Rural Maryland Council begins New Year with New Board Leadership
As Marylanders focus on the coming year, one Maryland organization, the Rural Maryland Council (RMC), ruminates on its many successes in the past year and rings in the New Year with new leadership to create real lasting change in rural Maryland.
Taking the helm of RMC’s Executive Board is Susan O’Neill, Executive Director of the Upper Shore Regional Council (USRC) of Chestertown. Active since 2018, O’Neill most recently served as RMC’s Chair of the Rural Maryland Prosperity Fund (RMPIF). Under O’Neill’s leadership, RMPIF received historic funding of $6,150,000 in the Fiscal Year 2022 State’s Operating Budget to support rural grant projects in entrepreneurship development, health care organizations, and regional infrastructure. The Fiscal Year 2023 budget includes $9,119,000 for grant funding, a majority of which will go to RMPIF. Her commitment to rural issues was acknowledged at the Winter Conference of Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) where the Upper Shore Agriculture Microgrant Program, a collaborative effort spearheaded by USRC, was bestowed the Rural Innovation Award. The three-year-old program enhances access to fresh food in rural communities and encourages resource sharing and partnerships throughout the upper shore.
“Susan brings a wealth of knowledge in not only rural issues but, more importantly, on how to plan and execute creative solutions to those challenges,” says Charlotte Davis, RMC Executive Director. “Every day, she works with rural leaders and organizations to create stronger, more resilient communities. Her commitment to creating impact and her ability to engage community partners will service RMC well,” she adds.
John Hartline, RMC’s Immediate Past Chair and Executive Director of the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland of Hughesville, was appointed to the RMC Board in 2014 and was elected as Chair in 2020. Under Hartline’s leadership, RMC’s impact on rural communities continued to gain momentum despite pandemic restrictions on public meetings.
“During the pandemic, we did things like conducting virtual legislative lunches, and we even had a very successful virtual Rural Maryland Day on Zoom where our attendance rivaled that of our previous in-person events,” says Hartline. “I wish Susan the best in her new position and look forward to working with her in her new role,” he adds.
RMC’s slate of officers was introduced at their annual meeting and included Scott Warner, Executive Director of the Mid-Shore Regional Council of Easton, as Chair of RMPIF. Dan Rider, Supervisor, Forest Stewardship and Utilization, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, continues as President of the Rural Maryland Foundation.
The RMC meeting also featured recognition of important rural advocates and leaders who were bestowed awards, including the:
- Rural Legacy Award to Governor Larry Hogan, recognizing his lasting impact in rural Maryland and someone who has gone above and beyond. Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Joseph Bartenfelder accepted the award on Governor Hogan’s behalf.
- Rural Community Volunteer to Selena Wilkes of Williamsport, MD, for exemplary leadership and dedication in volunteer achievement beyond her professional duties.
- Outstanding Rural Community Development to The Benedictine School of Ridgley, MD, recognizing achievement that improves the quality of life in at least one rural community.
- Outstanding Rural Economic Development to Western Maryland Works of LaVale, MD, recognizing its work to attract, retain or create jobs in at least one rural community.
- Rural Leadership Award to Senator Addie Eckardt, District 37, Caroline, Dorchester, Talbot, & Wicomico Counties, recognizing the senator’s long-term service not only to RMC but to all communities across the state.
- Rural Champion Award to Senator Michael Jackson, District 27 Calvert, Charles & Prince George’s Counties, recognizing outstanding leadership and public service in promoting legislation and policy solutions to benefit rural communities.
Initiatives and meetings for 2023
RMC will open the New Year with a breakfast with RMC members and legislators on Friday, January 13, and a Legislative Luncheon and Quarterly Executive Board Meeting on Friday, January 27. Among the highlighted issues for the coming year are:
- Tackling transportation challenges, particularly as it relates to getting healthcare;
- Finding efficient ways to address broadband connectivity issues that face rural Maryland.
- Creating a rural think tank to develop the best possible solutions to address the issues facing rural Maryland.
- Relaunching the Rural Housing Committee to help address the affordability and accessibility issues of housing in rural areas.