2023 Salute to Local Government Award Winners

By Jeffrey Schmidt

The 31st Annual Salute celebrated the benefits that public sector ingenuity and excellence bring to taxpayers and communities throughout Wisconsin. Award categories recognized local governments and school districts for innovative problem-solving, advancing racial equity, and public-private cooperation, as well as individuals in the public sector for excellence, leaders of the future, and lifetime achievement.

Eligibility for Salute awards generally is for accomplishments or individual performance from August 2022 until August 2023. This year the Salute featured a new award category, in partnership with UW-Madison’s La Follette School of Public Affairs, to recognize innovative performance in state government.

The 2023 recipients were:

Innovative Approach to Problem Solving
Mobile Integrated Healthcare Substance Use Disorder Program
City of West Allis

Substance use disorder (SUD) is one of the leading causes of death in West Allis, accounting for 43 resident deaths in 2022. Still, even as SUD fatalities throughout Milwaukee County have continued to increase, overdose deaths and overdose incidents are down in West Allis since the community initiated new outreach efforts through its Bureau of Mobile Integrated Healthcare. Community paramedics are tasked with providing outreach to those suffering from addiction, connecting them to medication-assisted treatment and recovery services. Paramedics meet with the patient and their loved ones within 24 hours of the overdose incident, and have seen tremendous success in getting these individuals enrolled in recovery services.

La Follette/Gladfelter Award for Innovation in State Government
Child Care Stabilization and Sustainment Initiative
Wisconsin Department of Children and Families

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated a longstanding crisis in Wisconsin’s child care sector. The state Department of Children and Families (DCF) responded with an initiative to stabilize and grow the early care and education system. One grant program (Partner Up!) supported partnerships by offering funds to businesses to purchase slots at existing regulated child care providers. Another (Dream Up!) focused on building child care supply through a collaborative community approach, providing funds to 37 communities to help create new child care businesses and enhance existing ones. Meanwhile, the Child Care Counts program was created to stabilize and sustain the industry, providing monthly payments to regulated providers to support staff through wage increases and parents through tuition relief and stabilization. DCF provided solutions that are replicable, including resources for communities and businesses to develop local solutions for their community.

Effort to Advance Racial Equity
Appleton Engaged Podcast
City of Appleton

Appleton Engaged, a city of Appleton podcast, explores the many people, organizations, and resources that make that community a great place to live, work, and play. By actively focusing on themes related to diversity, inclusion, and experiences of marginalized communities, the podcast has played role in raising awareness and nurturing dialogues about racial equity within the Appleton community. The Appleton Engaged podcast offers valuable insights for other governments seeking to address racial equity challenges. Its cost-effective and community-engaged approach can be adapted to foster open dialogues, empower communities, and spotlight positive initiatives, even with limited resources.

Intergovernmental cooperation
Southern Ozaukee Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department (SOFD)
City of Mequon and Village of Thiensville

The independent fire departments serving Mequon and Thiensville traditionally have relied predominantly on volunteer/paid-on-call staff. But as in other Wisconsin communities, this model came under strain as the number of volunteers/paid-on-call professionals declined. Thiensville and Mequon responded by merging their fire departments, commencing joint operations in 2022 and becoming the Southern Ozaukee Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department (SOFD) on Jan. 1, 2023. The department is using a hybrid staffing model — while including much of the old framework, it’s strengthened by new full-time staff. The result: Improving shift coverage and faster response times, even amid increasing call volume and many operational changes. As it completes future merger phases, SOFD aims to set an example on what can be accomplished via cooperation with nearby municipalities.

David G. Meissner Award for Public-Private Cooperation
Move Forward MKE
City of Milwaukee, Milwaukee County, Greater Milwaukee Committee, Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce

The City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County are challenged by pension obligations that – when combined with unsustainable revenue structures – drove them to the edge of a fiscal cliff. Leaders from the city, county, and the region’s foremost business and civic organizations formed a public-private partnership, the Move Forward MKE Coalition, to seek a solution. For years, team members from the four principal organizations met every week, analyzing the problem and determining a local sales tax would be the best cure. Ultimately, the coalition broadened its approach and advocated for statewide solutions to widespread municipal budget challenges. This was instrumental in the June approval of Wisconsin Act 12, which increased shared revenue for all municipalities and counties and allowed the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County to implement local sales tax increases to create new revenue streams and stave off financial ruin. This effort proves significant progress remains possible through collective advocacy, and accomplished something previously deemed impossible: a systemic overhaul of local government funding across Wisconsin.

Jean B. Tyler Leader of the Future Award
Alec Knutson
Milwaukee County

As Milwaukee County Government Affairs Director, Alec Knutson has effectively represented the county with other levels of government by building productive partnerships. In 2019, he was hired by then-County Executive Chris Abele and charged with developing and leading a strategy to secure a local option sales tax. Knutson led a public-private work group that ultimately worked with Gov. Tony Evers and legislative leaders to enact the most significant legislation in decades for Milwaukee County and the City of Milwaukee. Knutson also played a vital role in the legislative advocacy efforts related to the county’s COVID-19 response and helping secure state and federal funding for the county. He has demonstrated leadership and coalition-building skills — and delivered historic successes – that make him stand out among his peers.

James R. Ryan Lifetime Achievement Award
David De Angelis
Village of Elm Grove (retired)

David De Angelis has more than three decades of experience in local government administration in southeast Wisconsin, including as former full-time Mayor of the city of Muskego for nine years, and for nearly 21 years, as Village Manager of Elm Grove, a position from which he recently retired. De Angelis was an innovator for process change and professionalization, having conducted multiple organizational evaluations for Muskego and Elm Grove with attention paid to existing staffing and fiscal sustainability. As a founding member of the Waukesha County Cooperation Council, community liaison for the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewage District, and part of multiple regional studies, De Angelis also has proven himself a regional leader in intergovernmental cooperation.

Norman N. Gill Award for Individual Excellence
Charles A. Tubbs Sr.
Dane County Emergency Management

Through his capacity to relate to people while also managing administrative tasks, Charles Tubbs has demonstrated vital leadership amid several defining moments in Wisconsin’s recent history. Tubbs spent 30 years with the police department in his hometown of Beloit, eventually becoming deputy chief. He became administrator of the state’s juvenile corrections division later that year and was named Capitol police chief in 2008. It was in this role that Tubbs garnered widespread praise for his handling of the 2011 Act 10 protests at the state Capitol. By maintaining constructive dialogue with protesters, elected officials, media, all citizens, and emergency responders, Tubbs and Capitol police achieved the distinction of navigating the weeks-long protests without any serious incidents of violence. Since joining Dane County Emergency Management in 2012, Tubbs has helped lead the county’s response to more history-defining events including the COVID-19 pandemic, and protests in response to the murder of George Floyd in 2020.