Genevievette Walker-Lightfoot didn't have the same childhood dreams as a lot of her counterparts growing up.
Rather than aspiring to be a police officer, prima ballerina or athlete, Walker-Lightfoot always knew she wanted to be a lawyer. The profession, she said, fit her personality.
"You have to be a little OCD," she said.
Walker-Lightfoot got her wish. The Columbia-based lawyer has a career history that includes discovering elements of Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme as an investigator for the Securities Exchange Commission and now runs her own firm off of Little Patuxent Parkway. And this month, she'll join the Board of Appeals as the representative for District 4.
Walker-Lightfoot replaces Henry Eigles on the quasi-judicial Board of Appeals, a five-member body appointed by the County Council to rule on appeals of land-use matters decided by the Hearing Examiner. She will serve until Dec. 31, 2017.
Walker-Lightfoot, who has a law degree from Catholic University and an MBA from the University of Maryland's Smith School of Business, said sitting on the board offers a chance to be "on the other side of the table" — to listen and judge the facts rather than presenting them.
"I'm used to dealing with businesses and evaluating how [they] fall in line with rules and regulations and procedures," she said. "I think … I'll definitely have something to bring to the table with the other panel members."
Walker-Lightfoot comes to her new post with experience investigating the front-page crises and scandals of the past five years — notably, as an investigator at the SEC, where she began to unravel troubling components of Madoff's Ponzi scheme before she was directed to shift her focus to the mutual funds industry.
Walker-Lightfoot's research into the Madoff case came to light thanks to the "obsessive-compulsive" tendencies that led her to pursue a career in law.
As she dug into the case, she would send herself detailed notes via email of her findings. Even after her paper files were transferred to another investigative team, the electronic copies remained. After the scandal broke, her emails were able to prove that the SEC was aware of complaints and had been investigating as far back as 2003, according to Walker-Lightfoot.
"It's a good way to leave a paper trail, especially when you're working in a framework where you don't have control," she said of her habit. "You never know when you might need it."
Walker-Lightfoot also prides herself on a meticulous attention to detail. "Every investigation I ever worked on, I found something," she said.
"You have to be thorough with that type of stuff because you're dealing with a lot of money, and you better believe that the people on the other side of the table know what they're doing," she said. "They know how to hide things."
She left the SEC in 2006 for a job at the Federal Reserve, then decided to open her own practice in late 2011.
"I felt after almost 15 years in the federal regulatory sector that it was time for something new. It gets very routine after a while," she said. "So I decided to branch out."
At her firm, Walker-Lightfoot focuses on banking and securities, corporate compliance and governance and alternative dispute resolution. Though she has never practiced property law, she said her past experience leaves her well equipped to serve on the Board of Appeals.
"I'm used to applying rules, regulations, laws, to specific entities and people doing particular things," she said. "It seemed like an easily transferable skill to the municipal sector."
For Walker-Lightfoot, sitting on the Board is a way to serve her community. Growing up in a planned community on Long Island, she said she was drawn by Columbia's similar promise. She lives with her husband, Johnathan Lightfoot, and the couple's 3-year-old daughter and Lhasa Apso in the house she bought in 2005 when she decided she wanted to set roots in Howard County.
Land-use matters, she said, are an integral part in mapping the future of the county.
"I think it's one of those things that matters to everybody who lives here because … being a planned community, we all have a vested interest in how community resources are utilized and how people decide to build things, expand businesses and things of that nature," she said.
Serving on the Board of Appeals is also a logical next step.