Less than four months ago, Montgomery County's three commissioners were at one another's throats.

Republican Commissioners' Chairman James R. Matthews was calling his party mate, Bruce L. Castor Jr., a man with an ego so big it could "float the Titanic." Castor referred to his rival as "an abhorrence." And Democrat Joseph M. Hoeffel III often looked ready to toss up his hands in frustration with both.

The trio's disdain for one another erupted so frequently into name-calling and caterwauling that an observer once described their twice-monthly meetings as "the best free entertainment in the region."

These days, though, under a new Democratic administration led by former State Rep. Josh Shapiro, Montgomery County government has become, as he likes to joke, boringly efficient.

"I said on that first Tuesday in January that rancor and acrimony would give way to respect and accord," Shapiro said, recalling his swearing-in ceremony in January. "In 100 days in office, we have accomplished that. "

It's difficult to overstate how drastically the mood has shifted at the county's Norristown offices in the 14 weeks since Shapiro and his vice chair, Leslie Richards, took their oaths of office, becoming the first Democrats to lead the county's government in more than a century.

The waiting area in the commissioners' suite - once practically deserted during working hours - is now filled with chitchatting passersby. Staffers and commissioners huddle for lunches together in conference rooms. They frequently refer to each other as part of "the county family."

And at the commissioners' twice-monthly public meetings, hardly a cross word has been exchanged since the duo and Castor, returning for a second term, took the dais together.

"I almost feel like a disloyal Republican for saying so," said Castor of his two Democratic colleagues. "But I think they're doing an excellent job, and I'm extremely proud of them."

In fact, since the start of their administration not a single vote has not had the unanimous backing of all three commissioners - no small feat considering that Castor once prided himself on being a consistent contrarian under the Matthews' regime.

Volumes could be filled detailing the vast ocean of discord that separated those two. But essentially their conflict boils down to Matthews' decision to edge out Castor's influence on the board in 2008 and forge a cross-party alliance with Hoeffel.

"I was ashamed to be a part of the previous board," Castor said. "But I'm very proud to be part of this new one."

Sure, many of the recent changes have been cosmetic: a toilet-paper cutting to unveil remodeled bathrooms in the courthouse, the setting aside of rooms in three county buildings for nursing mothers and a water-ice day in which Shapiro, Richards, Castor, and the county's row officers bought icy treats for county employees on the year's first warm spring day.

But Richards and Shapiro say those small changes have a purpose.

"All of that matters," Shapiro said in an interview. "You have to have high morale if you're going to deal with the larger problems together."

And there are real problems. The new commissioners inherited a 2012 budget with $10 million in unspecified spending cuts to be made, crumbling county buildings, and a stack of outdated policies often ignored by county employees.

What's more, their swearing-in came less than a month after a grand jury report excoriated Montgomery County government and Matthews, accusing them of recklessly spending taxpayer funds, awarding plum positions to cronies, and doling out contracts to campaign contributors.

In response, Shapiro and his colleagues have since suspended grant payments through the county's open-space program - one particular area of grand jury ire - and rewritten policies on how government contracts for county work are rewarded.

They have managed to narrow their budget gap to $2.3 million and are drawing up plans to address needed repairs to aging county buildings.

Still, much work remains.

"I'm stunned by the scope of the mess we inherited," Shapiro said. "Prior leaders failed to plan for the realities we faced."

And if there is one dark spot that mars the commissioners' new sunny attitude it lies in their willingness to place blame. Matthews has emerged as their primary target.

Shapiro has described Matthews' leadership as plagued by "political gamesmanship" and "ineptitude." And Castor, despite his more positive outlook, still never misses a chance to needle his old rival.

But Matthews, now out of the political game and working at his private mortgage company, takes it in stride.

A committed Republican, not even he has a cross word for the Democrat who inherited his chairman's chair. Heck, the former commissioner said, he voted for him.

"I understand his situation right now," Matthews said.

He explained that when he was first elected to office in 1999, a predecessor jokingly gave him advice on how to handle a rocky tenure.

"You will find three envelopes in your desk drawer in case of crisis," said Matthews, recounting the tale. Open the envelope for the first crisis of an administration and the message says, "Blame your predecessors." The message for the second troubled patch: "Blame your staff."

And when the third crisis rolls around, said Matthews, that envelope, too, has a trenchant piece of counsel: "Prepare three more envelopes."

"Josh is still on that first envelope," he said.