Wil­liams seeks se­cond term

Tal­bot County Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Jennifer Wil­liams want to see the county con­tinue mov­ing for­ward

Sunday Star - - FRONT PAGE - By CON­NIE CON­NOLLY cconnolly@ches­pub.com

EAS­TON — She’s not just a hug­ger, she’s a bear hug­ger. Her lilt­ing laugh comes eas­ily — it bursts from her like a sur­prise and set­tles into a de­lighted gig­gle as she en­joys the in­con­gruity of hu­man na­ture or pokes fun at her­self.

She is not a stuffed-shirt politi­cian.

Fo­cused more on re­la­tion­ships than la­bels, Tal­bot County Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Jennifer Wil­liams is run­ning for a se­cond term on the coun­cil. She said she is grate­ful for all the ex­pe­ri­ences that have formed her per­spec­tive as a pub­lic ser­vant.

She is a “very mod­er­ate Repub­li­can,” Wil­liams said. “I’m not so much con­cerned about the let­ter be­hind the name as the per­son and what their qual­i­fi­ca­tions are.”

With a var­ied ca­reer back­ground, ex­pe­ri­ences and an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the dilem­mas faced by the “been heres” and “come heres,” busi­ness own­ers and would-be en­trepreneurs, those who pay the taxes and those who ben­e­fit from county ser­vices, Wil­liams said the county is im­prov­ing as it be­comes more re­spon­sive and ef­fi­cient, an as­pi­ra­tion she voiced four years ago.

But she wants to see it move for ward.

“When I ran four years ago, I wanted to see a county that was more ef­fi­cient, more ef­fec­tive and more re­spon­sive to the cit­i­zens, and we have def­i­nitely made steps in that di­rec­tion,” she said. “We started down the path, and I want to con­tinue go­ing down that path. We’ve

We’ve turned some things around that needed to be turned around, but we’re not done.” Jennifer Wil­liams Coun­cil Pres­i­dent

turned some things around that needed to be turned around, but we’re not done.”

While she be­lieves Tal­bot County de­part­ments have be­come more cus­tomer ser­vice-fo­cused, there are other con­cerns that drive her to con­tinue the work in a se­cond term on the coun­cil.

“I want to con­tinue see­ing the cus­tomer ser­vice as­pect get bet­ter,” Wil­liams said. “I want to see rea­son­able eco­nomic growth. We want to keep our taxes low, but we (as a coun­cil) rec­og­nize we need a tax in­crease in or­der to fund what needs to be funded.”

The coun­cil will be work­ing on a bal­lot ini­tia­tive to ad­dress the chronic fund­ing short­falls and place be­fore vot­ers a so­lu­tion to con­sider in Novem­ber. The rev­enue gen­er­ated by taxes is not enough to fund county ser­vices, so the prop­erty tax rev­enue cap needs to be fixed, in­cum­bent coun­cil mem­bers have said.

“We are put­ting some­thing on the bal­lot. We have to work to­gether to come up with a pro­posal, and only then would we re­lease a pro­posal. It didn’t quite work out that way,” Price said, al­lud­ing to Coun­cil­woman Laura Price’s pro­posed penny plan. “How­ever, I think the coun­cil as a whole will be com­ing up with a pro­posal that ev­ery­one’s com­fort­able with.”

An ad­di­tional bud­getary pres­sure has been Mary­land’s “con­vo­luted” school fund­ing for­mula, Wil­liams said. “Tal­bot County is the low­est over­all per-stu­dent funded sys­tem in the state. The county con­tri­bu­tion per stu­dent is the fifth high­est in the state. So it’s not the county that’s fail­ing to sup­port the stu­dents; it is the state. We have to talk to our state leg­is­la­tors.”

“Un­for­tu­nately, we’re pe­nal­ized be­cause we have valu­able real prop­erty in the county, much of which is se­cond and third homes. And we have a low stu­dent pop­u­la­tion,” Wil­liams said. “So when the state looks at the value of all the prop­erty and di­vide it on a per pupil ba­sis ... that cre­ates the is­sue.”

Wil­liams has lived in the county al­most 30 years and has a law prac­tice that fo­cuses on real es­tate set­tle­ments and other real es­tate mat­ters, es­tate ad­min­is­tra­tion, busi­ness for­ma­tion, wills, pow­ers of at­tor­ney and other trans­ac­tional mat­ters.

Wil­liams and three of the cur­rent coun­cil mem­bers are busi­ness own­ers. She said that makes a dif­fer­ence in how they con­duct them­selves as a coun­cil, as well as their hir­ing de­ci­sions at the de­part­ment level.

