When there’s something in your house that’s broken, you call in a repairman to fix it. The same is true in government. And while states and localities may not necessarily be broken, the past few years have left many of them in serious need of repair. The Great Recession and its long, unsure recovery have meant historic revenue declines for governments at the same time they’re facing mounting fiscal pressures from things like Medicaid, pension obligations and other public assistance programs.
Governments need fixers, and this year’s eight Public Officials of the Year are some of the best handymen and repairwomen in public service. They’ve closed massive budget gaps by finding new sources of revenue and making sure government dollars are spent in the best, most responsible way possible. They’re mending broken agencies, ensuring that government services reach the people who need them most. They’re implementing new technologies to make government faster, more efficient and more responsive than ever. (Sometimes the repairs are more literal: One city manager has led a massive rebuilding effort after a devastating tornado decimated his town.)
The best fixers know how to work together to get the job done. These honorees have shown a true commitment to cooperation, often reaching across the aisle to tackle problems. A Republican governor forged a fiscal compromise with his Democratic legislature. A county executive worked with a city mayor to merge services and drive down costs. Two state representatives of opposite parties in a tied state House opted to share the speakership, an unprecedented decision to join together in the task at hand.
What’s broken can be fixed, and it can be made better than it was before. But it takes the kind of tireless work and dedicated leadership shown by these eight honorees. When they saw government in need of repair, they rolled up their sleeves and got to work.
The 2012 Public Officials of the Year are:
Elaine M. Howle, Auditor, State of California
Joette Katz, Commissioner, Connecticut Department of Children and Families
Brian Sandoval, Governor, State of Nevada
John E. Nixon, Director, Michigan Department of Technology, Management & Budget
Mark Rohr, City Manager, Joplin, Mo.
Bruce Hanna and Arnie Roblan, Co-Speakers, Oregon House of Representatives
Toni Preckwinkle, Board President, Cook County, Ill.
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.