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Gov. Spencer J. Cox presents Award for Excellence to state employees

SALT LAKE CITY (Oct. 4, 2022)  – Twenty-three state employees were recipients of the Governor’s Award for Excellence. Gov. Spencer J. Cox presented the awards during a ceremony this afternoon at the Kearns Mansion. The awards are an annual event designed to recognize the contributions of state employees in the categories of innovation and efficiency, energy and environment, heroism, leadership, and outstanding public service. The award recipients were selected as examples of distinguished service and dedication to the citizens of Utah.

“It is an honor to spend the afternoon with these amazing people,” Gov. Cox said. “We are surrounded by fantastic employees who work everyday to make the state a better place to live, and I could not be more proud of their amazing efforts.”

The Governor’s Award for Excellence was created in 2007 as a way to recognize the outstanding work of state employees and honor their achievements. 

Read more about the 2022 Governor’s Award for Excellence recipients below: 

Elizabeth Blaylock, Department of Commerce: Outstanding Public Service 

Elizabeth Blaylock works as the Senior Enforcement Investigator for the Division of Securities and is a critical member of the Securities team. She was instrumental in ending one of the largest Ponzi schemes in Utah’s history. The perpetrator, Gaylen Rust, had over five hundred victims and took in hundreds of millions of dollars. Rust told investors that 100% of their funds would be used to buy silver bullion, which would be stored at a security company. In reality, Rust had little to no silver stored and put nearly all investor funds into other businesses, personal uses, and making payments to previous investors. Elizabeth created a task force of state and federal agents who were able to investigate and prosecute the fraud. As a result, Rust was sentenced to 19 years in prison and ordered to return millions of dollars. She was nominated by the U.S. Department of Justice for the United States Attorney General’s award for distinguished service for her work on this case. Elizabeth Blaylock truly represents and serves the Division of Securities, the Department of Commerce, and the state of Utah.

Stephanie Burnham, Department of Government Operations: Leadership

Stephanie Burnham has been with the Division of Finance for over 25 years and has played a key role in several system implementations and upgrades during that time. The past year, however, has been an extremely challenging year for financial systems. Stephanie has been critical to the successful implementation of project RISE, which is a significant upgrade of the state’s core financial system; the Chart of Accounts project, which took months of planning and effort; and the transition of the Payment Tracking System into FINET. These projects were happening concurrently and impacted multiple state agencies, and Stephanie’s efforts were instrumental in ensuring a smooth transition. Stephanie continuously demonstrates a dedication to the success of these projects that is unmatched. In addition to taking on a challenging workload to ensure the success of these major projects, she has also spent a considerable amount of time training new staff and ensuring the existing system changes are tested and running well. Stephanie also provides unparalleled customer service and looks for opportunities to improve systems and processes. She demonstrates exemplary leadership skills in her daily work. She is an asset to the Division of Finance and the Department of Government Operations.

Heidi Clausen, Department of Insurance: Leadership

Heidi Clausen exemplifies and surpasses what it means to be a great leader and is admired for her work ethic, knowledge, and thoroughness. Heidi continually takes on additional tasks to keep the division running smoothly and works to protect Utah consumers and assure a fair playing field for Utah’s life and health insurers. She willingly shares her knowledge, providing excellent training to her team to assure they have the skills necessary to excel in their responsibilities. Her input is well respected and vital in many decision points. Due to staffing issues this past year, Heidi’s willingly expanded her responsibilities to assure the Division fulfilled its essential duties. She also developed an extensive new document management process that not only assisted her area, but also the entire Health & Life Division to ensure critical documentation is preserved and easily accessed for the team to better serve the Department’s customers. Heidi Clausen is truly a remarkable leader who continually goes the extra mile!

