Weekly Letter: Leadership Anne Arundel - Why?

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Thirty years ago a small group of business leaders had an idea to make Anne Arundel County a better place. They called it Leadership Anne Arundel, and it worked, and it’s still working. I approached my keynote address at last night’s thirtieth graduation with the same attitude that I apply to these weekly letters, and I think it’s worth sharing. Please forgive the colloquial grammar and the jokes. It was a party.

Wow. This is a big deal. Thirty years. 1740 graduates. All the extraordinary class projects. And all of the institutions that have delivered for our people because their leaders attended LAA and learned what they needed to know about this amazing place we call Anne Arundel County.

As the current County Executive, I am automatically invited to attend and say a few words at these annual Tributes. But this is different. It’s thirty years, and the word “keynote” was part of the request. 

I am honored, so honored that I obeyed when they asked me to put my remarks on paper, and not just “wing it.” That obedience has left my staff in a state of shock, and my only explanation is Kris Shock. We all seek the approval of LAA President and CEO Kris Valerio Shock, but more importantly we owe her gratitude.

That gratitude extends to Chief of Operations Nancy Hartzell, and the rest of the small LAA staff, to Board Chair Derek Matthews and the entire Board of Directors, to all of the past board chairs and members, to Lifetime Members, to all LAA Sponsors, and of course to all LAA graduates. All of you are responsible for this organization’s impact.

Before preparing these remarks, I skimmed through a list of the better-known LAA graduates. It really is a Who’s Who of Anne Arundel County. And it’s really kind of embarrassing that I’m not on it. Maybe my next employer will be willing to sponsor me.

But I won’t read from that list of notables. I’d rather focus on the Why of this organization. Why did leadership from the Chamber of Commerce launch this organization in 1993 and graduate its first class the next year? And why did so many government, nonprofit, and for-profit institutions grow it and maintain it for the last three decades?

It certainly wasn’t to move a political agenda forward. The LAA leadership’s political views have been as diverse as our body politic. 

I am convinced that the Why is as basic as the human instinct to cooperate. To envision prosperity and to organize as community to achieve it.

LAA ensures that people in positions of leadership, and people who aspire to those positions, are connected to one another and to the institutions that our communities have organized. LAA doesn’t tell us where we should be heading, but it encourages us to go there together. 

My own attitudes about leadership grew out of my decade as a community organizer. My job was to remain behind the scenes, but to ensure that each neighborhood group I worked in had leaders who were prepared for the job, with the facts and the relationships that make them effective. 

That experience was far more rewarding than leading myself, and it’s been my secret strength in everything I’ve done since. Yes, I will lead when nobody qualified steps forward, but I still get the greatest pleasure from watching people become effective, compassionate, and wise leaders. Nothing makes me more proud than watching the people I brought into county government grow and deliver impressive results in the projects they are responsible for. Every good leader in this room knows the feeling.

People like Vincent Moulden Flagship (FLG) ‘22, Renesha Alphonso FLG ‘23, Jenny Proebstle FLG ‘24, Matt Fleming FLG ‘24, and Dr. James Kitchin FLG ‘20, are five of my office’s emerging leaders who we sent to LAA for training. Watch them. They are extraordinary, and as they take on future challenges and succeed, you and I will know that the LAA curriculum helped to shape them.

LAA understands that putting future leaders in rooms together, and filling their minds with information about our county and its institutions is essential, but not enough to move them forward. The magic happens when goals are set, plans are established, and the work begins. It’s through the class projects that talent is put to the test.

Were it not for the work of FLG’13, we not only would be without BikeAAA, but we would have no trail plan, far fewer grants, and far fewer miles of trails to deliver transportation, health, and a cleaner environment.

Were it not for FLG’19, we would not have The Complete Player empowering youth in Brooklyn Park at summer camps and afterschool programs.

Were it not for FLG’15, the Anne Arundel County Fire Department would not today have Pulse Point, the app that alerts bystanders to medical crises that may be in need of CPR.

Were it not for FLG2000, there would be no HeartSmart in our county, raising money to acquire defibrillators and train residents to use them wherever they might be needed.

And were it not for FLG’22, I would not be under great pressure to deliver an arts venue at Gresham Estate on the Mayo Peninsula. Thanks y’all.

And talk about pressure to deliver. It was when I was a candidate for County Executive that I met a woman named Lisa Shore and a hardy band of advocates who had taken up a local cause to create a community center on land between Meade Village, Stillmeadows, and Pioneer City, where some of our highest rates of poverty and trauma are found. 

Fifteen years before I met them, they had made it a class project in LAA FLG’03, and they had not stopped meeting, planning, and pushing every county executive that came and went.

When I took office in December of 2018 and duct-taped Ms. G’s hand-drawn-on-posterboard floor plan to my office door, everyone knew it was time to make it happen. But how? Anne Arundel County doesn’t do community centers, I was told. We don’t even have an agency to run them.

That’s when I really got to know Arundel Community Development Services (ACDS), the quiet little quasi-government agency that had been delivering housing to struggling families in our county for many years.

Under the leadership of Kathy Koch and her dynamic deputy - and now dynamic director - Erin Karpewicz FLG’06, ACDS proposed that they build the Severn Center and that it house two anchor tenants, a Boys and Girls Club and a County Senior Center. Rec and Parks would utilize the gym outside Boys and Girls Club hours, and all kinds of community groups would have access.

We raised money from every source we could find, and covered the rest from county funds. Lisa Shore and her band held everyone accountable. And on May 13, 2023 that ragged old floor plan came off my office door and made the trip to the best damn ribbon cutting I’ve ever been a part of.

ACDS made absolutely sure that the local community was engaged at every level, from the thumbprint art to the time capsule. And you know who else was there? LAA FLG’03. LAA staff. LAA board members. 

It’s a hell of a story. A story of community organizing to create a brick and mortar site where people go every day to give and receive respect.

Lisa Shore doesn’t care about recognition for this work, but tonight she’s getting it anyway. Lisa is this year’s Distinguished Graduate honoree. Congratulations Lisa.

ACDS wants recognition because with it comes public support for fulfilling its mission of “creating affordable housing opportunities and improving the lives of low-income individuals through community development.”

I’ve leaned on ACDS over and over again these last few years. They didn’t just build the Severn Center. They created the first and best eviction prevention program in the state when COVID left low income households without income. They stepped up to manage our new Affordable Housing Trust Fund. They manage our expanded Community Support Grants to local nonprofits. And they step in over and over to help private developers of affordable housing to make the numbers work, quadrupling our pipeline of units since I took office.

Erin Karpewicz and her team always find a way, because they are a mission-driven group of leaders with the skills to match their hearts. I can’t imagine a better institution in this county in these times than Arundel Community Development Services to receive the LAA Excellence in Leadership Award.

So indulge me, and raise a glass to the next thirty years of LAA impact on the leaders, the institutions, and all of the people of Anne Arundel County. Here, here.

Until next week…

Steuart Pittman

Anne Arundel County Executive