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County Exec Neuman is Used to Tackling Obstacles

Sep 06, 2013 11:35AM ● By Cate Reynolds

We examine how Laura Neuman’s past helped shape her present, and speak with her about what the future may hold.

By MARK R. SMITH

Being elected Anne Arundel County executive is just the latest chapter in the compelling tale of Laura Neuman.

After having spent 22 months as the president and CEO of the Howard County Economic Development Authority, she’s been addressing new challenges since she was sworn in as Anne Arundel County’s executive on Feb. 22nd — including evaluating and making changes in an administration that suffered from severe morale problems, and trying to bring the county’s archaic computer infrastructure up to current standards on next-to-no budget.

Yet, those challenges don’t sound as daunting when learning of some events of her early life. An East Baltimore native who left home at age 16, Neuman later dropped out of high school; two years later, she was raped in her apartment. And when she told her family and the Baltimore County police what had happened, they didn’t buy it. And she never finished her undergraduate degree.

Such early experiences might have been a precursor to a life of struggle for the faint of heart; but, in Neuman’s case, it just fueled her survivor personality as she kicked into overdrive.

The result? Despite dropping out of high school and not finishing college, she eventually talked her way into the MBA program at (the former) Loyola College in Maryland. Since graduating with her master’s degree, she also completed the Executive Program at Stanford Business School.

And her persistence with the police for more than a decade eventually resulted in the reopening of her cold case in 2002; that led to the eventual conviction of her assailant, who was later linked to 12 unsolved rape cases in Baltimore County.

But long before the rape case was solved, that schooling that she had so treasured had paid off. And then it paid off some more, in ways that she never could have imagined.

The spark that set her career in motion was when Neuman, at 30, was named the (unpaid) CEO of Howard County-based Matrics Technology Systems. Matrics was, at that point, a failing startup and nearing bankruptcy.

Matrics was founded by two NSA scientists who had spent three years developing a microelectronic circuit, with the hope that it would revolutionize radio frequency identifi cation and supply chain management. After Neuman worked to raise more than $17 million in venture capital to make that plan a reality, Matrics was ultimately voted Venture Capital Deal of the Year in 2001 by Washington Business Forward; the company was later sold for $230 million.

Before Matrics, Nueman held a number of high-level positions—cofounder, president, vice president—for a number of renowned tech companies, including CAIS Internet, Digex, Global Payment Systems, and T. Rowe Price.

She also served a stint as interim executive director of the Chesapeake Innovation Center for the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp., just prior to her joining HCEDA.

Neuman’s experience in dealing with challenging situations recently came in handy when she was elected county executive in the wake of the corruption that defined the term of her predecessor, John Leopold.

When asked how many changes she had made from Leopold’s administration and how many more she was planning, Neuman was not exact. “I haven’t counted them,” she says. “I’m just focused on making sure that the right people are in the right jobs.”

While that effort has been ongoing, Neuman has had to deal with some other internal issues that hadn’t been publicized much before she took office, especially the techno-rot of the county’s archaic computer setup and replacing a previous executive who didn’t even have a computer.

“The county government needs to come into the 21st century. [The technology] the e-mail system is based on is from the 1980s and we have no electronic records. Everything is on paper,” Neuman says. “We’re using DOS-based computer systems for the Department of Planning & Zoning and the Department of Inspections & Permits, as well as for the police computer-aided dispatch system.”

The necessary upgrade “[means making] investments in our basic infrastructure, but there’s no money now,” she continues. “We have a capital budget that’s already in place, so this is about how we deploy the resources that we have available to us. And we have to re-evaluate what we have available, since we have a revenue cap and no plan to increase taxes.”

With less than two years to make her statement as county executive, Neuman said her main goals were to restore integrity to the office and to develop a plan to implement best practices in the county.

Having announced her plans to run in the 2014 race for the county executive, she stressed that she is “honored to serve the people of Anne Arundel County and to restore their respect for the office.

“That’s all I’m interested in. If [she doesn’t win the republican primary], I’ll see what comes next,” says the Annapolis mother of two.

“At this point, I just want to thank the County Council for its faith in selecting me. Anne Arundel County will be a leader in the state because we have the resources for excellence,” Neuman says enthusiastically. “I’m building the new administration so it is characterized by honor and transparency.”