Gov. Wes Moore (D) moved to fulfill a campaign pledge this week when he announced his administration had hired two seasoned public officials to fill the positions of chief resilience officer and chief sustainability officer for state government.
Moore has tapped Michael Hinson, the director of the Office of Emergency Management in Howard County for the former position, and Meghan Conklin, whose résumé includes a stint with U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), for the latter. Both positions are new in state government.
Moore, who pledged to appoint a state climate czar as he was campaigning in 2022, described the dual hiring as “a whole-of-government approach,” with the two new officials handling different aspects of his administration’s push to confront the current and future effects of climate change.
“Addressing the existential threat of climate change requires bold and decisive action,” Moore said in a statement. “We must think strategically and we must address our present challenges to prevent future effects. I am confident that Meghan Conklin and Michael Hinson possess the leadership qualities necessary to meet this moment and I look forward to working with each of them to promote a cleaner, greener, more resilient and more sustainable Maryland.”
The chief resilience officer position will be housed within the Maryland Department of Emergency Management and was created by legislation sponsored by state Sen. Katie Fry Hester (D-Howard). Her district includes Ellicott City, whose downtown was devastated by deadly floods in 2016 and 2018. In his position with Howard County, Hinson was intricately involved in the town’s recovery efforts.
“I had no idea Mike was going to apply for the [state] job,” Hester said in an interview Thursday. “He’s a great guy and he’s done a fabulous job, and we’re going to miss him in Howard County.”
Hester said she was moved to introduce the legislation because of Maryland’s status as the second most vulnerable state, behind Florida, to flooding and sea-level rise — with projected losses of $19 billion through 2050 due to the damage from climate change. She said Hinson in his new role should be able to coordinate the state’s efforts to pursue new federal grant money for climate and resilience programs.
“This coordination of the state and local and federal efforts is huge,” Hester said. “But it’s more than a full-time job.”
Hinson’s hiring helps solidify the emergency management department’s evolution from a quasi-law enforcement agency dealing with challenges like terrorism, homeland security and safety responses to extreme weather to an integral part of the state’s planning and response for climate change. He’ll be paid an annual salary of $160,898, according to a Moore spokesperson.
Speaking on a panel during this summer’s Maryland Association of Counties conference, Hinson lamented that government has had to respond more frequently and aggressively to natural disasters, without more resources.
“All of these things have been happening, we’ve been expanding what we’ve been doing,” Hinson said. “But we don’t necessarily have more hands to do it with.”
Now, as part of state government, he can help expand that effort and boost coordination among government agencies.
The Moore administration said part of Hinson’s job will be to ensure Maryland is prepared to adapt, mitigate, and recover from all hazards and emergencies, including disasters that have increased in frequency and intensity from climate change.
Hinson has spent more than a decade with Howard County, including the past three as director of the emergency management office. He is also an adjunct faculty member at the Mid-Atlantic Center for Emergency Management and Public Safety at Frederick Community College, and previously worked in the private sector as a project manager in the corporate office of Ledo’s Pizza.
“His extensive experience in emergency management and tenure as the chief emergency manager in Howard County has given him valuable insights into the importance of coordination and community relationships in our state’s resilience efforts,” said Maryland Department of Emergency Management Secretary Russ Strickland. We believe that, under his leadership, Maryland will stand as a national leader in resilience.”
In a post on LinkedIn this week, Hinson said he was “thrilled” by the appointment.
“I can’t wait to see the great progress we can make with our partners in state and local government, as well as NGOs and the private sector to make a more resilient Maryland!” he wrote.
As the state’s new chief sustainability officer, Conklin will be part of the team responsible for ensuring that the state government meets its ambitious goals for addressing climate change. Unlike Hinson, she will work directly with the governor’s office rather than at a state agency.
Conklin worked most recently was vice president of government affairs for AnnDyl Policy Group, a consulting firm focused on financing climate projects. Before that, she was policy director for the Coalition for Green Capital.
Conklin spent four years with Van Hollen as his top staffer for climate, environment, energy and agricultural issues, helping the lawmaker develop legislation to create a national green bank. She previously served in the Obama administration, as deputy assistant secretary for transmission permitting in the Office of Electricity at the Department of Energy and as associate deputy secretary at the Department of the Interior. She was also a staffer on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Capitol Hill.
The Moore administration said Conklin will collaborate with internal and external stakeholders to coordinate efforts and resources needed to design, implement, and track progress toward meeting the state’s environmental and climate goals. She will also become a member on the Governor’s Climate Subcabinet, which is currently in formation, and the Bay Subcabinet.
“I can’t wait to get started next month!” Conklin said in a LinkedIn post this week. She’ll be paid $156,314 annually.
Josh Tulkin, executive director of the Maryland Sierra Club, called Conklin a committed activist and talented administrator “who brings great credibility to the position.”
“We are very excited and optimistic that the hiring of a chief sustainability officer will give the state that added capacity to turn those ambitious plans and concepts into a real action plan,” he said.
Kim Coble, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, embraced the new appointments and said they move the Moore administration closer to meeting its campaign pledges on climate.
“Meghan Conklin’s extensive experience in climate and environmental policy, and Michael Hinson’s insights in emergency management, are exactly what Maryland needs to reach our climate goals,” she said.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that the chief resilience officer will work out of the Department of Emergency Management.