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What's Up Magazine

Ellen Moyer

Mar 20, 2011 03:00AM ● By Anonymous
Her love of travel has taken her to Annapolis’s sister cities around the world by ship and to the depths of the Grand Canyon by mule. What is not surprising about Moyer is the range of her passions, all of which have found expression in her political agenda and accomplishments.

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Awards and mementos line the walls of the mayor’s office. High on a shelf rests a framed Spencer P. Ellis Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects. It was presented to the mayor for her outstanding commitment to the environment. The office is personalized with nearly 20 other awards as well, some she has won multiple times, such as inclusion in a listing of “Maryland’s Top 100 Women” by the Daily Record. Mementoes include a life-size toy leopard staring out the office doorway, sporting a midshipman’s hat on its head and several necklaces around its neck. It was an anonymous gift that still makes the mayor laugh—evidence of her staff’s appreciation of her sense of humor.

Dressed in a cheerful red suit and wearing gold earrings, the mayor explains that much of her philosophy was inspired by the internationally known city planner Constantine Doxiadis, who was inspired by the work of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead. Moyer’s vision has been to create a “park-like city,” a town so beautiful that it would “convey a sense of pride in our community because that pride brings people together.” To appreciate what she has done to make this goal a reality, think buried power lines; newly bricked sidewalks; and flower baskets lining Main Street, West Street, all the city’s traffic circles, City Dock, and the Spa Creek Bridge. Think tiny, jewel-like parks at public street ends all over town that give everyone access to spectacular water views. To complete the picture think “sweat equity” in an activist city full of volunteers. Yet these are only the most visible manifestations of the mayor’s vision. As a community activist herself long before she was mayor, Moyer helped found Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, served as president of the Annapolis Summer Garden Theater, and developed the Parks and Paths for People Program.

Moyer came to Annapolis as the district coordinator for Girl Scouts of America, a launch pad that makes perfect sense in both a personal and a professional context. As an only child growing up in Towson, Maryland, she found being a Girl Scout was a way to enjoy the company of other girls. Her participation in the group laid the groundwork for a style of leadership based upon democracy, inclusion, and cooperation.

When Moyer was in college at Penn State she spent the summer in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, working with young children on a ranch. On her day off she saddled up and rode into the mountains alone. The sky was pristine, the air sweet and clear, and wildflowers grazed her stirrups. The perfect peace and beauty of that singular day was virtually spiritual in nature. Moyer holds that day deep inside as representative of what she would like to protect through a life of public service.

The former teacher and former director of government relations with the Maryland State Teachers Association firmly believes in the power of dialogue and a positive attitude. “I’m eclectic,” she says, her reading glasses perched on top of her head. “I am motivated and inspired by the ideas of others. I like the energy that comes from differences of opinion.” To this end Moyer has established an administration based upon the verbal exchange of ideas.

To highlight a few of these the mayor explains that after attending a civility conference in Colorado she ran an ad inviting citizens to a local restaurant just to have a dialogue about the city. “People came from all groups and met from October to June. These meetings evolved to a conference on civility at St. John’s with 60 people in attendance.” This in turn led to another forum for citizen input, Let’s Talk.

But don’t think this is an administration dedicated only to aesthetics. The mayor leans back in her desk chair and continues, “In another example of collaborative dialogue, we brought police and businesspeople together in the Clay and Washington Street area, which evolved to daily reports on crime, the Clay Street Citizens Safety Committee, and First Sundays, the monthly street fairs on West Street.

“We also started the Mayor’s Book Club,” Moyer adds from amid the stacks of files on her desk. “Led by a St. John’s tutor, 30 people met for 20 weeks and read Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs. I learned that Washington Street was a failing community because it didn’t have the diversity needed for a healthy neighborhood.”

Critics as well as supporters have always been invited to be a part of the city’s planning process, the mayor explains. Differing viewpoints have added valuable input, she says, such as in the development of Park Place, a project 10 years in the making.

For the first time, under her leadership Annapolis has a nationally accredited police force and fire department. “We have three times the national average of policemen per 1,000 citizens,” Moyer says, “but we have to be aggressive going after drug dealers, so many of our policemen work undercover and are therefore less visible. Conversely, we have put policemen on Segways to make them more visible.”

While there have been eight homicides in the city last year, the mayor points out that we had eight arrests. More importantly, she adds, “We are trying to give people at risk, who see no future for themselves, opportunities and to inspire them.” One such effort was in trying to get Anne Arundel Community College to offer a curriculum to move people living in at-risk circumstances into jobs that would pay more than dealing drugs pays. “I’m an enabler,” the mayor says, “in a positive way. You have to open gates and doors.”

According to her youngest child and only daughter, Loni Moyer, this ability to foster competence and independence was one of the mayor’s stellar qualities as a mother. “She had five children in seven years,” her daughter clarifies, and was a single parent from the time the oldest child was only 10. “Yet as her daughter it never once occurred to me that I was worth less, or not equal to a man, or not capable of doing whatever I set out to do.”

Inevitably one of the things that frustrates Moyer is the amount of time it takes to get things accomplished. “We haven’t been able to get it all done,” she says. “All the gateways into Annapolis should be spectacular. We did it on Rowe Boulevard and I’ve worked hard to put groups together to address West Street, which is the historic entrance to the city. It’s a gateway and an ugly one. It needs to be made better but West Street beyond [Westgate Circle] is state-maintained and there is no right-of-way with which to work. The city would have to negotiate with every single property owner individually between Park Place and Route 2. Even trees would make a huge difference, however, and I may be able to get those in within the next two years.”

Although retirement is on the horizon, it is difficult to imagine Moyer not continuing to express her devotion to her city. Instead of 10-hour days, five days a week, she is considering building a home designed to host meetings in, where diverse groups could continue to get together to plan projects for the betterment of the city. Or she might buy a farm and dedicate it to the care of retired racehorses. She will continue to feed and rescue cats, go to the theater, learn and explore, canoe Maryland rivers, travel, enjoy her family, and work to create an aesthetically pleasing environment . . . wherever she lands. Asked what family phrase was most often repeated in the Moyer household when her children were young, the mayor responds, “Feast your eyes!” On driving vacations, trips to foreign lands, and here at home, Moyer appreciates beauty and fosters that appreciation in others. There are two words now, however, that her grandchildren are not allowed to use: bored and hate.

“There are too many things to do and learn, and hate is too strong a word to apply to anything,” she says—unless it is injustice. Friends like Janelle Cousino and Peg Wallace agree that unfairness makes her mad; she considers cruelty to animals intolerable and dishones ty offensive. For a woman who began her career with the Girl Scouts of America more than 40 years ago, Moyer still knows the Girl Scout promise and lives by the Girl Scout Law. The latter is an oath that contains many promises, some of which are to “do my best to be honest and fair, responsible for what I say and do, and to make the world a better place.”

Moyer has devoted her life to making the world a better and more beautiful place. Her call to politics has been a call to service. As for vision, Ellen Moyer has yet to take her glasses down from where they are perched on top of her head. As she looks to the future her distance vision is clear.