Setting the stage for a new era in Montgomery County politics, Commissioner Jim Matthews, a Republican, and incoming Commissioner Joe Hoeffel, a Democrat, unveiled a plan this morning in which Democrats would get a bigger role in county government.

"We see a government of shared authority, responsibility and, moreover, authority," declared Matthews, who said he and Hoeffel envision a "future government of consensus."

Under the plan, Matthews will become chairman and Hoeffel will be vice-chairman - the first time in recent memory that a Democrat has held the position in a county that had long been overwhelmingly Republican.

The move essentially pushed Republican Bruce L. Castor Jr., the newly elected commissioner who is currently district attorney, off to the side. He had wanted to be chairman, Matthews said, but lacked sufficient experience for the job.

The decision is the latest twist in the troubled relationship between Matthews and Castor. Also, during the campaign, Matthews and Hoeffel clashed with Castor, with Hoeffel calling him "Bruce Almighty" and Matthews saying Castor's ego was so big, "it could float the Titanic."

At a press conference following Matthews and Hoeffel's announcement, Castor dismissed the plan as "just Joe Hoeffel having fun with us."

"This is shenanigans by Joe Hoeffel designed to make us look bad. I'm not going to let it happen"

Earlier today in a statement, Castor said he still was hoping he and Matthews could work together.

"Despite the politics of today, I remain hopeful that Jim and I can reach an accord during the next three weeks that will fulfill the voters' wishes and help move the county Republican party forward together," Castor said in the statement.

Hoeffel said the courthouse was "in desperate need of bipartisanship" and that he and Matthews would work together to implement a shared policy agenda.

"This is a great day for Montgomery County government," Hoeffel said at a news conference in Norristown. "This agreement that Jim and I are announcing is in the best interest of the residents of Montgomery County."

Matthews said the bipartisan effort was needed because voters in November elected Democrats to five row offices, including controller.