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The Value of Public Service Exemplars

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Tom Barth
July 10, 2021

I recently had the honor of serving as a judge on the anuual Regional Excellence Awards sponsored by the Centralina Regional Council. These awards recognize outstanding achievements in support of Centralina’s mission to expand opportunity and improve quality of life in the nine-county region encompassing the villages, towns, cities and counties of the greater Charlotte region. As academics, practitioners and students who study, write, teach and practice in the field of public administration, it is worthwhile in our contentious and polarized world to take time to reflect on exemplars from small and large communities who strive to serve the public interest on a daily basis, often with little fanfare or notice.

Lesley “Tug” Deason, Director of Parks and Recreation

Mr. Deason was originally hired as a parks and recreation director for the Town of Stanley, NC. At the time he was hired he had no town-owned park to operate the youth sports program for baseball and basketball. Mr. Deason had a vision that this lack of facilities was unacceptable and he personally made it his goal to set out to change that. Shortly after Mr. Deason came aboard, the Gaston County Schools had made a decision to tear down the old gymnasium that had been constructed in the 1940’s. However; Mr. Deason knew if this happened, he would not have any facility for his 600 plus children to play basketball. So, what did he do? Mr. Deason set out on a “save the gym” campaign and rallied the citizens and lobbied the school board to stop the demolition of the gym.

He has a following of hundreds, if not thousands, he can call on who not only help with the park projects, but also will help him in any of his fundraisers that help others. He has been on the front lines of special efforts to raise food for hurricane relief, help those in need at Christmas (or anytime), deliver food and meals to the seniors, coordinate and take seniors on trips, or personally call bingo for the senior bingo program several times a year. His most recent project is the general contractor for the construction of our new Town Hall, saving the Town of Stanley tens of thousands or more in savings of tax-payer dollars.

He does not stop at the ballfield as a role model of leadership. He walks the walk, always supporting other department heads, the Mayor, Town Council and the Town Manager in their daily work as government leaders. He has impacted thousands of children over the course of his career, who look up to him and respect him. His concern during sports is always the children first, and he promotes all the children in his program regardless of background, race, color or ethnicity. Think about interacting with thousands of people during baseball and basketball each year and that speaks to his level of commitment and excellence.

Dena Diorio, Mecklenburg County Manager

Few leaders in the history of Mecklenburg County have faced the challenges Ms. Diorio has during her time at the helm. Serving as CEO of the largest county in North Carolina, with more than 5,500 employees, an annual operating budget of $1.6 billion and a capital program exceeding $1 billion is a huge responsibility. But over the past seven years, she has taken a strategic approach to implementing services and initiatives to ensure Mecklenburg County is operating at the highest level of innovation, efficiency, customer service and consideration for the benefit of our residents and the business community—especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ms. Diorio has convened a cadre of the area’s prominent and influential community and business leaders to solve our most pressing challenges. She has led collaborative efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as educational and economic disparities and efforts to attract businesses to our community. Through these partnerships, thousands of jobs have been created, services have been improved and strides have been made to close the gap between our wealthiest and our most fragile residents, making Mecklenburg County a premier area to live, work, learn and recreate.

She has provided counsel and mentored countless employees who have gone on to lead successful government and private sector organizations. She makes a conscious effort to dedicate time to provide encouraging and inspirational direction to those who seek her guidance.

Ms. Diorio has established lifelong relationships with business and community leaders by exhibiting the highest professional and personal standards. She makes every effort to execute best practices, seek counsel, consider all options and include representatives from diverse backgrounds and communities as part of her decisionmaking process. She has earned the trust and respect of the entire community by using impeccable judgment and making the difficult decisions that have fueled Mecklenburg County’s growth and prosperity.

As we reflect on the words in ASPA’s Code of Ethics, remember to learn from exemplars like these two public servants who model key standards in the code like advance the public interest, promote democratic participation, strengthen social equity, demonstrate personal integrity, promote ethical organizations and advance professional excellence!

Author: Tom Barth is a Professor in the Gerald G. Fox MPA program at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He teaches, conducts research, and consults in the areas of organizational behavior, strategic planning, human resource management and ethics. He can be reached at [email protected].

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