By Steuart Pittman, County Executive-Elect
Capital Gazette Op-Ed
Nov 11, 2018
On Dec. 3, I will be sworn in as Anne Arundel County’s 10th county executive. I am honored and I am humbled that the voters have put their faith in me.
My campaign was built around a commitment to put communities first. Honoring that pledge requires that I listen carefully as we shape a new county government that is transparent, inclusive, and forward-thinking.
Many people seemed surprised by the election outcome. I wasn’t one of them. I believed many months ago that we would win this election, so everything I did on the campaign trail was preparation to govern. I spent less time waving signs on the side of the road than most candidates, but more time meeting with policy experts, researching issues and listening to community members.
We have tremendous talent in our county and I want to harness it. I know that my ability to deliver on policy will depend on key positions like chief administrative officer and chief of staff. I want to introduce you to the people who will fill these two critical jobs: Ben Birge and Jennifer Purcell.
Dr. Jennifer Purcell is a master at creating order from chaos. Her PhD and most of her professional career are in higher education administration, but I met her at the American Horse Council. I brought her to the Maryland Horse Council as a fixer, and fix she did. In less than a year, she created a strategic plan, hired a director, secured a large grant, and acquired a magazine.
When we launched our 17 Communities First forums, I asked for Jennifer’s help. She thoroughly impressed everyone on our team with her well-grounded, kind, firm management style and her ability to quickly absorb and organize huge amounts of information. I decided then that we needed her in our administration.
Early in the campaign, I asked for a meeting with Ben Birge. His reputation as Maryland’s authority on data-driven governing preceded him. In Prince George’s County, Ben built both the CountyStat office and the Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative into nationally recognized programs — he even won an award for it. Before that he was the Prince George’s deputy budget director.
In our first meeting, Ben inspired me with a vision of what our county could do to engage citizens in government and to improve management in every department. He attended many of our community forums and, at the end of each, he impressed the crowd by sharing that vision.
He lives in Odenton, serves on the county’s Library Board of Trustees, and has two kids in our public schools. Having grown up in Los Angeles as an adopted son with native South American heritage, he also values diversity.
Ben and Jen got to know each other during our community forums, and we worked well as a team. Councilmember Chris Trumbauer and former County Executive Janet Owens had served as important advisors during the campaign and generously agreed to volunteer as transition co-chairs. Just 48 hours after the polls closed, I extended job offers to Ben and Jen.
Transition is underway.
Friday morning I called Chief of Staff Diane Croghan and Chief Administrative Officer Mark Hartzell to thank them for their outstanding service to the county and to connect them with their successors. County Executive Steve Schuh had already put all of us together on a conference call Wednesday in which he, Diane and Mark all offered their assistance and commitment to preparing for a smooth transition on Dec. 3. That is how government should work.
Our pledge, as we listen in the coming weeks to administration officials, department heads, county employees, community leaders, local businesses, and the people who voted for and against me, is simply that we will practice respect.
Please remember that word, “Respect.” You’ll be hearing it a lot from me over the next four years.
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