About Neil Harris

Neil Harris 2015-74

10286854_10152393639966678_8895012640558950292_o

Neil and Michelle

IMG_0922

Top row: Jess, Liz, and Sam. Ben on the laps.

I moved to Gaithersburg in 1988 to join GE Information Services’ GEnie online service, which was headquartered in Rockville. I grew up in Philadelphia and lived for 4 years in Silicon Valley before moving here. I am married to Michelle Harris, known professionally as Dr. Michelle New of the Kentlands Kids child psychology practice and formerly at Childrens Hospital in DC. Michelle and I have a 12-year-old son, Sam, who is on the autism spectrum and attending the special Kennedy Krieger school in Silver Spring.

We also have two grown daughters, Elizabeth and Jessica, from my late first wife, Karen. Liz and Jess both graduated from Quince Orchard High, and Liz earned her college degree at Florida State while Jess graduated from the University of Maryland College Park. Liz is mother to my grandchildren, Ben and Corinne.

I grew up in Philadelphia, in the working-class Northeast section of the city. My father worked in clothing factories, and I was the first in my family to attend college. I was a Cub and Boy Scout and was a troop senior patrol leader while my dad was an assistant scoutmaster. I graduated from Northeast High School where my extracurriculars included our computer programming club (in the days before home computers), a science program called SPARC that was sponsored by NASA, student government, and more.

I have spent my career in technology companies, mainly with high growth companies including (for those of you with long memories) Commodore Computers (where I was a member of the Commodore 64 and VIC-20 launch teams) and at Atari Corp. in Silicon Valley. I spent 5 years at GE in Rockville, and earned my college degree at night from UMUC while working there. Then I joined a video game startup, Simutronics, and was the head of the business side of the company as we grew during the dot com era, eventually reaching 400 employees and contractors and earning a spot on the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing private companies twice. I earned my MBA at Wharton during my time at Simutronics, taking classes (and doing mountains of homework) on weekends. Recently I worked out of the technology incubator in Howard County with an IT technology company, Firejack and managed IT projects for a global consultancy called EPAM.

As with most computer and video game professionals, I am a science fiction fan (I worked at some of the first Star Trek conventions – but never in costume) and an avid board game player. I was a DJ on a college radio station and I have an immense library of rock, jazz, and soul music. Michelle loves hip hop and pop, so the only music we can enjoy together comes from a few years in the early 80s. I am very happy that my daughters share an appreciation for classic rock music, and maybe a bit less happy that Sam seems to lean toward his mother’s top-40 pop songs — although he also loves ZZ Top.

Speaking of Sam, let me talk just a bit about being the parent of a special needs child. Sam was diagnosed at age two. Before his second birthday, we saw no issues – he was happy, very social, and was developing a large vocabulary. He could work the room at Starbucks and knew everyone’s name. Three months later, he was a different kid. Most of his vocabulary was gone, and he was in his own world. It was terrifying and heartbreaking. Michelle knew who to call, and soon we had a team of doctors and therapists. They have been working with Sam ever since.

Autism is a spectrum, and all of the people on the spectrum are different. Sam has difficulty expressing himself verbally, but he has other ways to let you know what he needs. He is still the sweetest, most affectionate little boy you would ever want to meet. Our goal is to make sure Sam can achieve his potential, whatever that may be, and we are working to help him to be able to be self-sufficient as an adult. Our dream is to have a real conversation with him someday… and our fear is that he won’t be able to take care of himself in our world.

Michelle is not a specialist in autism, but her professional background has enabled her to take charge of the situation, to build the best possible support network around him. And my role is to be his Dad, to wrestle with him and play outside, to teach him to fly kites and to swim.

I am serving our city because I love living here and I appreciate the opportunity to give something back. I was effective as a leader in the Kentlands HOA and got to know our city officials and staff over the years, and I have been friends with our former mayor and now county council member, Sidney Katz (of course, most of us in the city are friendly with Sidney, he is amazing that way). Having gotten to know how things work here, it was clear that the city government was well run and was run by reasonable people. When I was a young man in Philadelphia, I volunteered for some campaigns, and I could see what big city politics was like. Here, good people can make a positive contribution.

I see opportunities to guide the city as it grows and evolves, to improve the quality of life and to support our tradition of fiscal discipline. In the months since joining the council, I’ve had the chance to meet elected officials at the county, state, and federal level, and there is universal praise for our city. We are viewed as the best-managed municipality in the state. One official called us “an island of practicality,” and maybe we should put that on a billboard on I-270 (“Now leaving an island of practicality!”). I intend to maintain our reputation and even to enhance it as we go forward.