Former County Council member and 2006 county executive candidate Chris Merdon is returning to local government as head of Howard's Department of Technology and Communication Services, County Executive Ken Ulman announced Thursday.
Merdon, who was Ulman's Republican opponent in the 2006 county executive race, will lead the 87-employee department starting Monday, Sept. 16.
Ulman said he and Merdon share a vision for the county's technological future that transcends party lines.
"Good ideas don't have a party affiliation, and my philosophy has always been to hire good people, no matter their political background," he said.
"I am excited to join the administration because I share Ken's vision for innovation, efficiency and effectiveness," Merdon, 42, of Ellicott City, said in a statement. "Ken led the way in bringing broadband to Maryland, and now, because of that, we can bring exciting, cost-saving and forward-thinking digital solutions to taxpayers."
Merdon and Ulman served one term on the County Council together, from 2002 to 2006. In total, Merdon served eight years on the council, beginning in 1998. In his first term as county executive, Ulman appointed Merdon to the county's Revenue Authority.
As technology chief, Merdon's focus will be on finding ways to maximize use of Maryland's brand-new Inter-County Broadband Network, a $100 million, federally backed project to lay broadband fiber throughout the state.
The resulting high-speed fiber optic network will connect 1,006 community institutions in the state, such as public schools, libraries, public safety organizations, community colleges and government institutions across 4,200 square miles.
The ICBN is set to be complete by October.
Merdon will also be tasked with finding ways to lower communication costs and working with other jurisdictions to share data and technology infrastructure.
He plans to run a technology audit to examine how the county can provide more online access to services.
Merdon has previously held several positions where he's overseen the intersection of government and technology.
Most recently, he was senior vice president of Tempe, Ariz.-based American Traffic Solutions, which developed technology for 300 state and local government clients. At ATS, he worked on projects to develop school bus traffic safety technology and an online system that tracks child care payments in Oklahoma.
He also served as executive director of J.P. Morgan Chase, where he worked with clients in the public sector.
Ulman said Merdon's experience in both government and the private sector makes him uniquely qualified for his new position.
"He understands Howard County government very well," Ulman said. "He understands the structure of the county government, the services provided by different agencies. And having a career in the private sector, where his job was to implement technology-based solutions for government customers – being on that side of the equation to help implement solutions brought a good perspective."