Ryan Cowley, Lt. Governor’s Office: Outstanding Public Service   

As a newly-appointed director of elections, Ryan stepped into his role amidst unprecedented challenges. In addition to leading our team to ensure that Utah’s elections are effectively run, he has also engaged in tireless outreach to help bolster public confidence in the accuracy, legitimacy, and security of our elections. Ryan is a true public servant who every day demonstrates his leadership, commitment to the state, and ability to handle difficult situations. For these reasons, and many others, we are thrilled to honor him for his Outstanding Public Service.

Dr. Nancy Daher, Department of Environmental Quality: Energy & Environment

Dr. Nancy Daher leads a team of four air quality modelers at the Utah Department of Environmental Quality. Under Nancy’s direction, DEQ scientists have been working to better understand modeling efforts including the adoption of many process improvements resulting in performance that is best-in-class. The relationships Nancy has built with federal and academic research scientists are helping DEQ address ozone pollution along the Wasatch Front. Nancy’s vision of inter-institution collaboration has been imparted to her team who often seek feedback and solutions from experts within and outside the agency. She has demonstrated a clear ability to inspire and motivate her peers to be creative, engaged, and pursue innovative solutions together. Nancy has cultivated a wonderful collaborative work culture around her that has greatly benefited DEQ and the State of Utah.

Burke DeGroff, Utah Department of Transportation: Heroism

On Sunday, July 25th, 2021, UDOT employee Burke DeGroff and his wife were traveling on I-15 through Millard County when an intense dust storm enveloped the interstate. With visibility diminishing, they pulled to the side of the road and Burke stepped out of his vehicle to assess the situation. He was able to see a car, with people still inside, wedged under a semi-truck. He could also see flames spreading around the car. Realizing the immediate danger of fire, he ventured through the dust to retrieve a fire extinguisher from the truck and used it to douse the flames. He then turned his attention to the crash victims, particularly a little boy who remained trapped in the back seat of the car. Enlisting the help of others, Burke attempted to remove the boy, but he was wedged in too tightly. He stayed with the frantic boy and tried to calm him, assuring him that emergency responders were on the way and would be able to get him out. Among 22 vehicles, eight individuals lost their lives, but the little boy lives. Burke knows the dangers of working daily in a high-speed environment, but on his day off he willingly risked himself to save others. Burke Degroff is a hero.

Melissa Stevens Dimond, Department of Health and Human Services: Outstanding Public Service

Melissa Stevens Dimond is an outstanding public servant. She played a critical role in Utah’s COVID response for the past two and a half years. Most notably, since June, 2021, Melissa has served as either Commander or Deputy Commander of the Utah Department of Health’s COVID Incident Command. She oversaw strategy for all aspects of the COVID response, including epidemiological response and data analysis, contact tracing, testing, vaccine distribution, medical surge, and supply acquisition and distribution. Her expertise came to fruition and shined during the COVID response. Melissa is an exceptional leader, and helped all stay focused, organized, and engaged during a very intense marathon of work. Melissa fosters strong communication and collaboration among all team members. Melissa cares deeply for those she leads and works with. She is an exceptional public health leader at the Utah Department of Health and Human Services and approaches everything she does with the highest level of excellence. The State of Utah is well-served by Melissa’s commitment to making a difference.

Robert Erickson, Department of Agriculture and Food: Outstanding Public Service

Dr. Robert Erickson is a veteran in the Department of Agriculture and Food, but continually performs as though it is his first week on the job where he is trying to make a good impression. When an employee needed to be dismissed a couple of years ago for performance reasons, Dr Erickson took on their workload, essentially doubling his own responsibilities. He never complained and all those tasks were completed on time. Dr Erickson is the most positive influence on an organization. If you ever ask him how he is doing you will always hear, “Really Good”, and he means it. It makes the day better each time. It’s easiest to point to the great work he performed during the avian influenza outbreak this spring; but that’s how Bob treats every day. He brings that level of commitment to things like county livestock check-in’s, animal sampling, and covering auctions. He is an unbelievably hard worker and his commitment to being the best public servant is evident in each and every day he works.

