Meet the 2021 GoldenGov: County Executive of the Year winners

After naming the winners of StateScoop’s 2021 LocalSmart Awards earlier this month, StateScoop continues its coverage this week by sharing interviews with winners in the GoldenGov: County Executive of the Year category.

The nation’s top county executives shared what they’ve been working on, how the pandemic has transformed their work and their thoughts on leadership in trying times.

Reporting by Emily Bamforth and Benjamin Freed. Responses were edited for length and clarity.

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Adam Frumkin, CIO of Franklin County, Ohio

Adam Frumkin, CIO of Franklin County, Ohio

What have you accomplished in your role that you want people to know about?

Cultural change through emotional intelligence and building a team that has not only changed the technology of the county but the culture and direction of the county as a whole. What we did was we stepped back when I first got in my role and started with the principal of “Why?” Our why statement is that we believe by providing exceptional technology solutions, agencies can provide better services to the businesses and people of the county.

How does emotional intelligence fit in?

One of the things I worked on was creating [business relationship managers]. They are the product owner. What those BRMs are supposed to do is truly understanding the business of our partners — agencies we support — and speaking on our behalf. We’ve created an alliance between the BRM and the executive director. By doing that we’ve created a relationship of respect and trust.

What’s the next thing you’d like to work on?

We are not even close to being done with the transformational change of technology. And our job and the way we see things is to truly lead in a different way.

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Tanya Hannah, CIO of King County, Washington

Tanya Hannah, CIO of King County, Washington

What’s something you’ve accomplished in the past year you want more people to know about?

There’s so much. King County has had such an ambitious agenda just around data, business resiliency, omni-channel engagement. I would say probably some of our cutting edge work has been around data, AI, [machine learning], particularly using bots to do process automation or cognitive services to really automate things, like redact private information.

And you’ve also done a lot of work on digital equity.

We’ve done things around grants which help with broadband connectivity, digital literacy training as well as access to devices. That work particularly continues, also around how we think about acceptability and translations, because King County has a very diverse community. We also do a lot with community-based organizations and trying to skill up talent development pipelines. No organization is going to simply hire their way out of talent shortages.

What do you want to tackle next?

We’ve had an ambitious agenda over the last several years. We have been fully modernizing a lot of these 40-year-old systems to modern platforms and creating original intellectual property. We’re going to see a lot of transformational projects complete in 2022 that’s going to put King County on a different trajectory. We have massively overhauled all of our data, all of our systems.

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Brandee Ganz, CIO of Howard County, Maryland

Brandee Ganz, CIO of Howard County, Maryland

What’ve you accomplished in the past year that you want more people to know about?

Prior to COVID, we were not a telework agency. We only had 2-3% teleworking. When COVID happened, we had to transition to 100%. We partnered with the school system to help the county and help our residents to meet the needs of the pandemic. We learned many people don’t have access to the internet. We learned many people don’t have devices. We are our own ISP, so we branched out and provided public Wi-Fi. We’re still working on the Transform Howard initiative.

How many people are still remote now?

Individuals are allowed to work remote based on approval. It’s definitely not 100%. People are back in the office and working through things. We still have a huge part of our workforce that is remote. We are encouraging remote work and we continue to make changes that we are very secure with remote work as well.

What’s the long-term goal of the Transform Howard program?

It’s a way to get useful information out to the public. We just put out a brand-new county website so when residents come they can do a search and find information a lot easier. We’re looking at services from a food standpoint, a housing standpoint. What can we do to make sure residents know what’s available to them? Maybe people aren’t interested in a statistic, but they are interested in where farms are, where restaurants are. We’re also doing innovation grants. All of those things are to transform things across the county so residents do have that equitable access to everything.

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Paul Hopingardner, county executive for technology and operations of Travis County, Texas

Paul Hopingardner, county executive for technology and operations of Travis County, Texas

What challenges did your team face over the last year?

