Snyder, Banahan, Nutter Named 2014 Public Officials of the Year

Governing magazine honored nine individuals for their continued commitment to public service, their remarkable leadership and their innovation -- with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Kentucky Kynect's Carrie Banahan and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter among them.

by / November 18, 2014
Photos by David Kidd, Emile Wamsteker, Philip Andrews and Sebron Snyder
Photos by David Kidd, Emile Wamsteker, Philip Andrews and Sebron Snyder

Three of Government Technology's Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers have been named 2014 Public Officials of the Year by Governing magazine.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who has pumped millions of dollars into new technology; Carrie Banahan, leader of Kentucky's successful health benefits exchange; and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, who has made his city a hotbed of civic-tech innovation, were among nine individuals honored this month by Governing, a sister publication to Government Technology.

The Public Official of the Year award recognizes individuals who implement innovative approaches every day, make tough decisions that put government on sounder fiscal footing, create resilient communities that are ready for the future and break down political barriers to work with opponents across the aisle.

Read on for more about why Governing chose Snyder, Banahan and Nutter as honorees.

Rick Snyder, Governor, Michigan

Rick Snyder came to the Michigan governor’s office from the private sector in 2011, and brought with him an entrepreneur’s tolerance for risk. Good leaders, he told Governing, must assume some risk and accept that not everything they try will be successful.

In his four years as governor, Snyder has accomplished a great deal: He pushed for the expansion of Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act, which led to 385,000 new enrollees in its first year; he signed the divisive “right to work” legislation in December 2012, prohibiting companies from requiring their employees to pay union fees; and, perhaps most risky,  was the state takeover of Detroit and the July 2013 decision to seek bankruptcy protection for the financially beleaguered city.

Snyder, a Republican, was up for re-election this year, and beat out Democrat Mark Schauer with 51 percent of the vote. But he didn't sit back and relax the day after the election -- he got up early and laid out his second term plans with reporters. Two days after that, Detroit exited bankruptcy.

Snyder, who was a Government Technology Top 25 Doer, Dreamer and Driver in 2013, likes to refer to himself as “one tough nerd” -- he relishes the fact that he is the first certified public accountant to be elected governor in Michigan. And it is his penchant for numbers that drives much of his decision-making -- Snyder makes heavy use of performance scorecards and dashboards, which the state and most individual agencies now use.

Carrie Banahan, executive director, Kentucky Health Benefit Exchange

The health insurance exhange rollouts last year were, for the most part, disastrous. Users experienced site crashes, interminable wait times or error messages, causing many consumers to give up out of frustration.

A few states managed to get things right, one of which was Kentucky -- thanks to the work of Carrie Banahan.

A 32-year veteran of Kentucky state government, Banahan had served as deputy commissioner of the Department of Insurance and, later, as the deputy Medicaid commissioner, before becoming Gov. Steve Beshear’s chief health policy adviser. And given her knowledge and background, Banahan was the right person to lead the initiative, dubbed Kynect.

Kynect, also a Top 25 winner this year, went live October 2013, and unlike the flailing federal exchange and the error-prone sites in most other states, it worked. By the end of open enrollment, more than 413,000 people signed up, with about 80 percent of them placed in Medicaid. The rate of uninsured was nearly cut in half, marking the second-highest drop in the country.

Kentucky’s success is the result of some key decisions: using a simple approach, including allowing users to browse for plans and determine eligibility without formally creating accounts, and integrating Medicaid and private insurance enrollment under one platform. Marketing and outreach also was key. “It was a kismet, an aligning of stars, a case of everything being in the right place at the right time -- call it what you want,” said Regan Hunt, executive director of Kentucky Voices for Health. “Carrie was a big part of that.”

Michael Nutter, Mayor, Philadelphia

Since he began leading the city in 2008, Mayor Michael Nutter has made an outsized impact,  creating a Philadelphia that’s cleaner, safer, smarter and more fiscally sound.

The homicide rate has dropped by more than 35 percent and the high school dropout rate has come down 20 percent in recent years. Nutter updated an antiquated, opaque and clearly unfair property assessment system; he oversaw the city’s first comprehensive plan in more than 50 years­ -- a document that could help to expand and brighten Center City.

Nutter, a 2014 Top 25 honoree, has made city government run more smoothly, both through strong appointments and his endless interest in tinkering through his Office of New Urban Mechanics.

Philadelphia still has big challenges, but Nutter has presided over a government that is more open and honest and a city that is more populous and prosperous. “In the long term, if everything keeps working the way it has,” Randall Miller, a historian at St. Joseph’s University, told Governing. “Michael Nutter will be seen as one of the more effective mayors of the last half-century.”