Rural Action had hired former state Rep. Debbie Phillips as its new chief executive officer. She will begin her new role effective Monday, April 9.
Phillips, a Democrat from the Athens area, was term limited out of office in 2016.
“Debbie has a strong commitment to Rural Action and to our region,” Dr. Randy Leite, Rural Action’s Board chair, said in a news release on Wednesday morning. “She has been a forceful advocate for Rural Action in her development director role, and we are excited that she will continue to promote and advance the organization as CEO.”
In the release, Leite, who led the search committee, added, “It was clear from the input we received from Rural Action staff and members that the skills and perspectives Debbie brings are those that will be of the greatest advantage to the organization as we continue to embrace the challenges and opportunities that are before us.”
Phillips joined Rural Action in January 2017 as its development director after serving four terms as a representative for the 94th District in the Ohio House of Representatives. Since coming to Rural Action, the release said, Phillips has helped grow the organization’s membership and expand its base of support across the region. She grew donor support at the organization’s two largest annual fundraisers in 2017, and spearheaded the implementation of a fully integrated Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, the release said.
During her time as a state legislator, Phillips served on the House Finance Committee, House Education Committee, House Agriculture & Rural Development Committee, the Joint Legislative Ethics Commission and the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review. She has stated that she took the most pride in her work to improve fairness in school funding, a core issue in southeast Ohio. Legislation included a provision that prohibits schools from charging students for essential supplies such as text books.
Phillips also worked with a student to pass legislation that required organ donation education in high school science classes, ensuring that students would learn about this life-saving option before they received their driver’s license.
Prior to her time in the state Legislature, Phillips was founding executive director of the Ohio Fair Schools Campaign, which was hosted through Rural Action and worked to promote quality public education. She also served the 4th Ward on the Athens City Council. Phillips is a graduate of Ohio University and lives on a farm near Albany with her husband and their three children.
In a letter to staff, Phillips said, “It is with deep humility and respect that I step into this new role. The work that Rural Action does every day allows people in our region to create real solutions and engage in a meaningful way in efforts to heal and strengthen the place we call home and the communities we love. I am grateful to every single person: staff, national service members, members, donors, and partners who are part of this lovely weaving together of hope and resources to grow resiliency and vibrancy in our region.”
In January, Rural Action announced a search for a new CEO after Michelle Decker, who served as the organizations CEO for 10 years, accepted a position with The Community Foundation located in Riverside, California. Eric Smith, the organizations Chief Program Officer, has been acting CEO since Decker’s departure in early March.
According to the news release, “Rural Action is a regional community development organization with an 18-county footprint working with members and community leaders on a range of quality of life, environmental, and economic projects across Appalachian Ohio. Its mission is to build a more just economy by developing the region’s assets in socially, financially, and environmentally sustainable ways.” Rural Action’s website is www.ruralaction.org