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Gov. Spencer Cox presents Governor’s Award for Excellence to state employees

SALT LAKE CITY (Oct. 12, 2023) – Gov. Spencer Cox presented 26 state employees with the Governor’s Award for Excellence at an awards ceremony held at the Governor’s Mansion today. 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. 

“We’re fortunate to have truly dedicated public servants who love this state and the people we serve,” said Gov. Cox. “These state employees represent the best of the best and contribute to Utah’s success. I could not be more proud or grateful for their 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. 

Learn more about the 2023 Governor’s Award for Excellence recipients here: 

Stephanie Angelides, Capitol Preservation Board

The day-to-day task as a curator for the Capitol is not an easy position. Stephanie makes sure statues are cleaned properly, monuments are being cared for and conserved, and that the rotating exhibits are engaging. The variety of cultural aspects on display in the Capitol are a direct result of her time and talent. When submissions are being accepted for short term exhibits, Stephanie works alongside the applicant making sure content relates to Utah. There are countless hours of editing to make the exhibit successful, and while all of it is done with care for how her suggestions will be received, she does her work with heart. Stephanie cares how a person feels as they approach an exhibit. She’s mindful of cultural sensitivities and embraces showcasing how art connects people. Whether it’s through thoughtful writing, or an array of visual arts, her number one goal is to ensure those who come into the Capitol, who stroll the grounds, or who research online, appreciate Utah and appreciate the cultures found here. 

Brody Bailey, Lt. Governor’s Office

Brody consistently displays the characteristics of a leader through his professionalism, reliability, and respect for others, and uses these attributes to positively contribute to his team and the office. Brody has been with the Office of the Lieutenant Governor since December of 2022. From the first day, Brody has gone the extra mile with his duties. To highlight a few, he was a valuable asset in tracking legislation during this past General Session. He went above and beyond with incorporations by dedicating time to fully understanding the process, revamping the website, and developing informational material for public use. Brody consistently exemplifies the qualities of a leader. He is inquisitive and proactive, which has been valuable in identifying areas of improvement within our office and in facilitating those changes. His professionalism and ambition are contagious. His positive attitude and respect for others not only cultivates a culture of inclusion within the office, but also promotes team collaboration. 

Eileen Barron, Utah Department of Transportation

Eileen Barron has taken a leading role in a variety of unique tasks, all of which have helped shape a strengths-based culture at UDOT. She creates strategies and implementation plans; and she empowers others to take action, turning over ownership to ensure cultural changes take root in UDOT’s culture for the long-term. Some of her most significant efforts include: Development of a new format and curriculum for UDOT’s Leadership Training program; Creation of a program for teaching individual employees and teams about their strengths and how to use them for better teamwork and well-being; Creation of resources for leaders to integrate best practices for improving employee engagement and well-being. Eileen has also worked with external partners to understand how UDOT can support quality of life for all communities. Eileen’s thoughtful, collaborative approach is supporting UDOT’s goal of creating a culture that embodies the Values of Respect, Integrity, and Caring.

Abdul Baryalai, Utah Department of Workforce Services

As a result of the emergency evacuation of Afghans, Utah’s refugee resettlement system needed to quickly adapt and improvise to meet the immediate needs of the incoming Afghan population. In Utah, few individuals, if anyone, had a larger impact on the success of this group than Abdul. Abdul quickly took to identifying and responding to the needs of these individuals and families. Much of his immediate work revolved around coordinating with the resettlement agencies, non-profit partners, Afghan community leaders, and volunteers to ensure services were delivered and outstanding issues resolved. Abdul’s work primarily focused on connecting individuals to housing resources, legal support and leading out on coordination with critical situations. Of the nearly 1,500 Afghans who recently arrived in Utah, Abdul has, in some way, worked with nearly all of them. Abdul has been invaluable to the Refugee Services Office, the Department of Workforce Services, and all Afghans resettled to Utah.

