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Michael Krantz, left, the director of administration for the Town of Bel Air who typically takes all the pictures at town meetings, takes a selfie with the commissioners after presenting the three leaving the board with a town blanket.
Michael Krantz, left, the director of administration for the Town of Bel Air who typically takes all the pictures at town meetings, takes a selfie with the commissioners after presenting the three leaving the board with a town blanket. (Erika Butler)

It was a night of farewells and welcomes Monday in Bel Air, when three new commissioners were sworn in, three others bid farewell and Amy Chmielewski was chosen to be the town’s mayor.

Donna Kahoe, Kevin Bianca and Erin Hughes were sworn in at the Bel Air Board of Town Commissioners meeting after Susan Burdette, Philip Einhorn and Brendan Hopkins said their goodbyes.

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Mostly it was night to honor the outgoing commissioners, including Burdette, who has held a seat on the board for eight years. She spent the last four as chairman, which carries the title of mayor.

“I can never give back to Bel Air everything I’ve learned,” Burdette said.

In her role as commissioner, she’s flown in a Blackhawk helicopter over Aberdeen Proving Ground; spoken with hundreds of children, teens and Scouts; sat on a brand new Harley “like I knew what I was doing,” and played with all the sirens in the police chief’s car, she said.

She’s met leaders, participated in Smart Growth planning, been president of the Harford-Cecil chapter of the Maryland Municipal League and participated in the first White House Summit for Women Mayors of America with the vice president of the United States and the president’s top advisers.

Her advice to the new commissioners: “Take advantage of every opportunity you are given and don’t hesitate to step out of your comfort zone to see and learn about [Maryland’s] amazing 157 towns and cities."

Burdette said she felt like Dorothy ready to go home and her friends in the town government she called Oz. She thanked each commissioner and town department head individually for all their work, as well as Bel Air’s 23,000 volunteers who “make up the strong foundation of the town.”

She thanked her Lion, Scarecrow and Tin Man — her husband and two sons — who have endured 35 years of parades dating to her career with Harford County Public Library, rides to Annapolis, hundreds of Crock Pot and carry-out dinners, critiquing speeches and thousands of political discussions.

“Thank you all, and there really is no place like our home, Bel Air,” Burdette said.

Einhorn, who served for four years and was not re-elected in the Nov. 4 vote, congratulated the winners — “I think you’re all qualified for the job.”

But he does have a concern, he said.

“For years the town has run on its own, without any outside influence by the Republican Party or the Democratic Party. This year was different," Einhorn said.

The Republican Central Committee sent out a mailing that had “big spender” in red next to each of the registered Democrats on the ballot, something Einhorn called “one of the nastiest things I’ve ever seen.”

“I just pray you folks not divide yourselves up by party,” Einhorn said. “It’s a fun town, it’s an easy town, you get to know everybody and treat everybody the same.”

Hopkins, also a commissioner for four years, did not seek a second term. It’s been difficult having a family, trying to make meetings and coach kids’ soccer games.

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While the commissioners didn’t always see eye to eye, “we were always decent to each other, listened to other people’s opinions,” Hopkins said.

“I see so many things in town that are for the better,” he said, when he looks back at his four years on the board. “I have faith in the new commissioners.”

After their goodbyes, which included proclamations from the state and county government, as well as gifts from representatives of Bel Air’s sister city of Narva, Estonia, and from their colleagues in town government, Kahoe, Bianca and Hughes took their oaths of office from Clerk of the Court James Reilly.

They took their seats on the dais and as a first order of business chose Chmielewski, who was elected to her first term on the board two years ago, as their chair.

When she became a commissioner she stepped into Rob Preston’s seat, now into Burdette’s role.

“I have big shoes to fill but it’s a great town and I’m looking forward to it,” she said. “I love this town, I love the people in it and I’m looking forward to this role.”

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