Let's face it: 2009 has been a trying time. In the midst of an economic crisis that some call the Great Recession, state and local budgets are literally shrinking. Across the country, public officials find themselves choosing between unpopular tax increases and devastating budget cuts. These days, the old adage that government should learn to do more with less doesn't quite hold up. For at least another year, in almost any program area not propped up by federal stimulus money, states and localities will be doing less with less.
In other words, this is a time for focus. Because now, more than ever, the key question facing government officials is not what they want to do. It's what they have to do. What is really important to the health, safety and welfare of citizens? Yet even as they trim their ambitions, states and localities can still strive to make government work better. As Jay Williams, the mayor of Youngstown, Ohio, puts it, a leaner future can be a healthy one, too.
Williams and our other Public Officials of the Year for 2009 are proven leaders for times such as these. Some, like Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, are numbers-driven seekers of efficiency. Others, like Missouri's Pete Rahn, are creative at tapping the talents and resources of the private sector. And Crit Luallen of Kentucky and Sam Reed of Washington State remind us that even in tough times, government must be honest and fair. Governing is proud to honor the accomplishments of these eight men and women.
The 2009 Public Officials of the Year are:
Steve Hewitt, Administrator, City of Greensburg, Kansas
Steve Jennings, Chief Information Officer, Harris County, Texas
Phyllis Kahn, Representative, State of Minnesota
Crit Luallen, Auditor, State of Kentucky
Martin O'Malley, Governor, State of Maryland
Pete Rahn, Transportation Director, State of Missouri
Sam Reed, Secretary of State, State of Washington
Jay Williams, Mayor, City of Youngstown, Ohio
Every year since 1994, GOVERNING has honored individual state and local government officials for outstanding accomplishment by naming them Public Officials of the Year. Elected, appointed and career officials from any branch of state or local government are eligible. Our readers are invited to nominate individuals who have had a notable positive impact on their department or agency, community or state.
GOVERNING annually receives several hundred nominations from individuals in the public and private sectors. In addition, GOVERNING staff consults experts and scholars in the field, and also nominates outstanding individuals they encounter in the course of their work. Nominations are evaluated by a selection committee, which, after painstaking research, chooses the winners.