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She's the Girlboss!

Getting to Know County Executive Jan Gardner

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in western Pennsylvania. My parents still live in the house I grew up in. My mother just turned 90 this past week, so we were all up there and had a big celebration. I had a very happy childhood. 

What brought you to Frederick County?

I went to college in the Midwest, the University of Notre Dame, and then when I got out of school, I worked for Quaker Oats Company for a number of years. I met my husband at Quaker Oats. We moved around for a couple of years, but when we had children and wanted to land somewhere, we actually picked Frederick. We thought this area had good schools—education has always been a priority for me—and where there would always be job opportunities. It’s also in between our families, so it had a little bit of everything for us.

When did your interest for public service begin, and what inspired it?

I began to be interested in local politics pretty innocently, like a lot of people, on education issues. My children were in overcrowded schools, and I came in this building, Winchester Hall, to public speak on school overcrowding. The first time I spoke, I was unaware of how the process worked, but the planning commission listened to me and actually incorporated some of my suggestions in their final motion. I felt empowered by that! So, I kept coming back and then I became the legislative chair for PTA County Council and started speaking more broadly for the Board of Education. After a while, I decided instead of shaping how someone was going to vote, I wanted the power to vote, and I ran for office in 1998. 

What are you most proud of as county executive?

I am the first county executive, and I’m proud to be the first woman executive! I’m proud of the streamlining and fast-tracking the construction of schools; retaining Citizens Nursing Home and Montevue Assisted Living and having them function with no tax dollars; having a AAA bond rating; and of ROOT, our business innovation center. 

What have you learned as county executive?

Most things are done by relationships; all relationships are based on trust. Fundamental to everything is honesty and integrity. If people can trust that you are going to do what you say you’re going to do, and if you can deliver on that—or if you can’t—you let them know. If people feel listened to, they’re generally satisfied to some extent. I think honesty and integrity is the foundation of accomplishing everything.

“Anyone can make a difference. I was just a normal everyday person. I want people to feel empowered that they can come in here and create some change.”

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