Patrick Richards, the newly elected town commissioner, joked that he will not take it personally that Schlehr announced his departure so close to his arrival on the board. Richards said Schlehr manifests direction and leadership throughout every council and committee he works alongside.

Mary F. Chance, director of administration for Harford County, presented Schlehr with a proclamation from the county. She recalled Schlehr asking the group of administrators to always pray before meals during their meetings.

State Del. Susan K. McComas, who represents Bel Air and Abingdon, was one of the former town commissioners who elected Schlehr for the position of town administrator two decades ago.

"It was our sad duty to elect a new town administrator in 1999 when Bill McFaul passed away, but it was a good decision," McComas said. "We went from the army to the Naval Academy with Chris and the town has been in really good hands for a long time."

McComas presented Schlehr with a proclamation from the Maryland House of Delegates thanking him for his service to the town.

Before presenting him with a proclamation from the county council, Harford County Councilman Jim McMahan cracked Army versus Navy jokes with Schlehr, opening his shirt to reveal a black U.S. Army shirt.

Following the town hall meeting, the group headed to the town conference room for a small farewell party. The gatherers enjoyed food and beverages while Schlehr was presented with two gifts from the town's departments.

Randy Robertson, director of planning, presented Schlehr with a plaque featuring a yellow bulldozer and tractor. Director of Administration Michael K. Krantz unveiled an engraved ship's wheel to Schlehr in honor of his years in the U.S. Navy.

Schlehr's official last day with the town will be Dec. 31.This week, the town is interviewing potential new town administrators.

Carey, a former town commissioner, said a good town administrator needs a variety of skills, including human resources, construction and finance. He said it takes "someone with a unique background to do the job."

Preston said he is optimistic the town will be able to find a worthy replacement for the position of town administrator.

"I think everyone knows we are going to have a hard time finding a replacement, but I am sure we are going to find one," Preston said.

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