Jennifer Blau, Utah Department of Corrections

As part of Jen’s regular duties she supervises a team of 10 civilian pre-sentence investigation writers. These positions work directly with criminal defendants to conduct fact-finding background interviews and investigations, recording those facts in a pre-sentence report, and submitting those reports to the court for proper sentencing. Jen was instrumental in developing an in-service training program for all pre-sentence writers in the state. Her commitment to training Adult Probation and Parole staff on the processes and policies related to the intense responsibility of sentencing offenders, helps assure the safety of our Utah citizens. Jen is a standout employee with a strong desire to improve public safety and the lives of staff and those under UDC supervision. She effortlessly builds and maintains relationships with judges, clears, attorneys, jail staff and sentencing commission staff. She is a true partner to all in the criminal justice field. Jen is an exceptional example of a true Peer Leader and public servant.

Alexander Bybee, Utah Department of Commerce

Alexander’s innovative and creative thinking as the Division of Professional Licensing foreign credentialing specialist has helped position Utah as one of the most welcoming communities in the nation. In 2022, labor shortages, international refugee crises, and the increasing needs of Utah’s underserved populations resulted in intense demands for Utah qualified professionals. This led to Utah’s groundbreaking policy shift to begin considering qualified, internationally trained applicants for licensure. Alexander and his team created an automation that takes prospective applicant information, sends an auto response to the applicant, then organizes that data into a visual presentation. This automation has saved time as this work was done manually previously. Alexander’s collaboration with other agencies and businesses is helping Commerce create priority frameworks, through which Utah’s existing & potential licensure pathways for internationally trained professionals can be reviewed, and targeted for improvement in light of Utah’s needs and priorities.

Robbi S. Foxxe, Ph.D., Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget

Dr. Robbi Foxxe tackles all projects assigned to her with tenacity and excitement. As a new managing director and chief economist in GOPB, Robbi has risen to the occasion and stepped into this new role gracefully. Not only does she have an impressive work ethic, but her empathy and insightfulness make her a great leader and creates an environment where people feel welcome, heard, and supported. Robbi has done an amazing job leading the Policy & Economic Analysis team. Robbi has done an excellent job as chief economist and keeping the office (GOPB and the Governor’s Office) up to date on the economic situation of the state and the nation. She has spearheaded new initiatives like the GOPB economic alert and the debt limit situational awareness products which are immensely helpful and start meaningful conversations and actions. Robbi is a true leader as she has helped so many people in GOPB succeed in their roles. Needless to say, we are lucky to have Robbi on team Utah.

Alyssa Stringham, Utah Department of Environmental Quality

Alyssa is an Environmental Program Coordinator, Archivist and Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) Records Officer in the Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control within DEQ. In her roles, Alyssa interacts with the public regularly regarding any of the division’s 11 programs, such as those involving landfills, used oil recycling, hazardous waste, and radioactive materials. As a lead GRAMA Records Officer, she receives and responds to all GRAMA records requests for the division. In 2022 alone, she responded to 320 record requests. She has modernized the GRAMA processes and is a role model for other GRAMA Records Officers in the department. Outside of work, Alyssa volunteered for the Disabled Rights Action Committee on a records digitization project and provided grant application assistance. Alyssa exemplifies public service and her efforts make Utah an even better place. 

Jeremy Sommerlath, Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Service

Under Jeremy’s leadership and extraordinary embrace of innovation and customer service, DABS Compliance and Licensing division has been completely revolutionized. Jeremy has restructured and re-organized division roles and added “zoning” to better serve our customers, realize cost savings, and create time efficiencies. Part of this restructure saw the addition of a new employee dedicated to southern Utah to better serve the booming population (and hospitality businesses that have followed). Jeremy is the project lead on Open Gov, the new Online Compliance Infrastructure project. Through this project, DABS can now serve customers online and receive secure online payments. With this project, the Compliance and Licensing operations have gone from 95% paper to 95% digital. This is not only a win for DABS and their customers but for state government and the Governor’s Roadmap deliverables as well. 

Gordon Larsen, Governor’s Office

Gordon’s dedication and tireless efforts in spearheading the Disagree Better initiative while effectively managing a substantial federal portfolio have not gone unnoticed. Over the past year, he has carried the heavy burden of advancing this critical project, all while skillfully balancing the demands of our federal responsibilities. In the face of immense pressure and the intricacies of planning and coordination with administrations at the national level, Gordon has consistently demonstrated a remarkable ability to keep the interests of our cabinet and staff at the forefront of our delegation’s priorities. His unwavering commitment to advocating for the well-being of Utahns is truly commendable.