“As a busi­ness per­son, you have to be re­spon­sive to your cus­tomers and your clients, or you’re not go­ing to stay open,” she said. “I think that at­ti­tude in a coun­cil mem­ber helps the cit­i­zens be­cause we bring that un­der­stand­ing that gov­ern­ment is there for the cit­i­zens. We are there to help them, and we need to be re­spon­sive to them.”

“That’s the goal — to bring a more busi­ness-like at­mos­phere, and any good busi­ness per­son un­der­stands they have to take care of their cus­tomers. County gov­ern­ment needs to take care of its cus­tomers.”

“If the coun­cil sees the need to be re­spon­sive to cit­i­zens — to be ef­fi­cient, to be ef­fec­tive — and com­mu­ni­cates to all county em­ploy­ees that that is go­ing to be the phi­los­o­phy that we’re all go­ing to have, it goes a long way,” Wil­liams said. “And if a county em­ployee sees coun­cil mem­bers in­volved in con­stituent is­sues, it lets them know we care.”

“I look at what Gov. Larry Ho­gan has done at the state level: Mary­land is open for busi­ness. He made it very clear right off the bat. Phone calls will be re­turned. You will try to find a way to get to yes,” she said. “And that’s what we’ve tried to do at the county level, as well. How can we get to yes? Even if some­one walks into plan­ning and zon­ing with a project, and it doesn’t meet all of the pre­req­ui­sites, in­stead of say­ing just, ‘No, it doesn’t work,’ let’s sit down and see if we can find a way to make it work. What can we tweak, what can we change? How can we get to yes?”

Wil­liams cited as ex­am­ples the team­work and in­no­va­tion of county staff the coun­cil has in­ter­viewed and hired while she has been on the coun­cil.

“Clearly one of the big suc­cesses is com­bin­ing Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment and Tourism. Put­ting Cas­san­dra (Van­hooser), Ryan (Snow) and Sam (Shoge) to­gether has been far more than any of us an­tic­i­pated. That trio is just in­cred­i­ble. (Roads Su­per­in­ten­dent) War­ren Ed­wards re­ally cares about his cus­tomers — and he looks at cit­i­zens as cus­tomers he’s go­ing to take care of. Brent (Garner) in Per­mits and In­spec­tions came from the con­struc­tion trades. He un­der­stands what a builder needs, and he’s able to work with them. It’s a huge dif­fer­ence hav­ing some­one who knows the in­dus­try.”

“And when we in­ter viewed As­sis­tant Plan­ning Of­fi­cer Miguel Sali­nas, ... his cus­tomer ser­vice at­ti­tude (was no­ticed). He had a back­ground not just in plan­ning and zon­ing, which he had done in both small towns and big cities, but he had also worked in an eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment com­mis­sion over in north­ern Vir­ginia. So he saw very clearly the re­la­tion­ship be­tween plan­ning and zon­ing and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment,” she said.

“As small busi­ness own­ers (on the coun­cil), we ap­pre­ci­ate the profit-and-loss side of it. You have to look at your in­come be­fore you look at your ex­pen­di­tures. We have a fi­nite pot of money avail­able,” Wil­liams said.

“I re­mem­ber a pro­fes­sor in law school who talked about fun­da­men­tal gov­ern­ment ac­tiv­i­ties, and they’re the ones that have to be funded,” she said. “Maybe not all to the ex­tent that we would like to, but our pri­mary fo­cus needs to be on fund­ing. Some of those ac­tiv­i­ties are the schools, pub­lic safety — we want a sher­iff’s of­fice, emer­gency ser­vices, our paramedics, our de­part­ment of cor­rec­tions.”

Many ser­vices are “man­dated by the state, they are un­funded man­dates, which in­clude the school sys­tem, cir­cuit court, or­phans court, the state’s at­tor­ney’s of­fice, health de­part­ment, so­cial ser­vices, the State De­part­ment of As­sess­ments and Tax­a­tion, and the list goes on as far as state or­ga­ni­za­tions that the county is man­dated to fund,” Wil­liams said.

Like Coun­cil Vice Pres­i­dent Corey Pack, Wil­liams is con­cerned about the avail­abil­ity and af­ford­abil­ity of work­force hous­ing.

“What I’d like to see is more mod­er­ately priced hous­ing built,” Wil­liams said. “But that’s a very dif­fi­cult one be­cause of land val­ues here. We have so many peo­ple who work in this county who com­mute from Caro­line and Dorch­ester (coun­ties). We have vol­un­teer fire com­pa­nies who are hav­ing a ter­ri­ble time hav­ing peo­ple show up when the call comes in be­cause they don’t live in the area. And they’re hav­ing trou­ble get­ting trucks out be­cause the peo­ple aren’t there to fill the trucks.”