Anthony Jaimes, Event Set-Up Manager, Capitol Preservation Board: Leadership

Anthony joined the Capitol Preservation Board team during the challenges of reopening the Capitol following the COVID closures. From the first day he accepted the position for the Event Set-Up Manager, Anthony has given more than is required in every aspect of his job description. Within the first three months on the job, he organized a Saturday event with 20+ volunteers from the Air Force to catalog, sort, stack and store a surplus of legacy furniture received from agencies reorganizing their spaces during the pandemic. His efforts and attention to detail were truly praiseworthy. Anthony leads by example, from his smile and positive attitude, to his strength in communication skills and the ability to make every event, agency, colleague and visitor feel like their need is at the top of his priority list. Anthony works efficiently, clearly communicating what is needed from other team members by being out in front, demonstrating as he teaches. In addition to his work at the Capitol, Anthony is also nearing completion of his Masters Degree.

Michael Jones, Financial Institutions: Outstanding Public Service

Michael Jones is the Finance Director for the Department of Financial Institutions. He began his career with the department in Oct. of 1987 and quickly rose through the examiner ranks becoming a proficient Examiner in Charge. He was instrumental in convincing the FDIC and the Federal Reserve Bank that Utah examiners could lead examinations and write independent and joint examinations that would meet their standards. In 1999, he was promoted to Chief Examiner, the department’s senior staff position where he served for fifteen years until 2014, when his current position was created. For over two decades Michael has been the department’s liaison with other state agencies. Michael has an exceptional corporate memory, a thorough knowledge of financial institutions regulations, and he manages the state accounting and financial processes efficiently and effectively.

Brian Kenney, Department of Corrections/Prison Operations: Leadership

Brian Kenney was instrumental in planning, coordinating, and leading the relocation of the Utah State Prison to the new Utah State Correctional Facility. For the last year, Brian has coordinated with multiple stakeholders within the Department of Corrections and many of our external stakeholders. Brian not only coordinated the move of the state fixtures, furniture, and equipment, he also directly coordinated the inmate movement and served as our incident commander throughout the relocation operation. Under Brian’s leadership, approximately 2,500 inmates were moved within five days, virtually incident free. Brian’s ability to work with others, communicate priorities, and follow through made the prison relocation a success and ensured public safety. The relocation took over 500 staff members working together from within the Department of Corrections and from more than 10 state and county agencies. Brian’s leadership, innovation, and experience led the way and ensured success.

Raechel Lizon, Board of Pardons and Parole: Outstanding Public Service

Over the past several years, and continuing today, Raechel Lizon has served as the primary resource and liaison in the Board’s historic and monumental electronic records development system. This is the largest single project in the board’s history, and it is essential for the Board’s future success. Upon completion, paper files will no longer be necessary, and the most critical board operational processes will be accomplished in the new system. Every week, Raechel provides the board with key data that facilitates improved and more precise understanding of positive and negative patterns and trends. The true impact extends beyond the board. With data from the system, combined with Raechel’s research skills, information about the board and its operations is now being shared with policy makers, justice system stakeholders, and the citizens of Utah through a publicly available, online dashboard. Raechel is a tremendous asset to the Board and to our state.

Janet Long, Department of Alcoholic Beverage Services: Innovation & Efficiency

Janet Long excels at her normal job duties and responsibilities and always goes above and beyond to be mission oriented. Last year the department identified a massive, legacy problem with hard seltzers. It was determined that the most popular and innovative alcoholic beverage category in America was technically not compliant with Utah law and the department had been inappropriately approving these products for 3+ years. This discovery kicked off a year-long project in coordination with the Executive and Legislative branches, stakeholders, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers to maintain market stability while reaching a solution. At the time, all the applications were 100% paper based. Janet literally took thousands of pieces of paper and turned them into easily managed and stored digital files that make decision making for us and our customers seamless and easy. Her work ethic and contributions to this project have a lasting impact on our agency and those we serve.