Gordon’s dedication, perseverance, and exemplary leadership make him a worthy recipient for the Governor’s Award for Excellence.

James Johnston, Utah Labor Commission

Jim has 30 years of exemplary public service. During Jim’s time at the Labor Commission, Utah Occupational Safety and Health Division, he has been a tireless advocate for workplace safety and health. He led a team that has conducted the OSHA 10 Hour Construction Course numerous times, reaching hundreds of employees working in this high-hazard industry. Jim has taught hundreds of high school students about their rights and responsibilities in Utah’s workplace. Jim was selected to lead some of the most complex inspections and accident investigations including those involving Process Safety Management, or PSM which is a standard that requires employers to identify, evaluate, and control highly hazardous chemicals used in their processes. He has led many employers in reaching the Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP) designation. Jim provides outstanding service in every aspect of what he does, which is always above, beyond, and exceeds expectations

Nicholas Kenczka, Utah State Tax Commission

Nick has provided all Utah citizens a tangible financial benefit by modernizing our state’s property tax systems to significantly improve fairness and accuracy in the assessment process. Through his innovative approach and dedication to excellence, Nick has successfully implemented cutting-edge heat-mapping and analysis technologies to allow county assessors to quickly identify properties in areas under their authority that may not have been treated equitably. The ability to perform this quick analysis allows the county assessors to rectify inequities before they have a detrimental financial impact on property owners. It is with great pride that we acknowledge Nick’s remarkable achievements and look forward to witnessing the continued positive impact of his work on our state’s property tax administration.

Ken Matthews, Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice

Ken’s approachability has made him a go-to resource for employees seeking guidance. His unparalleled expertise and willingness to share his knowledge is extremely valuable to his peers. His genuine interest in others and their opinions, combined with his knack for recognizing individual strengths, fosters an inclusive and collaborative work environment. His commitment to organizational goals and ability to make good decisions ensures that critical tasks are effectively handled. Recently, the CCJJ received positive feedback from the Federal Office of Justice following their evaluation of their grants procedures. The success of this evaluation was largely attributed to Ken’s involvement. The Federal Office of Justice commented on Ken’s exceptional communication, coordination, and thoroughness, resulting in a smoother process and more efficient outcome. This accomplishment speaks to Ken’s ability to deliver impactful results and portrays the agency as a leader among other agencies in the country. 

Ivette Orozco, Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs

Ivette is the Veteran Service Officer Supervisor for the Utah Department of Veterans & Military Affairs (UDVMA). In 2023, Ivette was selected to conduct training for all Outreach Program Representatives in UDVMA and for Stakeholders and Partners throughout the state. Through her engagement she has continued to build on relationships with Veterans Service Organizations like the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, and other nonprofits. Ivette is an Army veteran and supervises nine employees from Ogden to St. George. She always leads by example. Ivette is always asking her team if there is anything that they need to accomplish the goals of the Department. She is dedicated to her Veterans Services Team, helping others achieve their goals, Ivette always puts others before herself and in doing so has uplifted employees and those in the community with whom she serves. 

Robert Reeves, Utah Department of Health and Human Services

Juvenile crime within some of our refugee communities continued to be a challenge through 2021 while many in those communities felt lost, confused, and disconnected from the juvenile system in general. There was a clear gap in understanding the system and what early intervention resources can be accessed when a youth begins to exhibit challenging behavior. Robert, in partnership with DWS, got to work to support our refugee youth. Their goals were to make sure every refugee youth in JJYS custody was fully connected to community support; while building relationships of trust within the refugee communities. To date they have worked with 43 youth, and worked within 11 unique refugee communities. He ensured interpreter services were available, worked with local mosques to ensure Muslim youth were supported, worked with with facility kitchen staff to support any religious dietary needs, and worked to ensure Muslim youth had support needed during Ramadan

