February 4, 2005 By Wayne Hanson
2005 Bob Bullock Award Winner John Keel (second from left) with previous award winners (left to right) James Hine, Albert Hawkins and Mike Sheridan
The Driskill Hotel on Austin's historic Sixth Street, has a long connection with Texas government. In 1887, a week after it opened, it hosted an inaugural ball for newly elected Governor Sul Ross, and more recently hosted balls for governors such as John Connally and Ann Richards. Lyndon Johnson had his first date with Lady Bird in a hotel restaurant, and used it numerous times as his campaign headquarters. During LBJ's presidency the Driskill often housed the White House Press Corps.
For nearly a decade, the hotel has also been the setting for the Bob Bullock Award for Outstanding Public Stewardship, and last Wednesday, John Keel, Texas State Auditor, received the award before an audience of senators, representatives, agency heads, deputies, commissioners, and legislative personnel.
Keel is the eighth recipient of the annual award -- named after former Comptroller and Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock who used technology and intention to transform state government agencies.
"John was a long-time Bullock aide," said Paul Fairbrother, former director of the Southwest Region Government Technology Conference and the person who created the Bullock award. "John retired last year after 12 years on the Legislative Budget Board. He had just got his golf handicap down to six, and they called him and said 'you need to be the new state auditor.' So he came back."
Keel's service in state government began in 1973 as an accountant at the Texas Water Quality Board. He served twice in the Comptroller's Office and was deputy comptroller for six months in 1990 before moving with Bullock to the Senate. From 1981 until 1988, Keel ran his own private-sector tax, accounting and consulting practice. He then worked for the Texas Attorney General's Office as director of budget, became special assistant for budget and projects for the Texas Senate, and in 1994 became director of the Texas Legislative Budget Board. Last December, Keel became Texas state auditor.
"He has shaken up things at the Auditor's Office," said Fairbrother. "Whenever Bullock took over something, he shook it up too. John has a long and illustrious career, as did his uncle who taught at the LBJ School and ran the Legislative Budget Board back in the 50s. So the family has been involved in Texas politics and the Legislature for over 50 years. He is one of the sharpest of the sharp, and he was a natural to win the Bullock award.
"The award is both about technology and leadership," said Fairbrother. "When Bob Bullock took over the Comptrollers Office back in the mid 1970s, it had been run by the same guy since the 1940s -- a wonderful guy, but they'd operated it mostly out of a shoebox. Bullock came in and said 'We're going to institute a technological revolution, so we can increase the taxes we collect and the service we provide to the people.' And Keel was part of that, one of the guys that figured that all out. And they did increase the collection of taxes, just because of the efficiencies they were able to garner by using technology. That agency went from just a regular old state office to being the land of the brightest. You take a look at the leaders in Texas today, Billy Hamilton, and some of the others, and they came out of that office. John was very involved in that, and helped Bullock institute the changes."
When Fairbrother proposed the idea of an award program to Bullock, Bullock agreed, and set out the criteria. "He wanted to recognize people who had actually accomplished something in state government," said Fairbrother. "He wanted people who are committed to government service, who had achieved short- or long-term results, who had made a difference, and that people respected."
Bullock chose Billy Hamilton, from a short list of candidates, to be the first winner. "Billy is well known in Texas, in California, and worked on Vice President Gore's Performance Review," said Fairbrother.
Past winners of the Bullock award are:
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