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Burdette is Bel Air's newest mayor, former commissioners bid farewell

Susan Burdette began her second term as a Bel Air town commissioner Monday with her unanimous selection by her fellow commissioners as the chair of the town board, also known as the town's mayor.

Her husband, Stephen, held that same position when he served on the board of town commissioners during the 1990s.

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"It's interesting," Susan Burdette said after Monday night's meeting about the rarity of a husband and wife serving as Bel Air's mayor.

Commissioner Robert Preston, who was first elected in 2002, is the longest-serving member of the new five-person town board. He was chosen as the board's vice chair.

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Burdette, who was elected to her second-four year term Nov. 3, was sworn in Monday, along with first-time commissioners Phil Einhorn and Brendan Hopkins.

James Reilly, Harford County Clerk of the Circuit Court, presided over the swearing-in ceremony held in a packed commissioners' meeting room at Bel Air Town Hall.

The room was full of relatives and supporters of Burdette, Einhorn and Hopkins, as well as the families of departing Commissioners Edward Hopkins and Robert Reier. Hopkins spent eight years on the town board, and Reier spent nearly nine years. Both men have been mayor.

Hopkins and Reier, who both noted the challenge of summing up their long tenures in short speeches, gave emotional farewell addresses, thanking their families, supporters and Bel Air residents. They also lauded their fellow commissioners, town administrators and department heads past and present.

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Hopkins emphasized the word "we" when talking about accomplishments during his tenure, such as working with volunteers to maintain the town's appearance, street and sidewalk improvements, getting Highway User Revenues back from the state for Bel Air and other municipalities, making Bel Air more pedestrian friendly, public safety improvements such as securing backup generators for the Bel Air Armory and keeping the town budget "tight as a drum."

"There is no 'I' in the Town of Bel Air... It really is an effort by everyone," he said.

Hopkins encouraged spectators to thank the town's department heads after the meeting, calling the police chief, public works director, finance director, economic development director and planning director, plus their staff, "the unsung heroes of Bel Air."

"We are very blessed to have an amazing team of people," he said.

Reier described delivering his farewell address as "a bittersweet moment, very bittersweet."

"Forgive me, indulge me as I soak this in for a few more moments, standing in front of this lectern," he said.

While Edward Hopkins is a Bel Air native, Reier grew up in Baltimore County, and moved to Bel Air as an adult. He said, however, that he considers Bel Air his "adopted home."

"It has been an absolute honor and privilege to serve and represent the citizens of the Town of Bel Air, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for placing your trust and confidence in me," he said.

Reier noted the collective accomplishments of town commissioners and staff.

"I'm most proud of being part of a board and working with a staff that was able to navigate our town through one of the most difficult economic downturns in decades," he said. "It was only through a collective effort of strong fiscal management that we were able to weather the Great Recession without furloughs, layoffs or increased taxes."

Reier thanked the town's "outstanding staff," who he said are "of the highest caliber and beyond reproach in your chosen field."

He also thanked his fellow commissioners, past and present, for "your fellowship and your collegiality."

"It has truly been an honor and privilege working with each and every one of you," he said.

Burdette addressed the audience after taking her seat on the dais as mayor. She described her first term as "four of the best years of my life."

"I would not trade a second of them to be doing something else," she said.

Burdette joked that her husband, Stephen, a former mayor and commissioner, "offers advice when I ask for it, even though I sometimes don't take it."

She called him "my personal Wikipedia when I have questions about stormwater management or building codes."

Burdette, an Eastern Shore native who worked in Bel Air in the beginning of her decades-long career with the Harford County Public Library before her family moved to town, shared her love of Bel Air and she encouraged residents to do the same when taking part in one of Bel Air's many community activities.

"Whatever it is, send me an email and tell me the moment and the place that you said to yourself, 'I love this town,'" Burdette said.

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