Woman who called community group with question now leads it

January 20, 1994|By Angela Winter Ney | Angela Winter Ney,Staff writer

The new president of the Greater Severna Park Council got involved in community politics by accident.

Five years ago, Ellen McGee-Keller began hearing about a proposed East-West Boulevard, but no one in her Arnold community had any information.

So she called someone on the council -- and wound up running a task force.

"I ended up on the public works committee," she says. "I can't remember how. I think everybody [on the council] chuckles when you say that because they've had the same experience -- you're curious about something, and before you know it, you're running the show."

Ms. McGee-Keller went on to serve as chairwoman of the adequate facilities committee and as the council's secretary and vice president. On Jan. 11, she was voted in as the new president.

It's not the first time the 37-year-old has experienced big life changes almost by chance.

Ms. McGee-Keller grew up in Haddenfield, N.J., and married young. She planned to study fine arts at Rutgers University, but soon into the program, she changed her mind.

"I realized I had a growing family, which would incur a lot of financial responsibility, and I didn't know if I could afford to be a budding artist," she says.

Finance seemed a wise choice, so she gave it a try, earning a double major in business administration and accounting by going to school part time. She and her husband, David, had four children.

Not until her youngest daughter, Kate, was in kindergarten did Ms. McGee-Keller go back to work full time. For years, the family did with out many things so she could stay home with her son and three daughters, she says.

"We had one car, and our big thrill was to go to a tennis club two blocks away. I was determined to stay home. I'm convinced it was the right thing for us," she says, adding politely, "Of course, to each his own."

Nine years ago, the Kellers moved to Anne Arundel County, where Mr. Keller works for Panasonic as a production manager. Ms. McGee-Keller manages investments in her job as an institutional portfolio manager for First National Bank of Maryland.

"I love my job. It's very exciting and fun because you're out all the time meeting clients and also doing a lot of research," she says.

The new president takes the same attitude toward her duties with the council.

Some would be daunted at taking on the leadership of this group, a politically powerful organization comprising more than 60 member associations.

"I'm very excited about it," she says. "I recognize the tremendous responsibility, but I see myself as providing a role of facilitator, like Pat Troy. She has given me a lot of guidance." Ms. Troy retired earlier this month after three years as president.

Ms. McGee-Keller says she hopes to be as disciplined as her predecessor.

"Pat was extremely organized, but I will have to be even more organized, since I can't be about in the community every day," she says. Ms. Troy ran a business out of her home; Ms. McGee-Keller works full time in Baltimore.

The new president said she hopes to start work immediately on the council's yearly agenda, and to meet with the council's executive board and all committee leaders before next month's meeting.

"I want to set an agenda early on and plan the issues we want to tackle this year," Ms. McGee-Keller says. "We're always going to be putting out fires, but I want to make sure we don't get bogged down doing that instead of looking at issues in a comprehensive way. We don't have to take months to decide what the compelling issues are."

Some items already are high on the council's agenda: Examining education in the county ranks high, from redrawing school attendance boundaries to the four-period day.

Another top priority for 1994 is addressing the way the adequate facilities ordinance is applied, Ms. McGee-Keller says. The ordinance is designed to ensure that schools, roads and other facilities are in place before new home construction is allowed. Council critics say the ordinance is too often ignored, which translates to overcrowded schools, inadequate roads and overburdened police and fire departments.

Although the council's executive board divides up the work, the responsibility for pulling all these concerns together will ultimately fall on Ms. McGee-Keller's shoulders.

She welcomes the job as a way to give back to the community.

"With three children in Severna Park schools, my husband and I consider it our duty. But it's also plain old fun," she says.

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