The Washington County Board of Commissioners recognized employees for exceptional service April 6, with the county’s Employee Recognition Awards.

The program honors exemplary performance in the areas of customer service, employee engagement, innovation, teamwork, and excellence in county government.

Throughout 2020, county employees nominated fellow employees for the service awards. A committee of six county employees gathered in February to review, provide feedback, and make recommendations on the nominations to the County Board’s Personnel Committee.

The Customer Service Award honors an individual or team whose performance exemplifies the county value of ensuring services delivered to the public are up to the organization’s highest standards and consistently meet or exceed the needs of external customers.

The recipients of the Customer Service Award are Therese Gilbertson, Allison Kier, and Laura Erickson from Community Services for their work with homeless individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Carroll Davis-Johnson from Public Health & Environment (PHE) for her work in coordinating essential services requests during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As many people were moving to work remotely and limiting in-person interactions with clients at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gilbertson, Kier, and Erickson were doing the opposite. This team donned personal protective equipment and went out into the county looking for homeless individuals to assist. 

They drove many miles to rest areas, parking lots, campgrounds, and parks in the hope of assisting as many people in need as possible. They delivered daily necessities, such as food, personal hygiene items, face masks, and sanitizers to young families, individuals who had been homeless for decades, and individuals with compromised immune systems. In addition to providing supplies, the team also worked to find shelter and housing for more than 150 individuals through November 2020.

Davis-Johnson was nominated for her work as a lead staff person managing essential services requests for basic needs items, including food, medication, cleaning supplies, and/or medical equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Davis-Johnson received and responded to requests from case investigators at the Minnesota Department of Health and from the county’s own PHE department. 

Each request was unique. Davis-Johnson took time to understand what was needed and created systems for meeting those needs. Davis-Johnson has covered requests seven days a week to match community needs. She has shopped for and made deliveries to many residents as part of her role. Through Dec. 31, 2020, Davis-Johnson and the essential services team fielded nearly 450 requests from individuals in the community on isolation or quarantine.

The Employee Engagement Award honors an individual or team who encourages and promotes an environment within the county in which all employees are committed to the mission of the organization and motivated to work hard and perform their best.

The recipient of the Employee Engagement Award is Jill Timm. Timm was nominated for her work in engaging the employees she supervises in the Public Health & Environment department. This nomination came with support from many people who work with Timm. According to the employees she supervises, Timm is skilled at providing personalized opportunities for learning, growth, and leadership, and she has a passion for developing employees. She wants an employee’s work to be interesting and engaging. When staff is interested, they have opportunities to take on new projects that might bring a new challenge to the day-to-day work duties. Timm promotes self-care and work-life balance. She responds to her team with compassion and encouragement. Through her work, she has made a positive impact on the organization and, by extension, the community.

The Innovation Award honors innovation and creativity in delivering services in a more efficient or effective manner. The recipient of the Innovation Award is Jake McNulty. McNulty was nominated for his work in creating a virtual option for cognitive skills classes in Washington County through Community Corrections. Research has shown that these classes have a significant impact on recidivism, reducing the likelihood of re-offense by approximately 30 percent. 

With the outbreak of COVID-19, face-to-face group classes were put on hold. McNulty knew the benefits of these classes and wanted to continue offering them, so, rather than waiting for a virtual option, he created one. With McNulty’s quick troubleshooting, the classes had minimum disruption and were converted to virtual classes in just three weeks. 

Because of this innovative work, Washington County was one of the first criminal justice organizations in the nation to implement virtual cognitive group programming. To ensure the success and integrity of the program, curriculum authors were consulted as materials were adapted and the authors were invited to observe the virtual class. This early adaptation made Washington County a resource nationally with agencies reaching out for technical assistance. 

Through McNulty’s leadership, innovation, and hard work, Washington County has continued to provide top quality direct client-facing services throughout the pandemic.

The Teamwork Award honors a team of employees who have worked collaboratively to deliver exceptional services or bring about a new program, process, procedure, or method of service delivery. 

The recipients of the Teamwork Award are members of the Homemade Mask team and the Emergency Operations Center section chiefs team. The Homemade Mask team was nominated for its role in expanding a community-focused homemade mask collection to meet the needs of the entire county. At the beginning of the pandemic, community volunteers stepped up and donated masks and mask-making kits in mass quantities. The county responded to this initiative by developing a process to make masks and deliver them to vulnerable populations.

That included collecting material donations, distributing and collecting mask prep kits, distributing mask sewing kits, collecting homemade masks, and distributing homemade masks. Together with community organizations, Washington County received and distributed 15,000 homemade masks to more than 100 facilities, including long-term care facilities, clinics, and schools. In addition to providing service to the community, this project also lead to new relationships internally and with community partners.

The Homemade Mask team includes Rick Tungseth, Nathan Heilman, Reese Glaser, Jerome Evans, Charlie Ihrke, Sara Morrell, Scott Wahl, and Michael Krueger from Community Corrections; Jacob Burton, Julie Sorrem, Glenda Apman, Jennifer Johnson, Jodie Anderson, and Karrie Sagness from Human Resources; Adam Snegosky from Information Technology; Justina Pope, Jeff Travis, Kathleen Nyquist, and Mark Riegel from Public Health & Environment; Alyson Vogel, Greg Wood, Jamie Darst, and Rosemary Peterson from Public Works; and Douglas Berglund from the Sheriff’s Office.

The Emergency Operations Center (EOC) section chiefs were nominated for their work in leading the county’s response to COVID-19. This group has and continues to serve in the Incident Command System (ICS), a critical role in assuring consistent service delivery, while effectively integrating measures for employee safety. Their efforts afforded countywide transparent communication both internally and externally, as well as provided fiduciary responsibility for more than $30 million in federal grants by using newly developed documentation measures. 

Because of the skill, talent, and dedication of these county workers, operational procedures and policies were developed, integrated, and improved along the way. The Logistics team processed more than 1,000 resource requests. The Planning team developed 57 situational reports, with an equal number of Incident Action Plans, organized and facilitated more than 100 WebEx meetings, and documented pandemic resource allocations. In addition to the Finance section’s approval analysis of more than 1,000 resource requests, it processed several Federal Emergency Management Agency applications for federal reimbursement. All of this was accomplished by individuals who continued to work in their regular assigned role in the county.

EOC Section Chiefs are Tabatha Hansen and Dee Bernard from Accounting and Finance; Tina Simonson from the Office of Administration; Rebecca Conroy from Community Services; Angela Eastman and Caitlin Suginaka from Public Health & Environment; Rosemary Peterson from Public Works; and Kelli Matzek and Lee Dhein from the Sheriff’s Office.

The Excellence in County Government Award honors an individual or group of individuals who has made an outstanding contribution to Washington County and contributed to meeting the county’s vision as a great place to live, work, and and tomorrow. The 2021 recipient of the Excellence in County Government Award is Vivien Fowler.

Fowler was nominated for her work in the Cottage Grove CareerForce Center. Fowler continually delivers exceptional customer service for job seekers, ensuring that they can achieve the career success they are seeking, providing economic stability for individuals and families. The CareerForce Center in Cottage Grove is consistently acknowledged by the state as having one of the highest customer satisfaction ratings through feedback provided by customers.

Fowler’s reputation for assisting individual job seekers is at such a high level that she is sought out by people from across the metro area and western Wisconsin. 

“Thank you” messages are commonly sent to her and the State Department of Employment and Economic Development. Fowler also regularly volunteers for and supports other county department efforts, such as food distribution centers, early voting, and working with Community Corrections on individuals exiting its system.

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