“The prob­lem is you have to have den­sity. You’d have to put 25 homes on quar­ter-acre lots or build town­homes,” she said. “I was talk­ing to one of our sher­iff’s deputies who lives in Caro­line County who would love to live here, but he doesn’t want to live in a town­house, and he doesn’t want to live in Eas­ton. He said, ‘I’ve got kids, and I’d like to have a yard and a gar­den. I don’t need a big yard, but I want a sin­gle-fam­ily, and I can’t find some­thing I can af­ford.’”

“It’s kind of de­press­ing that we have so many peo­ple who work in the county who can’t af­ford to live in the county,” Wil­liams said. “But ar­eas of the county don’t have sewer, and with­out sewer, you don’t want to put in the den­sity that would be needed to have the mod­er­ately priced hous­ing. It’s like a Catch-22. Eas­ton is the growth area of the county be­cause of the den­sity that’s al­lowed, but not ev­ery­one wants to live in Eas­ton.” She said se­nior hous­ing is an­other big is­sue.

Part of the catch-22 is that “it’s hard to at­tract new busi­nesses … (and) work­ers if you don’t have a place to live. It’s a dilemma.” She ad­mit­ted she doesn’t know what the an­swer is. “I think we have to look at other com­mu­ni­ties, at what works in other places. We have to be will­ing to work in part­ner­ship and try to find ways that work and have a lit­tle less re­sis­tance to de­vel­op­ment. I know that’s a hot topic for some peo­ple (who think) ‘I’m here, and I don’t want any change now that I’m here.’”

In the coun­cil meet­ings Wil­liams leads, she ap­plies the lessons she’s learned in “a lot of lead­er­ship train­ing,” she said.

She greets those who ap­pear be­fore the coun­cil with a wel­com­ing smile. “(I learned) if you’re go­ing to be a man­ager, it’s your job to set the tone. When you walk in in the morn­ing, no mat­ter how crummy you feel in your car, when you walk in that door, you best have a smile on your face, and you best be up­beat be­cause you’re go­ing to set the tone for the en­tire day for the en­tire group. You’re in charge, and it’s your job to pump your­self up so that you can pump oth­ers up. That’s what you’re there to do.

“I took that to heart and rec­og­nize that when peo­ple come be­fore the coun­cil, many of them are ner­vous. Many of them don’t feel com­fort­able. Many of them have never been there be­fore and don’t know what to ex­pect. And so you treat them like a guest in your home. You try to make them feel wel­come. You try to make them feel com­fort­able. I see that as my job, even at a meet­ing, be­cause they’re walk­ing into our coun­cil cham­bers, and that’s the coun­cil’s home. When they walk in there, I want them to feel com­fort­able and ap­pre­ci­ated.”

“My door is very open un­til you give me a rea­son to close it,” she said. “I try to re­spond to cit­i­zens within 24 hours.”

She said if she can’t get them the an­swer or help they need, she con­tacts some­one who can help. “It’s know­ing who to call, which de­part­ment, which de­part­ment head. I try to let them know that some­body’s work­ing on it. It goes back to that cus­tomer ser­vice at­ti­tude: If I call and ask them to help some­body, it’s very clear that that’s what we ex­pect.”

“The best part about be­ing on the coun­cil is the peo­ple I’ve met and got­ten to know,” Wil­liams said. “Our county staff — they’re un­be­liev­able. They are some of the great­est peo­ple you’d ever want to have in your life. They care, they’re ded­i­cated, they truly want to see this county get bet­ter and bet­ter.”

“We have great peo­ple in this county that I’ve met, and a few that have not been as nice — a few,” Wil­liams said. “But over­all, the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple in this county that I have come across and dealt with are just good peo­ple.”

“I think the peo­ple who are orig­i­nally from here, the true lo­cals, are a bit dif­fer­ent (from peo­ple who came from else­where). They re­ally take care of each other. It’s a tra­di­tion they grew up with; it’s what they saw their fam­ily do. That’s the norm, and that’s what you do,” she said.

Wil­liams grew up in the Kens­ing­ton area of Mont­gomery County, the daugh­ter of an at­tor­ney and preschool teacher/artist. She at­tended the Sid­well Friends School, grad­u­at­ing in 1969, “the sum­mer of Wood­stock,” she said.

“I al­most went (to Wood­stock). I worked sum­mers in Ocean City in high school and col­lege, wait­ress­ing at Phillips Crab House be­gin­ning after my ju­nior year. My par­ents were crazy — they were to­tally crazy to let me do that. And I think, what were they think­ing?”