Anthony Richards, Utah Department of Agriculture and Food

As Program Manager for the Soil Health Program, Tony is responsible for more than $1.2 million in Conservation Innovation Grants in partnership with Natural Resource Conservation Service. He, and his team, are working to implement $1 million in grants for ground equipment that will be used on innovative soil health projects for local conservation districts. He is actively engaged in developing the Utah Soil Health Network, a five year project designed to increase understanding of how to best implement soil health practices into Utah’s various farming systems. For many years, Tony has dedicated his knowledge and expertise to educating people around the state of the importance of soil health and finding new ways to safeguard Utah’s soil and water resources. He was instrumental in setting the foundation and building support for the formal legislative creation of the Utah Soil Health Program in 2021. He is an incredible advocate for soil health and ongoing conservation efforts throughout the state. 

Sierra Schaefer-Funsch & Allison O’Bryan, Utah Department of Natural Resources 

On July 3, a 17-year-old young man was enjoying a day sailing at Jordanelle State Park when a summer storm unexpectedly hit. Gusty winds caught the sail, causing the boat to thrash around in the water. As winds and waves threatened to overcome the boat, the young sailor abandoned his boat. State Park Rangers Allison O’Bryan and Sierra Schaefer-Funsch heeded the 911 call from his frantic father and found the young man clinging to a buoy. Ranger O’Bryan was able to deadlift him into the rescue boat while Ranger Schaefer-Funsch kept the boat steady in the stormy water. They quickly transported the hypothermic young man back to the dock. While EMTs treated him, Coast Guard Auxiliary volunteers went looking for the overturned sailboat, which washed up the next day. The heroic actions of Rangers O’Bryan and Schaefer-Funsch saved this young man’s life. As his mother wrote, “I just wanted to say how appreciative we are of your services and for truly saving our son. The night could have turned out much worse than it did.” Shortly after this rescue, they headed back out into the storm to search for a reported sinking vessel with children on board. These Rangers are truly heroic, and our state parks are safer because of them.

Joseph Sharp, Utah Department of Government Operations

Joseph’s unwavering dedication and tireless efforts in spearheading the new design system for the state deserve admiration and recognition. His commitment to this monumental task has been instrumental in paving the way for a groundbreaking transformation in the state’s digital landscape. With meticulous attention to detail and a keen eye for aesthetics, Joseph has worked tirelessly in creating a design system that elevates the visual appeal of agency websites and enhances their functionality and user experience. Beyond his contributions to the design system, Joseph has also played a pivotal role in fostering collaboration and innovation across different agencies. Recognizing the power of a united front, he is actively working to cultivate an environment that encourages open communication and cooperation. By bridging the gaps between agencies, Joseph is fostering a grass-roots movement that empowers teams to share ideas, knowledge, and best practices. 

Laraib Sial, Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity

Laraib has been a pillar of the GOEO office for the past seven years. She started with the office as an intern, progressed to team analyst and then team lead and is currently the Compliance Director. During this time Laraib worked closely with her peers to build policies and procedures including the training use of those procedures. Her reputation for quality work and attention to detail have allowed those in our office and external partners to have confidence in the work product. This past year she has taken on a new role as the Compliance Director and is thriving. She developed the audit sample standard which is used to meet state and federal requirements while giving greater weight to higher risk areas. She pursued a Master’s Degree in Accounting and has also achieved her CPA designation while working full time for the office. Her team looks up to her and respects her because she has taken the time to walk the path she is now having them walk. 

SFC Matthew Smith, Utah Army National Guard

Sergeant First Class Matthew Smith, a talented developer who listens to organizational needs, effectively leads leadership to innovative and creative solutions which save countless hours of workforce expenditure through automated solutions. Just one of the 192 software solutions developed by his team sees more than 76,000 page views a week. SFC Smith was instrumental in assisting Utah’s response to the COVID pandemic. As a result of one of his software solutions, Utah tracked the vaccination status of more than 7,000 Soldiers, Airmen, Federal/State employees, and their families, reaching more than an 84% vaccination completion rate by February of 2022, putting Utah well ahead of the rest of the nation. His ability to assess the emerging situation, predict the necessary changes required to address the increased scale and complexity, and implement a solution for an emerging requirement sets him apart from most programmers in his field.

