In Another’s Shoes

I’ve said many times that the Employee Incentive & Recognition evening is one of my favorite events of the year. Who and what you celebrate as an organization says a lot about your culture and values. This year’s event delivered the goods!

On Wednesday night, I had the honor of co-hosting this year’s celebration with Maura Maye from Human Resources and Council Chair Ryan Mello.

I see the innovation, professional expertise, and compassion our colleagues demonstrate year-round. But this evening features our annual Standing Ovation Awards. These awards tell the stories that rose above the rest from the last year. It’s a tribute to our entire organization that more than 145 employees were nominated for awards this year. I know the judges had their work cut out for them in selecting from such a deep list.

A theme stood out to me as I reflected on our winners. In nearly every case, they put themselves in the shoes of those we serve – and changed how we do our work to better support them.

Vibrant Communities Award

This award recognizes employees who have made changes that led to safer communities, better behavioral health, a healthier environment, and improved access to housing in Pierce County.

The team award goes to the South Sound Mobile Pump Out Program. Protecting our waterways is critically important – for salmon, Orcas, shellfish, and people who recreate on the water and along the shore. This innovative collaboration focused on making it as easy as possible for boaters to properly pump out the waste from their marine toilets. And in many cases, that means going to where boaters are – especially if they don’t have access to a shore-based pump out.

Christina Rohila, Emile Ancelet, Jeff Barney, and Rebecca Lee, congratulations on your well-deserved award! Thank you for keeping over 24,000 gallons of waste out of Puget Sound!

The Individual award for Vibrant Communities was given to Trish Crocker, for Ukrainian Arrival Stabilization.

Imagine if you were forced to flee your country, leaving nearly everything you knew behind – your home, your job, your family and friends, almost all your possessions. And then you were relocated into an entirely new country – where the language, the culture, and even the food are foreign to you. Now, put that all against the backdrop of a brutal invasion of your homeland and a war that has lasted nearly two years.

Trish spearheaded Pierce County’s response to the arrival of thousands of Ukrainian citizens fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine. She obtained essential grant funding and coordinated a host of groups to support our newest neighbors – including giving our County colleagues a chance to both donate and help out directly in this humanitarian crisis.

Let’s take a look at Trish’s video:

And Trish isn’t done yet! Yesterday, she told me we just received another $800,000 grant to support our Ukrainian refugees and those arriving from the Middle Eastern war. Thank you, Trish!

Entrepreneurial Climate Award

The Entrepreneurial Climate category recognizes employees who have made changes that led to a lower cost of doing business, improved mobility and infrastructure, increased workforce readiness, and attracted, grown, and retained more business in Pierce County.

The Team Award for Entrepreneurial Climate goes to the Food Truck Inspection Program Team.

I love food trucks – the ability to get all kinds of food at events and community celebrations. They travel around the County and, in many cases, around the region. Now think about applying a food and safety permitting system that is primarily focused on restaurants that stay in one place, to these mobile vendors. What if you had to get permits reflecting the different rules of every county and city you visited? Obviously, we need to keep our community and the vendors safe from fire hazards. Enter Ken Rice and the team!

Congratulations to Ken Rice, Russ Armstrong, and Shelby Pressel! And thank you for a streamlined process that keeps our community safe and enables entrepreneurs to deliver amazing food curbside.

Effective Government Award

The Effective Government Award category recognizes employees who have made changes that led to stronger regional leadership, greater accountability for results, continuous improvement of customer service, developed, led, and engaged talented employees.

Put yourself in the shoes of many of our retired seniors. You are on a fixed income, seeing your costs go up – including your property tax. You have heard about a property tax exemption program, but you live on the Key Peninsula and have limited ability to get into the County Annex in Tacoma. And you are not comfortable with rapidly changing technology and fear someone stealing your identity, so you do little online. How do you learn more about and potentially apply for the senior exemption?

Our Effective Government team award highlights the solution provided by the Property Tax Exemption Seminars for Seniors Team (They need a cooler name!).

