The transformation of the Hillsborough County elections office appeared complete last week as the agency became the first of its kind in Florida to receive the Governor's Sterling Award. This recognition for excellence didn't happen automatically or come overnight, and it speaks to the contribution that committed public servants can make to their communities, good government and democracy itself.
Under a former supervisor, Buddy Johnson, the elections office was in the news several years ago for all the wrong reasons. He was an erratic and incompetent administrator who turned the operation into a jumbled mess — politicizing the office, losing ballots, wasting tax money, and driving staff morale and public confidence into the ground.
Phyllis Busansky defeated Johnson in 2008, and she put several major reforms in place before her untimely death only months later. Her successor, Earl Lennard, continued that work with ethical standards and an attention to detail that raised the professionalism of the office. And his successor, Craig Latimer, took over in 2013 and built on that foundation, putting the Johnson legacy farther in the rear-view mirror with a newfound focus on voter service.
The award Latimer's office received last week reflects the large role he played as chief of staff to Busansky and Lennard as both sought to redirect the agency. In the past six years, Latimer has improved staff training, made it more convenient to vote and opened up the political process with new tools for informing the voters.
The office joins Hillsborough's tax collector (2008) and Pinellas' tax collector (2013) among the select group of public and private entities that have earned a Sterling since the award was first given in 1993.
Few government agencies demand the public's trust as much as the elections office. With this recognition, Latimer has shown what can be achieved over a relatively short time when elected officials put the public's interest ahead of self-serving political agendas. For an agency with only 42 full-time employees, this award also reflects the value of leaders who show up to work and inspire teamwork by setting a professional and ethical tone that's a point of pride for the entire office. Job well done.