Matthew Morris, Department of Workforce Services: Outstanding Public Service

Matthew Morris has served as an Employment Counselor for the past eight years. Throughout his tenure, Matthew has provided outstanding public service as he has assisted some of the most vulnerable Utahns including refugees, individuals experiencing homelessness, low income families, veterans, and individuals with disabilities. In March 2020, as COVID shut down began, Matthew and his coworkers set up a temporary outdoor workspace so they could continue to serve as many vulnerable families as possible. His knowledge of resources and his calming nature greatly benefitted many citizens during this unprecedented period of uncertainty and anxiety. Matthew’s dedicated service continued as he provided guidance and feedback on resume writing, interviewing, and networking. He continues to help citizens stabilize, access resources, reconnect to the workforce, and even upgrade their education and employment standing. He exemplifies the unsung heroic nature of the DWS Workforce Development Division staff.

Jennifer Napier-Pearce, Governor’s Office: Outstanding Public Service 
Jennifer Napier-Pearce has dedicated her life to service. Jennifer has worked as an award-winning journalist, public speaker, innovator, and national leader in journalism before joining the Cox administration. As Senior Advisor and Director of Communications, she has reimagined the communications strategy and the ways in which the Governor’s Office interacts with agencies to share their victories. More generally, she is an incredibly important part of our team. Jennifer’s ability to lead, mentor, and be a voice of reason is instrumental to our success as an administration. We are lucky to have Jennifer as a leader on our team. 

CPT Vincent E. Pierce, Utah Army National Guard: Outstanding Public Service

Captain Vincent Pierce of the 85th WMD Civil Support Team (CST), Utah Army National Guard, has distinguished himself with over 15 years of public service as one of the State of Utah’s foremost subject matter experts in the field of chemical, biological and radiological terrorism. Agencies across the state have benefited from his tireless outreach and training programs which, without a doubt, have elevated the State of Utah’s preparedness and readiness for an act of terrorism. He consistently exceeds expectations in training the members of the CST and training with our partner agencies, including the FBI, DEA, Department of Homeland Security, local fire departments, police departments, HAZMAT, and Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams across the state. Captain Pierce is the epitome of Outstanding Public Service. He is tireless in his pursuit of serving the State of Utah. 

Kathy Quarnberg, Department of Public Safety: Leadership

Kathy Quarnberg started with the Department of Public Safety on July 9, 1983, as a Dispatcher and was promoted to Manager of Richfield Communications Center in 1988. She was responsible for all emergency communications in central Utah for 29 years before being promoted to Assistant Director of the Communications Bureau. As Richfield Communications Manager, Kathy was on the ground level of developing what is now the statewide 911 Emergency Communications system. As a member of the state 911 committee she helped develop strategy, policy, interoperability, and funding distribution for the statewide 911 network; and was later deeply involved in legislation and planning to deploy the current NG911 network. For 39 years Kathy has been the constant leader within DPS and the public safety community. Emergency 911 communications impact every aspect of Public Safety. Across the state, few are as trusted and respected as Kathy Quarnberg. She is a friend to everyone and tenacious in her dedication to people and the mission she serves.

Scott Smith, Utah State Tax Commission: Leadership

Scott Smith has exemplified outstanding leadership while serving the Tax Commission. For the last year and a half, Scott has worked tirelessly to identify weaknesses in our approach to providing top notch services to customers, whether their interests lie within Utah or outside of the state. Scott has invited input from all aspects of the organization, challenging us to rethink every service we provide to ensure its efficiency and effectiveness. In order to improve our processes, an agency reorganization was required and is currently in process. During this transition, Scott has displayed exemplary leadership in guiding and listening to concerns and complaints. While discovering processes that needed improving, he was fueled by the mantra that we must provide the type of service that people expect from the private sector and that we cannot rest on the comfort of a captive customer base. Scott has set an incredible example of how to serve both external customers and his employees by leading and providing continuous guidance during this massive readjustment of state resources to better serve all.

