Mike Kuhn will return to the Lebanon County Courthouse, Courtroom #1, on Tuesday, Feb. 22, for his swearing-in as the latest Lebanon County Commissioner.
For Kuhn, it will be a relatively familiar setting, as he was interviewed for the position in the very same courtroom last Thursday – his first interview in nearly 40 years, having been employed at WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital since his mid-20s.
In a phone conversation with LebTown on Monday, Kuhn discussed the experience, an atypical job pitch for which he had about a week to prepare. Court administrator Stephanie Axarlis said in an email Tuesday that six of the 24 applicants were interviewed for the position.
Kuhn arrived at the courtroom on Thursday to find the Lebanon County Board of Judges seated at the bench and Kuhn himself placed at a counsel table, answering questions via microphone – akin to a regular court appearance albeit a more private one. Nerves in such a situation might be understandable, but Kuhn said after he sat down and began answering the standard list of questions used by the judges, the situation started to feel comfortable.
This being Lebanon County, Kuhn was unsurprisingly already familiar with the judges interviewing him, but suggested that his comfort in the situation was due just as much to the ample amount of experience he’s had serving on various Lebanon County boards over the past four decades. He has a list of community involvement that reads like a who’s who of Lebanon County organizations: the Community of Lebanon Association, Lebanon Kiwanis Club, the Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce, Big Brothers & Big Sisters of Lebanon County, First Aid and Safety Patrol, the Lebanon Valley Family YMCA, Lebanon Family Health Services, CQM Youth Association, the HACC Advisory Board, etc.
If Kuhn’s father – the legendary Lebanon School District coach Frank Kuhn – was known for coaching more than 150 seasons of basketball, baseball, and football during his career, then perhaps Kuhn will be known for serving more than 150 board-years.
“As a board member you have an important job to set policy, set tone,” said Kuhn, describing a wide range of experiences that all spoke to his self-proclaimed passion for serving a key support role as administrator.
Much of that experience came through his tenure on the Lebanon school board, where he served 28 years, including a stint as president. Although a school board position doesn’t pay you a nickel, said Kuhn, it’s not a thankless one.
“The reward is when you go to an event and you see kids who are excelling,” he said. “It’s the teachers, the counselors, and the coaches who make the real hands-on impact day-to-day.”
For the majority of his career, Kuhn has worked at WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital, where he is currently Director of Development, the latest in a series of roles he’s held there. All those roles had different responsibilities but what they had in common was him being “always in a support role for the clinical staff,” said Kuhn. “They do the hands-on work, making the great clinical outcomes and clinical experience.”
Kuhn’s path to public service began early. Kuhn said his first conversation with someone in public service took place when Kuhn was an upperclassman at West Chester University. He spoke with the late William E. Fitzpatrick, father of one of Kuhn’s high school classmates, about his work on the Lebanon school board.
That conversation made Kuhn think, “maybe that’s something I’d do someday,” and he attributes his own receptiveness to the idea back to his parents, Frank and Agatha Kuhn. “They probably created the best foundation,” said Kuhn. “They were just giving people.”
Another key experience for Kuhn was getting hired – twice – by former Lebanon County Commissioner Bill Carpenter. Prior to Carpenter being elected to office, Kuhn was twice hired by Carpenter: first at the Lebanon Daily News for an advertising role and later at the Good Samaritan Hospital for a marketing position. Kuhn said that while at the hospital he worked alongside Carpenter not just in a marketing/communications capacity, but also as similarly public-minded individuals. Kuhn volunteered for Carpenter’s first campaign to join the Cornwall Borough Council, where he would serve 16 years including a period as president, and continued to work alongside Carpenter through his electoral journey to become a County Commissioner, an office he ultimately held for 24 years.
“He was my boss,” said Kuhn. “He used to joke, ‘I hired this guy twice,’ and I used to respond, ‘Can you believe I worked for this guy twice?'”
Kuhn said that his relationship with Carpenter gave him his first insights into the commissioner job and the importance of commitment to community, especially if you want to get involved at a higher level. “He didn’t discuss county business all day, everyday,” said Kuhn, explaining that being around Carpenter all that time instilled in him an appreciation for the office and what it took to get things done.
Kuhn said Carpenter was one of the first calls he made when he received news of the appointment on Friday afternoon.
“I think it was a good choice,” said Carpenter of Kuhn’s appointment in an interview Monday. “He’ll do a good job.”
LebTown asked Carpenter if had any advice for the incoming commissioner. “Probably to listen to Jamie a lot,” said Carpenter, referring to county administrator Jamie Wolgemuth. “He’ll guide him the right way.”
“I hope that he enjoys it,” added Carpenter, “and that he will plan on running again.”
At Tuesday’s swearing-in ceremony, Kuhn will be joined by his wife Yvonne and children Adam, Alex, and Amelia (“first time I got all A’s,” jokes Kuhn). Also joining him will be the individuals who served as his references for the gig – Lebanon County philanthropists Ed and Jeannie Arnold, recently retired WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital president Tom Harlow, and Beers + Hoffman architect/former president & CEO of Good Samaritan Hospital Bob Hoffman. Kuhn said that Josie Ames may be joining as well.
“My first obligation when you think about it is really to Bill Ames because I’m filling his term,” said Kuhn. “My close second obligation is to the taxpayers of Lebanon County to make sure I make the best decisions possible based on the best information.”
Kuhn said that he knows current commissioners Jo Ellen Litz and Bob Phillips socially and expects to work well with them.
Litz “probably has one of the biggest hearts in Lebanon County,” said Kuhn. “I know her very well for all the various causes she’s involved with and she’s very passionate about them.”
Kuhn said Phillips is a friend and someone he’s respected for a long time. In fact, back in 1992, Phillips was the one to nudge Kuhn to run for the Lebanon school board seat shortly after the newly wedded Kuhns bought a house in Lebanon. Kuhn said that at the time Phillips was planning to get off the board and saw it as an unwritten personal rule to help recruit good people onto the ballot to replace him.
Kuhn said he hopes to make himself accountable in the new position and not let down the Board of Judges who showed faith in him with the appointment.
“I don’t have a specific agenda,” said Kuhn of the position. “I want to work with Mr. Phillips, Mrs. Litz, and Jamie Wolgemuth.”
“I think the county in general is operating well,” he added. “I think we can all say we benefitted as a community in Lebanon County from a very stable government at the county level.”
Kuhn expressed an intent on leading in a way that is financially responsible while also being socially conscious, similar to the balancing of pressures familiar in the worlds of healthcare and education, where state and federal mandates end up driving obligations without always being accompanied by correlating revenue streams.
“I don’t know any school district, county, or municipality that’s flush with cash. I think any leadership has to be cognizant of looking for opportunities to provide real value and investment,” he said.
Kuhn said that prior to the untimely death of Bill Ames, he had already been considering a possible retirement with the next year or two, while also exploring other options to stay actively involved in the community. So when the chance to fulfill Ames’ term arose, he thought it might be the right thing for him in terms of transition.
“In the short-term I plan to honor my commitment to the hospital and juggle both responsibilities,” said Kuhn, “but fairly soon I think I’ll be working with the hospital on a transition plan where I can devote my full attention to the county commissioner job.”
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This article was updated to correct the identification of Kuhn’s children in the image from this past summer. LebTown sincerely regrets the error.