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EXCEL 2024: A Celebration of Local Government Executives

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John Ronquillo stands with Michael Steele
IPL Director John Ronquillo stands with former Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele

The Office of Executive Programs at the School of Public Policy, in partnership with the Baker Strategy Group and the County Executives of America, hosted local government executives from across the East Coast for a conference on leadership and governance. 

The conference commenced with President/CEO of Baker Strategy Group and former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker recounting the inception of the EXCEL Program to guests at a welcome reception and dinner. With a long-held belief that local government leaders lacked a school or organization to teach them how to lead, Baker met with then-UMD President Wallace Loh with the goal of creating a national leadership institute for local government chief executives that teaches essential skills like how to appoint a chief of staff and how to keep innovating. Out of that meeting, the EXCEL program was born. 

Drawing inspiration from leaders like President John F. Kennedy and former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, Baker emphasized the transition from campaign promises to effective governance. A recurring theme of the evening was Cuomo’s slogan, “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.”

John Ronquillo, associate professor and director of the Institute for Public Leadership at the UMD School of Public Policy, addressed the group regarding the necessity of leadership in this moment, which is essential in serving communities and constituencies. He acknowledged that, as the namesake of the School’s home, Thurgood Marshall inspires all who walk its halls to rise to the challenge of honoring Justice Marshall’s legacy.

Maryland Comptroller Brooke Lierman served as keynote speaker on the issue of equity and efficiency in government, with the underlying theme, "We all do better when we all do better." Her vision of a more inclusive economy emphasized the importance of collaboration and innovation.

The following day brought a series of engaging panel discussions, with topics including smart growth and the green energy movement; the affordable housing crisis; the art of transitioning from campaigning to governing; and integrity and adaptability in public service. 

Former Lt. Governor of Maryland and former chair of the Republican party Michael Steele delivered the day’s keynote address, emphasizing the sacred oath of public service and the imperative to transcend partisan divides. He called for accountability and principled leadership, and reminded attendees of the profound responsibility they bear to their constituents. 

"We elevate the game and make it relevant and important," Steele stated. In an era fraught with division and discord, he emphasized the importance of public service and of reaching across the aisle to get things done, highlighting that the true measure of leadership lies in service to others. “When both sides lose something in the process,” said Steele, “it’s always a win for the people.” 

The conference culminated with a trip to Washington, D.C. to tour Capitol Hill where the group met with Senator Chris Van Hollen.

See more photos from the event.

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Megan Campbell
Senior Director of Strategic Communications
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