GOVERNING MagazineLet'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