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As interim executive director of the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland, Elaine J. Lancaster plans to make implementation of the council’s three-pillar strategic plan her chief priority, but otherwise doesn’t expect much to change under her leadership.

The council’s executive board announced last week that Lancaster would take over as its acting executive director until a permanent hire is made to replace dismissed executive director Wayne Clark.

Lancaster first joined the council in 1999 as its coordinator for Project Impact, a federal initiative aimed at boosting disaster preparation and mitigation in local communities.

After a couple of years, she went to work for St. Mary’s County government as a grants manager, but returned to the council in 2003 as its regional transit coordinator, working with public and private groups to provide transportation services for the region’s elderly, disabled and other residents who depend on transit.

Lancaster said staff members were naturally surprised when notified of Clark’s dismissal, but that she felt her tenure with the council gave her the experience needed to fill in while the board searched for a new director.

“I think we’ve been pretty calm, and I feel like my learning curve isn’t too steep because I’ve been here and I know a little about everything,” she said. “I really attribute it to the great staff and support I’ve gotten.”

Lancaster said the council’s current focus is its strategic plan, which stresses education, transportation and infrastructure, and economic development.

“I don’t anticipate many changes other than the adoption of a strategic plan, which was already in the works when Wayne was here,” she said. “I think it’s going to be business as usual. I think we’ve already shown there’s going to be a smooth transition.”

Because she and her husband intend to move away from Southern Maryland within the next year, Lancaster said she “is happy to stay on with the transition” but has no intention of seeking the post as Clark’s long-term replacement.

“I’ve been with the council 13 years and I’m very honored to be in this position, but it wouldn’t be fair to apply when I know our plans are to relocate,” she said.

Clark worked alongside Lancaster since he came on as director in 2006 and believes her experience working for the council makes her a good fit to fill in as interim director.

“All the leadership positions are filled at the Tri-County Council now, and they have great leaders, so I think I left it in really good hands,” he said.

In addition to Lancaster’s experience, her lack of interest in the permanent position made for an ideal choice as interim director, said St. Mary’s County Commissioner Todd Morgan (R), co-chairman of the council.

“She understands the inner workings as far as our programs go, and she acts as a great intermediary because she doesn’t have a dog in the hunt for the future position,” Morgan said.

Lancaster will continue serving as the council’s transit coordinator, but she said that shouldn’t be an issue given the amount of “job sharing” that already exists among staff members.

“I’ve had a wonderful working relationship with” the Maryland Transit Administration, Lancaster said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that program will be well-tended to.”

Morgan said an advertisement for the open position was finished last week but still needs to be approved by the board. He hopes a permanent replacement can be found within “a few months.”

Clark said he wasn’t surprised by his dismissal because he had been engaged in ongoing contract negotiations with the board.

Nonetheless, he said he was “honored” to lead the council for six years and took pride in several achievements during his tenure, including bringing new veterans’ facilities and high-speed internet cables to the region.

“We accomplished so much and doubled the size of the Tri-County Council’s operations and left it was a surplus — we had a deficit when I first started there — so I’m really proud of how I left it,” Clark said. “It’s something to be very proud of, so I’m very happy elected leadership let me have that opportunity for the last six years.”

Currently job hunting, Clark wants to continue working in the region.

“I like working for the public and I like advancing causes that are historically significant,” he said. “I don’t have a clear path right now.”



jnewman@somdnews.com