Rolling out all of the laptops and devices for people for work from home, including the decision to move away from desktops and work primarily off of laptops even in the office. So far, we’ve had a really successful implementation of work from home, but what we all know is that we need that framework in place and the proper education training for everybody. Working through the different kinds of personas, there’s some people who may be in the office all the time, because of the type of job that they have and others that are in a hybrid world, where they may be back and forth, and some may be for the most part, working from home all the time.

What has the pandemic taught you about leadership?

People with the right explanation and the right understanding of what’s going on are willing to go above and beyond. The important part of leadership is making sure that you still have communications with people and regular meetings and discussions in keeping people informed.

What’s next on your team’s to-do list?

What we’re looking for is how we sustain that relationship between employees and everyone they’re working with and development as a culture. We’re also looking at what does that mean for a home office? What does that mean for facilities? How much space are we going to look at converting into collaborative space and hoteling kinds of things? What’s the technology necessary to do that? What type or do we have to have in collaboration rooms? Or what technology people have to have to be able to work from anywhere?

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Glenn Marchi, CIO of Dutchess County, New York

Glenn Marchi, CIO of Dutchess County, New York

What challenges did your team face over the last year?

We transitioned up to 600 employees within days of the pandemic in March of 2020, to work in a hybrid work environment. So we set up the equipment and all the resources they needed to actually work from home. During that same time, we developed a work from home policy, which outlined, you know, how employees proceed on gaining access to work remotely, or working in a hybrid environment. In addition to that, the COVID pandemic really enabled Dutchess County to provide solutions that were digital-first. We went from the back-office IT organization to front office.

What has the pandemic taught you about leadership?

All success or failure relies on one word and that’s leadership. I am very, very proud of our leadership team. I have 66 IT professionals reporting to our IT organization. I’ve got an excellent IT team that understands the business and understands technology. Their leadership came to fruition during the pandemic and we really focused on providing solutions that were transformative in nature and really allowed citizens to access all of these services through electronic means.

What’s next on your team’s to-do list?

The challenge is how do we provide enhanced services with a very lean budget? We’re finding ways to do that. My number one priority is cybersecurity readiness and we’ve done a tremendous amount of work in the cybersecurity arena. We changed our endpoint security to CloudStrike, which is a behavioral-based protocol, which is an enhancement from our past software that we used. We installed Splunk log management that aggregates logs so we can monitor and react. We spent a lot of time working with the New York State Division of Homeland Security Emergency Services to walk through our cybersecurity plan and they made recommendations on how we can improve that.

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Elliott Patrick, CIO of Marion County, Indiana

Elliott Patrick, CIO of Marion County, Indiana

What challenges did your team face over the last year?

We had the immediate crunch of switching from a local government organization that’s primarily people and paper-based in our processes to digital government services, as well as remote work techniques and tools. We rolled out I think about 1,200 laptops in under five weeks to the 45 different city and county agencies we support. What was really difficult in that moment was cover the court process. We didn’t even have WebEx or Zoom for regular business to provide that for a remote court setting. Moving inmates around in a COVID centric world was pretty difficult. We stood up a remote core process in about 45 days.

What has the pandemic taught you about leadership?

It all comes down to your people. You’ve got to take care of them. With the advent of COVID, a lot of us have stepped back when we got more time with family while working from home or being around our families to kind of center on what matters most. We got to be really flexible and we got to learn a lot more about each other and really try to find ways to balance better than we had before. The big lesson I don’t know that I’ve quite learned yet is in balancing everybody else, I have to balance for myself. And so there’s been the challenge of trying to take on how to move 40 agencies at the same time from in person services to remote, while making sure that their staff who have never done some of these technology efforts and initiatives are prepared, they’re supported.

What’s next on your team’s to-do list?

I’ve also been heavily involved in lot of what’s going on in our community with some of our violent crime issues and bringing technology to that space and looking at it holistically with a data initiative called the “High Utilizers of Multiple Systems” project where we’re looking at the data of those people that are in and using the systems inside of our court process, our sheriff’s office, police department, prosecutor’s office, the coalition of homelessness, intervention and prevention and trying to also connect with our mental health care services and emergency room services to see those users that are disproportionately using those services.

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