“So I had been up at the At­lantic City Pop Fes­ti­val (early Au­gust 1969) and Wood­stock was later, and some neigh­bors asked if I wanted to go, and I looked at who was go­ing to be play­ing and it was pretty much the same groups that I had seen in At­lantic City, and I fig­ured I can’t af­ford to take off any more time, so I didn’t go. And then we kept hear­ing the news re­ports about how hor­ren­dous it was, and

I was like, ‘Oh, why didn’t I go be part of that? I could have been in that traf­fic jam, I could have been liv­ing in that mud,’” she said, laugh­ing.

Wil­liams said she had “no clue” what she wanted to be when she grew up. “I think that’s why I’ve tried so many things,” she said. “I still ask my­self that: What do I want to do next?”

After earn­ing a bach­e­lor’s de­gree from the Univer­sity of Mary­land, she worked in a num­ber of po­si­tions, in­clud­ing tele­phone sales, loan pro­cess­ing and ho­tel man­age­ment.

Her pas­sion for sail­ing de­vel­oped dur­ing a col­lege sail­ing course and even­tu­ally led her to earn her cap­tain’s li­cense. Her trav­els took her from the Caribbean to the Great Lakes and from the Gulf of Mex­ico to the Keys and be­yond.

On the wall of Wil­liams’ of­fice is a poster of a Hinck­ley yacht, “the Rolls Royce of sail­boats,” she said as she points to a woman in a bikini at the helm. “There I am. That was many many years ago,” she laughed. “I worked for the Hinck­ley com­pany for about five years.”

Wil­liams later went to “law school at night and sold boats by day,” she said. “I was a yacht bro­ker — Carvers, Sea Rays, Chris Crafts, Sham­rocks. That’s how I got my law de­gree — sell­ing boats back in the ‘80s” at Har­ri­son Yacht Sales on Kent Is­land.

“I took fly­ing lessons. I flew solo cross-coun­try in a plane,” Wil­liams said. “I didn’t fin­ish get­ting my pi­lot’s li­cense be­cause I ran out of money. But I got to the point that I could fly from the Bay Bridge to Ocean City on my own.”

“I feel re­ally for­tu­nate that I’ve done so many things,” Wil­liams said. “I think it makes you able to re­late to peo­ple. It’s sel­dom that I meet some­one that we can’t find a com­mon thread, whether it be boats, mo­tor­cy­cles, bees, travel — you can usu­ally find some­thing in com­mon. And I think it makes you, in some ways, a bet­ter per­son be­cause you have a greater ap­pre­ci­a­tion for so many things.”

“I think each thing you try in life you gain some­thing from it,” Wil­liams said. The next thing she’d like to try is rais­ing chick­ens, she said.

Wil­liams is past pres­i­dent of the Mid-Shore Board of Re­al­tors, and a mem­ber of the Mary­land State Bar As­so­ci­a­tion and the Tal­bot County Bar As­so­ci­a­tion. She is a grad­u­ate of the state bar as­so­ci­a­tion’s Lead­er­ship Acad­emy.

She is also a mem­ber of the Ethics Com­mis­sion for the Town of Eas­ton, the Hous­ing Com­mis­sion of Tal­bot County, a vol­un­teer with Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity Chop­tank and Tal­bot Hu­mane, and a long­time vol­un­teer with the Wa­ter­fowl Fes­ti­val.

Her other mem­ber­ships in­clude the Tal­bot County Cham­ber of Com­merce, Tal­bot County Farm Bureau, Tal­bot County Water­men’s As­so­ci­a­tion, Miles River Yacht Club, Lower East­ern Shore Bee­keep­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, Wye River Bee­keep­ers As­so­ci­a­tion and Sorop­ti­mist In­ter­na­tional of Tal­bot County.

Wil­liams taught mo­tor­cy­cle safety at Wor-Wic Com­mu­nity Col­lege. She en­joys the out­doors on her Yamaha Royal Star Tour Deluxe.

Wil­liams shares a home with her hus­band, Bill Cock­ayne, and “a house full of res­cue cats. Ev­ery­where in the house you go, they fol­low me around talk­ing. We have two that are kind of in com­fort care. They’re old guys, but they wake up ev­ery morn­ing and tell me they’re hun­gry.”

PHOTO BY CON­NIE CON­NOLLY

Tal­bot County Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Jennifer Wil­liams’ fa­vorite spot to talk to friends dur­ing the day is the win­dow seat in her law of­fice on Com­merce Drive.

PHOTO BY CHRIS POLK

In this file photo from March 2017, Tal­bot County Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Jennifer Wil­liams speaks at a rib­bon cut­ting for the newly ren­o­vated Tal­bot 9-1-1 cen­ter.

PHOTO SUBMITTED BY STEVE MROCZEK In this file photo from Fe­bru­ary, Tal­bot County Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Jennifer Wil­liams, left, and Coun­cil­woman Laura Price praise the Ox­ford Fire Com­pany dur­ing its an­nual ban­quet.

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