Roberta Windham, County Administrator:
by Kym Byrnes, photography by Walter P. Calahan
Roberta Windham knew she wasgoing to practice law from the time she was a child. She became an attorney and owned her own practice before pivoting her career and using her experience and skill set to help manage the day-to-day operations of Carroll County government. She moved to Eldersburg with her husband and two children 25 years ago and said she loves her job as county administrator for a host of reasons, mostly because it’s never boring and her colleagues are top-notch. Her position is high-profile, her days are fast-paced, and when her busy schedule permits, she catches her breath and recharges while riding her motorcycle, often with friends in her motorcycle club.
Were you raised in Carroll County or did you land here from somewhere else?
I was born in Connecticut and my family moved to Howard County when I was 7 years old. My husband, two children and I moved to Eldersburg 25 years ago. We’ve lived in the same house ever since. Both children graduated from Liberty High School.
What has your professional path looked like?
I’m an attorney by trade. I practiced law for over 20 years. For the last seven or so years, I had a private estates and trust practice which I closed as my work with the county became more demanding. I graduated from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., with degrees in political science and Spanish, and earned my law degree from the University of Baltimore School of Law. Interestingly, I find my legal background to be very helpful in the management of the county especially as it relates to problem solving.
Can you give an “in a nutshell” description of your job as county administrator?
I run the day-to-day operations of Carroll County. I keep everything moving — keep communication flowing, make day-to-day decisions, provide advice and guidance to directors and staff, and supervise daily operations of all county departments and staff, directly and through the department heads. The elected officials set policy, and then staff implements the policy.
What do you love about your job? What keeps you coming back each day?
I love the variety of my work. One minute I’m talking about housing homeless people, the next paving a road, and then how best to handle an employee issue. Not only is every day different, but every moment of every day is unique. I have schedules, plans and goals for each day, but one small thing can throw that all out the window. It’s fascinating; each day is fresh, new and different. I also work with some of the best people I’ve ever met. I really can’t say enough about the staff. Hard-working, they truly care about providing the best service to Carroll’s residents. And I believe Carroll County is a very special place. I find Carroll is unique in its ability to work collaboratively with towns, organizations and nonprofits to create and maintain the quality of services and quality of life that make Carroll County the wonderful place it is to live.
What are the biggest challenges of the position — what makes for a really rough week?
The thing I love, namely the variety, is also one of the biggest challenges. I must be very flexible and adaptable. I love it, but it can also be very challenging and draining. I worry about missing something and as a result making an ill-informed or bad decision. There are so many details and intricacies that it’s easy to miss an angle when evaluating a problem and reaching a conclusion. There are rules, regulations, and laws to abide by, all while remembering people, fairness, consistency, monetary constraints and a host of other things that must be considered. I also deal with a variety of constituencies: residents, elected officials at all levels of government, senior and line-level staff, partner organizations, eight municipalities and others. Each group is unique. Each group has its own goals and objectives with their own point of view. They each require individual attention. As a result, it sometimes happens that you think you’re doing something helpful or good only to find out the help was less than helpful in their eyes. Open communication is very important to help avoid these pitfalls.
What has this job taught you?
I’ve learned I can’t be perfect, and I’ll never get it all right no matter how hard I try. I also can’t please everyone. People come at issues from different perspectives and sometimes those perspectives collide with each other. For example, the county is responsible for enforcing several state and local laws — stormwater management, forest conservation, planning, zoning and many others. Unfortunately, there are times when the laws impact individuals and businesses. Sometimes the elected officials can change the law and sometimes it is out of their hands. This causes tension which can lead to ill feelings about the county.
Do you feel this job is political, and do you have to work to rise above or remove yourself from the politics of it?
My job is not at all political; that’s the purview of elected officials. My work, and that of all staff, is about implementing the policies set by the elected officials and doing the best we can for the residents of Carroll County. A policy is simply a group of words forming an idea. It’s the staff’s job to turn that idea or desire into a plan and from there into an efficient, daily process.
You’ve been a county employee for almost 10 years. How has the county changed in that time?
In the slightly over nine years I’ve been with the county, there have been three different boards of commissioners (10 different individuals) so the leadership and, as a result, some of the policies and directions have changed during that time, but these have been mostly subtle. I believe the biggest changes have been the county’s increased use of technology to help with our day-to-day activities and keep the public informed and involved. We’ve revamped our website, enhanced our Facebook page, we live-stream most every meeting, we have a YouTube channel, and there are numerous ways residents can connect with county government through email subscriptions, alerts and online forms. Maintaining open communication with all residents of Carroll County is difficult, but we strive to be open and transparent and we believe these services and others help us achieve that goal.
What is something about you that people might find surprising?
I love being outdoors — hiking, biking, and even mowing the lawn. I’m also an active member of a regional motorcycle club and average riding about 50 miles a week all year long just for fun.