The word innovation was chosen by Merriam-Webster as one of the top 10 words of 2014. This was a good year for actual innovation in Minnesota local governments as well.
Last week, the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota held the annual Minnesota Local Government Innovation Awards Program, sponsored by the Bush Foundation. Twenty Minnesota cities, counties, schools, and townships were recognized for innovative changes to the management of their services.
For the past eight years, the Humphrey School has administered the Minnesota local government innovation awards for cities, counties and schools. This year townships were added for the first time. The whole program is an attempt to recognize and commend local government officials for taking new approaches to the problems of local government.
Here are the top award winners by jurisdiction (summarized from the brochure):
Cities – Right Track Youth Career Development, City of St. Paul [Video]. This program helps diverse City of St. Paul youth secure good jobs through early work experiences and skills development. The three stages of the program include: 1) providing city-subsidized jobs in the parks, libraries, and nonprofit organizations; 2) matching the youth with employer paid internships and skills training; and, 3) offering advanced opportunities in such sectors as technology and emergency medical services.
Counties – New Septic Regulation Implementation, Cook County [Video]. Recognizing that the cost of septic systems was a barrier to affordable housing development, Cook County worked with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to pass a new ordinance that resulted in creative low-tech, ecological, affordable options for the treatment of graywater and septic waste for individual homeowners. A traditional septic system cost up to $25,000. The new design can be built for between $250 and $7,000.
Schools – Every Hand Joined, Red Wing Public Schools [Video]. This program is a cradle-to-career initiative developed to ensure that students graduate from high school and have the skills necessary to succeed in the 21st century. Red Wing schools, businesses, non-profits, and philanthropic organizations focus on five goals: 1) every child is prepared for school; 2) every child is supported inside and outside of school; 3) every child succeeds academically; 4) every child enters some form of post-secondary education; and, 5) every student completes his/her post-secondary education and begins a career.
Townships – Kings Park Sewer Project, Oronoco Township [Video]. This township worked with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Minnesota Public Facilities Authority, and the SE Minnesota Wastewater Initiative to complete a sewage treatment system for an unincorporated subdivision with 14 homes located on Lake Zumbro. The project protects the lake water by treating 4,990 gallons of sewage per day. Some of the homes had no ability to build separate septic systems.
Other noteworthy winners of awards this year include:
- Police Use of On-Officer Cameras in Burnsville since 2011
- Cottageville Park Expansion in Hopkins
- Recidivism Management System for better Outcomes in Ramsey County
- Talhi Education Neglect Support Program in Sherburne County
- Flexible Learning Days in the Farmington Schools
- Farm to School for School Lunches in the Brainerd Schools
- Reducing Energy Costs for Rural Neighborhoods in Bridgewater Township
We are fortunate in Minnesota that we have dedicated local public employees who are trying to find better ways to serve Minnesotans. With Democratic, Republican, and nonpartisan administrations, local public employees have been searching for innovations that either save costs or improve services so that our tax dollars can be used for critical services.
The next time you interact with a local public employee, tell him or her, “Thanks for your innovations, and keep up the good work.”
Jay Kiedrowski is a Senior Fellow at the Public and Nonprofit Leadership Center at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.
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