As I write this, I am in the middle of reading the book “You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters” by Kate Murphy. This book was chosen for the MACO (Maryland Association of Counties) Book Club discussion in December—something that I have excitedly participated in since taking office. Two years ago, in December, I repeated the Oath of Office and officially became a Commissioner of St. Mary’s County, so this marks the halfway point of my first, and hopefully not last, term. In every “normal” job, there are periodic performance reviews and self or peer assessments. As an elected official, performance review happens at re-election time. Still, I felt that some self-reflection at the halfway point is warranted and will hopefully help make my next two years more valuable and useful.
The job of a county commissioner is interesting. One of my favorite parts of the job is the wide variety of topics we deal with daily. When running for office, I never would have predicted that we would have a global pandemic. I knew that the commissioners were also the Board of Health, but never has the Board of Health needed to meet so regularly and had such a significant impact. On any given week, I might be learning about the proper way to fit an N95 face mask, the effect of chronic 9-1-1 abusers on our EMS system, or the budgetary needs of operating our parks system in the middle of a pandemic. All the while, the county has experienced record rainfall, and I have faced the immediate need to get smart on what impact local policies can have on the increased flooding in diverse areas of the county. Considering that both the short term and long term solutions are expensive, complex, and involve multiple departments at multiple government levels, it is clear that there is no easy fix, but to the person whose home has been flooded, it is a very real problem that deserves a solution. This job requires an immense amount of reading and covers a vast range of issues.
Another vital part of the job is the requirement for team-work. I am one of five commissioners; we must work together to accomplish anything, and we have done that. I’ve been able to contribute to two balanced budgets. Still, it takes multiple commissioners to pass a budget, change a policy, or fund a study that will help to improve residents’ quality of life. We also must work with other groups, including our State Senator and Delegates, our Board of Education, various community groups, and our county employees. All of these different groups ultimately have the same underlying goal of improving our county residents’ lives, so approaching all of our interactions with that same goal in the forefront of our minds will allow for continued success.
In all of the decisions we’ve had to make, I have tried to approach the information with honesty, open-mindedness, fairness, and occasionally a little humor. A lesson that all new commissioners are quick to learn is that you can’t, and won’t, make everyone happy. Some of the hardest parts of my job are when I can’t provide a solution to a citizen’s problems, especially when they have reached out for help. Often I’m able to get them in touch with the correct stakeholders to assist, but not always. Other frustrations include the pace of progress on items that seem so clear to me and the constant misinformation that I view in our increasingly polarized society. I have also strived to be transparent in all that we do as Commissioners—which hopefully, those who read my weekly FaceBook posts appreciate. In these meeting summaries, I try not to put too much opinion in my account of our actions, but I do include every action we take.
I do not have all of the answers or solutions. I already have an internal list of mistakes to improve upon and regrets for missed opportunities that I won’t let pass by a second time. If you have contacted me in the past and received a late response (or are still waiting on a response), please know it was not intentional, and I would encourage you to reach out again. Whether through calling the office, emailing my commissioner email, or reaching out through Facebook, there are multiple ways to get in touch. My desire is for continuous communication and improvement, learning and collaboration, and leaving the county a better place than when I started. When the time comes for me to leave office, I hope to be remembered as a commissioner who actively listened. Please keep the feedback, suggestions, ideas, and even criticism coming!