Aleta Sumner, Utah Department of Financial Institutions

Aleta has played an instrumental role in helping the Department achieve its mission of credibly regulating Utah’s financial institutions. Her dedicated work has helped ensure that the citizens of Utah have reliable access to safe financial services, thereby promoting stability, confidence, and fairness in the financial lives of Utah consumers. Aleta began her career with the Department in 1985 and quickly established a reputation as a gifted examiner. Aleta can be trusted to plan, lead, and complete any type of examination, regardless of the institution’s size, complexity, or business model. She is a team player and mentor who shares her expertise to lift others. As a Senior Examiner, Aleta has been entrusted multiple times to serve as the dedicated Examiner-in-Charge at large banks subject to the Department’s jurisdiction. Aleta’s work ethic has helped build strong relationships with federal regulators. She is an outstanding public servant and a great person to work with. 

Sarina Ehrgott, Utah Department of Cultural and Community Engagement

In adopting a new state flag, Sarina took the rare opportunity to serve as Utah’s design diplomat. She designed the strategic look-and-feel of the initiative’s brand, and was a key innovator in creating a statewide public engagement campaign. She designed and built an effective website that, in less than a year, attracted more than 250,000 page views. She incorporated feedback and ideas from more than 100 volunteers, and served as a leading voice — and eye — on the Design Review Subcommittee of artists and graphic designers. She helped review more than 5,700 submissions to find the design themes that were most significant to Utahns. She then led the small team of professionals hired to shape submitted ideas into flag designs. As deadlines approached, she was available after work hours. Her ideas, her branding expertise, and her artist’s eye were crucial elements of the campaign to design a new Utah banner. 

Jeff Hawley, Ph.D., Utah Department of Insurance 

Jeff is responsible for managing all aspects of the Health and Life Division’s Research area and truly embraces the definition of research innovation and implementation. He most notably produces the Utah Health Insurance Market Report which is the hallmark of the department and is relied upon by the Utah Legislature and the health insurance industry. Jeff designed and successfully executed the Prescription Drug Price Transparency Act and Utah Pharmacy Premium Impact Reporting. Jeff and the research team proactively contacted the pharmacy drug manufacturers to clarify expectations and develop a level of trust and understanding that encouraged voluntary compliance. Jeff worked closely with the National Academy for State Health Policy to seek and share information with other states around this issue. He is a consummate professional, who is friendly, willingly shares his knowledge, and remains humble in serving Utah consumers.

Jan Frisbee, Utah Department of Public Safety

Jan began her career with the  Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification in December 1992. She started working at the 24/7 Helpdesk before moving to Automated Fingerprint Identification System about a year later. Fingerprint comparison is a very intricate process, and the systems change every few years. From a single source submission and retrieval system to a fully integrated system, Jan has been at the forefront of learning to process the changes needed to keep up-to-date and on the leading edge. Her knowledge of the intricacies of the partnership between the Utah Criminal History (UCH) system and AFIS systems makes her a great resource for the entire team at BCI. During the pandemic, Jan worked closely with another coworker in the section to provide in-office services for the section so that the other staff members could work from home and remain quarantined during these unprecedented times.Jan is the front-line employee at BCI, who everyone trusts, goes to, and appreciates. She exemplifies all that DPS values in its employees.

Sgt. Brian Spillman, Utah Department of Public Safety

Sgt. Spillman’s unwavering dedication and exceptional leadership have been instrumental in the statewide success and implementation of the 24/7 Program within the Utah Highway Patrol. One of Sgt. Spillman’s key achievements lie in his ability to cultivate trust and credibility through open, respectful communication and accountability. He invests substantial time and effort in coaching and mentoring his staff, effectively developing their potential and helping them achieve personal growth and professional success. The 24/7 sobriety program began as a pilot program in 2019, and expanded to a permanent statewide program in 2021. The program provides an opportunity for those convicted of multiple DUI violations to enter a structured daily monitored sobriety program while being able to maintain their driving privilege. A total of 782 individuals have participated in the program, with an impressive 462 graduating from it. We are confident that his achievements will continue to inspire others to strive for excellence in management and leadership.

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