Bel Air's Robert Preston bids farewell, Burdette continues as mayor in Bel Air

Robert M. Preston said he has been asked, during his nearly 15-year career as a Bel Air town commissioner, why he would seek elected office with demands such as complaints and calls at all hours.

But that has not been the case for Preston, who capped off a 25-year career in public service — nearly 15 years on the town board preceded by 10 years on the Bel Air Planning Commission — Monday during his final commissioners’ meeting.


“This job has been a pleasure, and it’s all because of our department heads, our employees, our police officers and all of the volunteers that the town has,” he said.

Preston, 68, and a Bel Air native, is retiring from public office after deciding not to seek another term on the Town Board.


Commissioner Patrick Richards, who was re-elected to a second term on the Town Board earlier this month, and Preston’s replacement, Amy Chmielewski, also elected in the Nov. 7 town election, were sworn in Monday by Harford County Clerk of Circuit Court James Reilly.

The five commissioners also voted unanimously for Commissioner Susan Burdette to remain as chair of the town board, which comes with the honorary title of mayor. They selected Commissioner Brendan Hopkins as the board’s vice chair, a post which had been held by Preston.

Tributes to Preston

Friends, family members and former colleagues crowded the commissioners’ meeting room in Town Hall to pay tribute to Preston. Preston’s parents, Donald and Elizabeth, his wife, Susan, and children, Robert Jr. and Kim Preston Bond, were in attendance.


Preston was elected to his first term on the Town Board in January 2003 to fill the seat vacated by then-Commissioner Robert Cassilly after Cassilly was elected to the Harford County Council in November 2002. Preston was mayor from 2007 to 2010.

Cassilly, a fellow Bel air native who is now a state senator, presented a proclamation on behalf of the Maryland Senate.

“Preston means honor, integrity and quality,” Cassilly said.

State Dels. Susan McComas — a former town commissioner and mayor herself — and Teresa Reilly presented a governor’s citation on behalf of Gov. Larry Hogan, a proclamation from Harford County’s eight-member House delegation and a proclamation from the full House of Delegates.

County Councilman Jim McMahan, another Bel Air native and former town commissioner, presented a proclamation on behalf of the council. He called Preston “a humble man” and a “man of good will.”

“Rob has been a friend for 50 years, and I treasure his friendship,” McMahan said.

Burdette presented proclamations on behalf of County Executive Barry Glassman and the town.

Burdette said one word, “commitment,” can be used to describe Preston.

“When Rob took the oath of office of town commissioner, he promised to always be here for you, our community, to make decisions in your best interest,” she said.

“Thank you Rob,” she said. “You will be missed but always kept in our hearts.”

Richards, Hopkins and the fifth commissioner, Phillip Einhorn, also offered congratulatory remarks, as did several other former town commissioners such as Steve Burdette, David Carey, Geoffrey Close, Terence Hanley and Robert Reier.

Town Administrator Jesse Bane and the department heads unveiled a collage of photos from Preston’s time in office and presented a bouquet of flowers to Preston’s wife in honor of his family’s sacrifices.

“The citizens of the Town of Bel Air owe you a debt of gratitude for the services you have rendered,” Bane told Preston.

Community and family legacy

Preston served on the Bel Air Planning Commission from 1992 until he was elected town commissioner.

He is a 1967 graduate of Bel Air High School, served in the Navy during the Vietnam War — he was a radarman in the amphibious assault ship USS Tulare — has served on the board of directors of the Historical Society of Harford County and is a 30-year member of the Bel Air Rotary Club.

Preston said he has never missed a Rotary meeting, a commitment that carried over to the town board.

Burdette remarked that he has never missed a commissioners’ meeting or work session, even scheduled vacations around the meeting schedule.

“[Rotary] gave me a perspective of what attendance meant to an organization,” Preston said of his experience with the community service organization.

Preston’s family has a legacy in Harford County going back several generations. His maternal grandfather, C. Milton Wright, was a long-serving educator and Harford County Public Schools superintendent and the namesake of C. Milton Wright High School in Bel Air. His paternal grandfather, Robert S. Preston, started the family business, Preston’s Stationery Inc., in 1926.

The business was passed down to Preston’s father, and it remains in operation today at 319 S. Main St. Robert and Susan Preston run the business with their daughter, a graphic designer, and employee Linda Pfeiffer.

“I really need to thank my father for setting such a good example of a work ethic,” said Preston, who began working in the store around age 10.

He said he learned a “sense of community service” from both grandfathers.

Preston thanked each town department head for their service, including Bane and Bane’s predecessors, Michael Krantz, director of administration and human resources, and his fellow commissioners.

He praised Police Chief Charles Moore for his leadership, but he said the police headquarters building is “really lacking, and I think it’s becoming more and more evident that the Police Department is outgrowing their facility.”

Preston said the cities of Aberdeen and Havre de Grace have improved their police headquarters and had to raise taxes to fund those improvements. A plan to rebuild the 53-year-old Town Hall, which houses the police department on its lower level, was strongly supported by Preston but eventually shelved during the recession out of concern for the cost.

“If we need to do that to upgrade our police department, I think its time to do that,” said Preston, who recalled earlier that he voted for one tax increase only while a commissioner.

Bel Air’s real property tax rate of 50 cents per $100 of valuation and personal property tax of $1.16 per $100, the lowest of Harford’s three municipalities, has not budged since 2004.

“I still think that Bel Air is the best place to live in the country,” Preston said.

Preston will keep busy even in retirement from public service. He works for Courtland Hearth & Hardware, servicing customers’ pellet stoves and gas fireplaces, and he owns the Preston’s Stationery building, part of which is being leased to AleCraft Brewery. The craft brewery is scheduled to open in two to three weeks, he said.


He also plans to ride to the West Coast on his motorcycle.


“I had one goal, to be the mayor, and now I have a goal to see the West Coast,” he said.

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