What makes a good public official great? There is a wide range of qualities -- from leader and consensus maker to change agent and collaborator -- that have stood out over time. But times are different in 2010. The ongoing fiscal crisis has pushed state and local government into uncharted waters, leaving little room to maneuver when it comes to governing. With fewer choices, public officials are being called upon to make some of the hardest decisions of their careers. It isn't easy, but those who are willing to tackle the right problems and follow through can generate positive results.

Great public officials make tough choices. Often they go against the grain when it comes to planning, launching and implementing new programs and reforms that serve the public. And they don't back down when their efforts challenge the status quo. Connecticut Rep. Diana Urban puts it aptly: "If you're not willing to run into the wall and figure out how you get around that [problem], you're never going to get there. It takes an enormous amount of tenacity."

Tough. Dogged. Tenacious. Wise. These are the words that describe the class of 2010 Public Officials of the Year. Texas legislators John Whitmire and Jerry Madden teamed up to end a prison-building binge and reform corrections in the state that puts the "t" in tough. Mayor Mick Cornett worked tirelessly to pass a tax increase to remake Oklahoma City into a walkable urban center. Kansas City, Mo., school superintendent John Covington made the difficult decision to close more than two dozen schools in just three months to move a troubled district toward a brighter future. For Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, it was about making tough decisions on fiscal reform so that when the recession hit, the state's budget withstood the blow.

Governing is proud to honor the accomplishments of eight great men and women profiled in the public sector.

The 2010 Public Officials of the Year are:

Mick Cornett, Mayor, City of Oklahoma City, Okla.

John Covington, Superintendent of Schools, Kansas City, Mo.

Steve Fletcher, Chief Information Officer, State of Utah

Ana Gelabert-Sanchez, Former Planning Director, City of Miami

Jerry Madden, Representative, and John Whitmire, Senator, State of Texas

Sonny Perdue, Governor, State of Georgia

Diana Urban, Representative, State of Connecticut