Chuck Spence, Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity: Leadership

Chuck Spence currently serves as the director of the state’s Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC). PTAC’s mission is to help Utah businesses successfully compete in the government marketplace by providing knowledgeable and outstanding customer service. He has been involved in statewide economic development efforts for more than 30 years. Chuck’s team is positioned across the state and supports rural Utah companies in ways that no other Go Utah initiative does. He has demonstrated leadership in economic development and running a smooth operation, collaborating with federal and other partners, and ultimately supporting Utah small businesses through securing lucrative federal contracts. Chuck is an asset to our team and an example to us all.

Nate Talley, Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget: Leadership  

Nate Talley is the definition of a dedicated employee and we in the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget (GOPB) are incredibly fortunate to have him on our team. Nate’s work over the past year has been unparalleled. Some of this work includes overseeing the work of an executive branch pay equity study, extensive economic forecasting and modeling, being a leader in helping to build one of the largest budgets the state has ever seen, thoughtful policy analyses, and many more behind the scenes everyday projects. Nate’s positive and can-do attitude is reflected in his work and positively influences his peers. He is always willing to help and more importantly, he provides the tools for employees to critically think through issues and scenarios so that they are well positioned to tackle any task that is presented. He makes monumental tasks look effortless and doesn’t sweat the small stuff. He consistently delivers on our office’s goal to drive the best investment and use of Utah’s resources. These are the reasons why he has been nicknamed, ‘Nate the Great.’ We are so grateful for ‘Nate the Great’ and the example he sets. 

Marty Windham Labor Commission: Outstanding Public Service

Marty Windham does an excellent job and is an integral part of the Utah Occupational Safety and Health (UOSH) Division. Marty exemplifies the concept of servant leadership and continuously helps multiple departments regardless of what else he may be working on. He also has an ability to communicate effectively with all of his coworkers, from the director level to staff members. Marty is directly responsible for duties including purchase orders, new hire processing, IT support, and, most importantly, preparing federal grant applications for UOSH. He is the type of person that you can trust to figure things out and find a way to get them done, and has never dropped the ball on anything he’s been asked to do, which is why he is often referred to as the backbone of the division. Marty is a great asset to our team and we would be hard pressed to find anyone as efficient and effective at what he does.

Ian Wright, Department of Cultural and Community Engagement: Energy & Environment

Since March of 2021, Ian Wright has successfully built a statewide volunteer program through the Utah Cultural Site Stewardship Program. This innovative program connects interested members of the public with sensitive archaeological and historical sites on public (state and federal), municipal, and even private lands. In one year, the program has already created relationships with every land manager, has over 275 active stewards, and their donated hours and mileage in the first year has already surpassed the state’s investment in this one FTE. The State of Utah is now seen as the leader and touch point to the stewardship of cultural resources regardless of land jurisdiction, and the success owes itself to the tireless work and amiable personality of Ian Wright.

Jennifer Yim, Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice: Innovation & Efficiency

For over ten years, the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (JPEC) has conducted evaluations of Utah judges. Since 2016, Jennifer Yim has transformed JPEC by Improving relationships with the judiciary, motivating performance improvement, minimizing the potential impact of implicit bias, ensuring fair evaluations, establishing video evaluation of judges with the smallest caseloads who often serve rural Utah, doubling the number of voters at each election who use JPEC’s information, and strengthening operations, including the addition of Salesforce. Jennifer’s consistent focus on innovation has provided commissioners with confidential, electronic data access. Further, she led a transformation of that access into an improved website for voters. The success of this project is certainly due to Dr. Yim’s expertise and the staff that she cultivates in her office. Jennifer’s work shows the value of an ambitious vision coupled with a measured investment in technology: it generates better data, improves efficiency, and facilitates the work of volunteer commissioners who make JPEC’s important contributions to judicial quality and accountability.

Photos from the event can be seen here.