Aging and Disability Resources frequently receive questions from seniors about property tax exemptions, so does Jason Gauthier, our South Sound Housing Affordability Manager. Jason works with local jurisdictions who receive similar questions from seniors in their communities. Jason connected with the Assessor/Treasurer’s office to coordinate a series of in-person events for seniors delivered throughout the County. And our Human Services team was also involved with the many other programs we have to support our seniors.

And yesterday, Assessor-Treasurer Mike Lonergan told me that we already have two more planned for this coming year!

Congratulations to Jason Gauthier, Laccie Hill, Marvey Erickson, Savanna Young, Denise Marsyla, Sandra Moore, Mary Connelly, Matt Santelli, Carol Mensah, Larry Turk, Lindsay Hotchkiss, Robert Sheetz, Donn Falconer, Kari Moore, and Mike Lonergan.

The individual award for Effective Government doesn’t quite fit the “in another’s shoes” theme, but it is an absolutely unbelievable story, and I am so thankful to Quentin Brown with Budget and Finance!

Pierce County buys quite a few new vehicles each year and normally does so using Washington State’s online purchasing system. Quentin routinely checks the status of vehicle orders. On the morning of March 22, 2023, he saw that 7 vehicles had been purchased in Pierce County’s name that we didn’t order! The video below gives you more of the fascinating details.

Quentin, thank you for your diligence and tenacity. Your swift action resulted in the recovery of the vehicles and the arrest of a person pretending to be Pierce County!

We also recognized many of our long-term employees. I deeply appreciate their service and dedication. They have made a career of serving the people of Pierce County!

40-year employees

We had two 40-year honorees this year, Dennis Bilderback with the Parks and Recreation and Larry Butner with Planning and Public Works. So much of their work has dramatically changed over the four decades! Take a look at what they had to say about it.

35-year employees

Next, we heard from several of our 35-year honorees. You’ll love this compilation video!

Congratulations and thank you to Bill Brewster, Connie Kline, Cynthia Fajardo, Denise Johnson, George Wasson, Grady Tunnell, Kelly Sather-Hutchings, Michael Kawamura, Nick Palermo, Paul Evans, Roger Jernegan, Roger Ward, Scott Mielcarek, Shannon Sullins, Toni Peters, and Tony De Paul. Our residents have benefited from your commitment and service to the County!

Our 30, 25, 20, and 15-year employees also received a shout-out, as well as a musical tribute from the year they were hired!

Before we ended the evening, we recognized those who have most recently become Gold certified leaders. Our leader certification program is very important to me, and I applaud everyone who is making their way through the bronze, silver, and gold levels.

Gold Leaders

Congratulations to our newest Gold leaders: Bryce Smithlin, Donn Falconer, Georgia Cookson, Joshua Strom, Kimberly Stanfield, Kyle Wintermute, Maura Maye, and Rachel Foy.

As many may know, departments from throughout the County put together “themed” baskets to both raffle off and compete for the coveted best basket of the year! The Clerk of the Superior Court’s Office took home the trophy!

Thanks to your generosity, a donation from the raffle was made to Step by Step, a Puyallup nonprofit with a relationship-based program addressing the unique challenges of at-risk mothers and their families.

Their onsite services include mental health counseling, life skills, parenting classes, and other educational opportunities.

The founder and CEO of Step by Step, Krista Linden, shared with us her inspiring vision for caring and supporting children and families.

An evening like this doesn’t just happen. It takes weeks of planning and orchestrating. My thanks to our chief ringleader, Maura Maye, and her committee of volunteers: Delane Hand, Assessor/Treasurer; Donna Vitale, Emergency Management; Gus Garcia, Facilities Management; Kandace Thomas, Human Resources; Kyle Schmidtke, Communications; Kylea O’Rourke, Human Services; Samantha Piccoli, Department of Assigned Counsel; Sara Garner, Economic Development; and Trisha James, Information Technology.

If you’d like to grab a snack and enjoy a replay of the entire evening, it’s available at

Thanks for reading and Go Huskies – Beat the Trojans!