Nothing in the annals of management is more fun to read--or more inspiring--than a good turnaround story. A creative entrepreneur takes over a collapsing enterprise, ignores the smell of decay, shakes the place up with new ideas and new personnel, and restores it to health in record time.
The bookstore shelves are full of these comeback sagas. But almost invariably, they are sagas of business, not government. Any public official knows, on the other hand, that turning a company around, as hard as it may be, is a straightforward job compared with reversing the fortunes of a government institution headed for disaster. Private turnaround artists don't have to contend with constituent demands, election results, civil service restrictions and a myriad of other obstacles that can make a governmental rescue operation frequently seem like an impossible mission.
And yet it happens. Sick governments and government agencies do manage to get well, in spite of the obstacles, and most of the time it is because one smart and dedicated leader refused to give up on them. As Governing announces its Public Officials of the Year for 1996, we are pleased to pay special tribute to a collection of leaders who have taken on the toughest kind of management trick in the business--a governmental turnaround.
Some of these are administrative success stories. Angela Gittens took over the Atlanta airport at a time when its administration was riddled with corruption and its previous manager had been convicted of bribery. Her simple message--cut the patronage, cut the politics--had the airport running efficiently again in little more than a year. John Carrow, Philadelphia's chief information officer, discovered upon assuming his job that the city was mired in the technological dark ages, still using pencil and paper for jobs that other places had computerized decades ago. He has created a sophisticated urban data system and given elected leaders an informational capacity they never realized was possible. Ron Rodenhaver, manager of the Homestead Municipal Utility District in El Paso, took over a debt-ridden, environmentally unsound, bureaucratically wasteful organization and delivered to its customers the first decent water and fair prices many of them had ever seen.
Others are tales of political success. Mike Peters became mayor of Hartford, Connecticut, three years ago, seemingly unaware of the conventional wisdom that the city was an unsalvageable political and economic mess. Hartford still has more than its share of problems, but Peters has given it a remarkable new mood of hope--and made allies out of rival factions that had barely spoken to each other in years. Mark Killian was chosen as Arizona House speaker in the aftermath of a series of scandals that had made the House a laughingstock. His quiet integrity and insistence on ethical standards has served notice on the entire state that there is another way to do business.
There are other comeback sagas as well--the work of Judith Kaye, as New York's chief judge, to reform a jury-duty system that amounted to a form of citizen torture, and the evolution of Indiana's Environmental Management Department, under Kathy Prosser, from one of the nation's weakest environmental agencies to one of the most effective.
There is more than one route to excellence. No one better demonstrates the power of finding common ground than Governor Roy Romer of Colorado or Commissioner Randolph Poynter of Georgia's Rockdale County. And the innovations of Robert Inzer, the treasurer of Tallahassee, Florida, are setting new standards in government finance.
Governing is proud to tell the stories of 10 public officials who have shown uncommon leadership skills. Their accomplishments serve as a model for those who govern in tough times all over the states and localities of America.
John C. Carrow, chief information officer, city of Philadelphia
Angela Gittens, aviation general manager, Hartsfield-Atlanta Airport, Atlanta
Robert B. Inzer, treasurer/clerk, city of Tallahassee, Florida
Judith S. Kaye, chief judge, state of New York
Mark W. Killian, speaker, Arizona House of Representatives
Michael P. Peters, mayor, city of Hartford, Connecticut
Randolph W. Poynter, chairman, board of commissioners, Rockdale County, Georgia
Kathy Prosser, commissioner of environmental management, state of Indiana
Ron Rodenhaver, general manager, Homestead Municipal Utility District, El Paso, Texas
Roy Romer, governor, state of Colorado