Highlighting M-NCPPC female planning leaders in Prince George’s County
Have you ever wanted to have a career in leadership? Perhaps you want to go into the planning field? As a follow-up to our blog post featuring women planning leaders in Montgomery County, we wanted to highlight female planning leaders from Prince George’s County. This includes those who lead Prince George’s County Planning Board and Planning Department, both part of The Maryland-Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC). Get to know these women and see the advice they have for tomorrow’s leaders.
“I grew up in Prince George’s County and M-NCPPC has always been an important thread running through the tapestry of my life—enjoying our parks, events and programs as a child with my family, and now, continuing that tradition with my own children. I began my career with the Commission at age 13 as a volunteer at a summer playground and am so fortunate to now be the executive director. Who could have imagined that? Being able to give back to an organization that has remained committed to preserving our land, planning for a better future, and providing opportunities for all our residents—everyone from young children to seniors, people of all ages and abilities—was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I have always been fascinated by visionaries and their role in guiding us to a better future–the leadership and employees of our organization are dedicated to ensuring that future generations can enjoy an even better quality of life.
From the planning perspective, I was privileged to work with former Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening, who was the first governor to promote smart growth and incentivize it throughout a state program. In meetings with Gov. Glendening, I was able to see how far in advance some of these improvements are planned, and it is so exciting to now see the fruits of those labors across our state.
I was once told by a mentor, ‘do what you love and you will never work a day in your life’—what great advice! Find your passion and always continue developing your skills. Careers in Montgomery Parks and Planning offer numerous and diverse career paths. We have women serving in all our job categories and many of the women at M-NCPPC began their careers in an entry-level position and rose through the ranks to senior management.
As far as advising other women about leadership, I seek out role models, then actively try to become that type of leader. One of my own role models has been our very own former chair, Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Hewlett. During our Maryland Smart Growth planning meetings, I saw Betty in action, and saw her commanding presence bringing peace and order. I eventually got to know her on a more personal level and found out what an amazing woman she is—one of the few women that has perfected a management style that combines authority with compassion.
We have been lifted up by women who have come before us, and it is our duty to do the same for other women by sharing the lessons of those who have paved our way. Explore your strengths while maintaining your compassion. Remember, we are all still learning and growing, and we’re all in this together!” — Asuntha Chiang-Smith, Executive Director, The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission
“I was intrigued with land use in law school when we had to study landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases. Years later, I ended up working for the legislative and executive branches in Prince George’s County, and also in a private practice of law before becoming legal counsel to the Prince George’s County Planning Board. Then I was hooked! I have always been engaged in service. This includes as a child, as a candy striper during my teens, and every adult year of my life. While serving as legal counsel to M-NCPPC, I realized the tremendous difference that planning can make in a community and in the lives of individuals – how people get around, public transit, vehicular, and pedestrian traffic, what their neighborhoods should look like, amenities, park land, and access to retail, food, shopping, dining, etc. Planning makes all the difference in the world in creating beautiful neighborhoods and communities.
Whether their interest is planning or anything else, I first suggest that women should follow their passion. Don’t do what others expect you to do. Follow your own heart. Leadership is not easy, but I would suggest that you stay true to yourself and never doubt yourself. Typically, men do not doubt their leadership ability, and all too often, women do. Historically, women have always led, though they may not have been in a ‘leadership’ position. Women always rise to the occasion: fiercely looking out for others, knowing how to stretch a dollar, being the quintessential multitasker, and very often have a servant’s heart. We often lead from behind and push others forward – also an attribute of leadership – but we can be at the forefront as well. As I prepare to retire, some things I learned by trial and error, but I must say that serving my community and the amazing men and women of M-NCPPC has been my honor and the privilege of a lifetime!” — Elizabeth M. Hewlett, Esq., Former Chair, Prince George’s County Planning Board (1995 to 2006; 2011 to March 2022)
“Listening to others, participating in charting courses of actions fascinated me and inspired me to work with others to accomplish goals. Leadership, I learned is about having the courage and intent of mind to make tough decisions. Effective and quality leadership is not for the faint of heart. Effective leadership demands honesty, inspires others, requires the ability to communicate effectively with others, develops creative approaches to solving problems and displays confidence in team members. Leadership is not about the ‘I’, but about the ‘We.’ Just as important, leadership to me is about knowing your worth and focusing on service” — Dorothy F. Bailey, Vice Chair, Prince George’s County Planning Board
“I have always had a passion for public service and have looked for ways to incorporate that service with my chosen profession, which was until recently, the legal profession. My first encounter with the world of planning came as a young attorney representing private clients. I immediately knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my professional career involved with planning in some way. I was enthralled with what I saw as the endless possibilities of public service in the planning field. I was struck by the endless ways in which planning effects every aspect of our lives and how it has the ability to enrich or detract from our quality of life. Five years after my first encounter with planning, I had the opportunity to join M-NCPPC and found my place in the world.
I would tell women to always keep learning and growing and always be in search of more information and more knowledge. Position yourself to be prepared for and open to new opportunities, because you never know what is around the corner. Take that additional class or assignment that may involve an area you are unfamiliar with. Step out of your comfort zone and remember that nothing in life is permanent. If you start down a path and discover that it is not what you want, you can always change paths.” — Andree Green Checkley, Esq., Planning Director, Prince George’s County Planning Department
“My first job with M-NCPPC was in the legal department. I have always believed that public service is important and was happy to join an agency dedicated to serving the public. Furthermore, I believed that the Associate General Counsel position would offer me the opportunity to explore a breadth of legal issues. Before this position, I never thought about how our county was developed, or the range of available parks and recreation services that I had taken for granted. Never did I imagine how much that position would afford me the opportunity to learn about how critical planning is to our community! As I drive through Prince George’s County, I see the physical manifestations of all of the land use, zoning, and planning work that we do in the Commission’s Planning Department. I am proud to work for the Commission, an agency that cares so much about our residents and the communities in which they live.
Being a woman in a leadership position is not for the faint of heart. Leadership is not just about telling people what to do. Leadership is about cultivating relationships, motivating staff to gain the most from your team, addressing challenges, and making the tough decisions while being the one who is accountable for the consequences. If you are thinking about pursuing a leadership position, I would suggest being intentional and preparing yourself for such a position. Obtain exposure to a variety of responsibilities so you may have well-rounded experiences, develop your skill set, and cultivate how to have successful interactions with people in a multitude of situations. Observe people who you think are performing the leadership function well, learn from their successes and mistakes, and ascertain if they are willing to serve as a mentor as you progress in your career. Finally, when you achieve the leadership position, remember to not be so intense all of the time and have some fun.” — Suzann King, Deputy Director of Administration, Prince George’s County Planning Department