Anoka County has won three achievement awards, one a best in category, from the National Association of Counties (NACo).
The awards were presented Sunday during NACo’s annual convention in New Orleans, Louisianna, which ran July 11-14. County Commissioners Julie Braastad, Jim Kordiak, Carol LeDoux, Matt Look and Scott Schulte, along with Anoka County Administrator Jerry Soma attended the convention.
In addition, Kordiak was presented with an outstanding public official award Sunday by the National Association of County Park and Recreation Officials (NACPRO), which held its annual convention and awards ceremony in tandem with NACo in New Orleans.
According to Anoka County Board Chairperson Rhonda Sivarajah, the county board has empowered employees to think outside the box and look at new and innovative ways to provide services in a more efficient manner.
Soma, who has worked for the county since 1966, could not recall a time when the county had captured three national awards in a year, he said.
“It’s pretty rare,” Soma said. “But it shows that people are doing a great job.”
The county won achievement awards for its water resources GIS application, heroin community awareness campaign and veteran services virtual waiting room.
The water resources GIS application was a best in category winner among environmental protection and energy entries.
The county, which had more than 5,000 hard copy county ditch records dating back to the 1880s preserved and chronicled in file cabinets and accessible only request from the county ditch engineer, has modernized the records by scanning ditch documents and making them part of a comprehensive GIS website called Anoka County Water Resources.
The website provides a one-stop shop for digital ditch records, culvert data, aerial photos, wetlands, watercourses, soils, flood zones and land ownership information, which can be used by citizens, businesses and government agencies to do ditch research without having to contact the county.
“Now the information is available with the click of a mouse,” Sivarajah said. “It really is very efficient and I am very proud of staff for moving this forward.”
According to the NACo website page listing the achievement award winners, many Minnesota counties have the desire to modernize their ditch records, but few have completed the task.
“This modernization process not only makes the records more accessible, but created a digital ‘back up’ so the originals can be archived safely,” the NACo webpage states.
A call to Sivarajah from someone she knows who had lost a son to heroin was the impetus for the heroin community awareness campaign to provide education and awareness about the dangers of heroin and opiate use that is a growing issue not only in Anoka County, which has seen more use and deaths from heroin and opiates in recent years, but in the country as a whole, she said.
According to Sivarajah, she contacted Anoka County Sheriff James Stuart and Anoka County Attorney Tony Palumbo about a way to bring more visibility to the problem of heroin and opiate use in the county.
The result was victims’ families, the sheriff’s office, the county attorney’s office, county staff and Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge worked together and developed a community awareness campaign that resulted in a series of community forums attended by some 800 people, a toolkit for other communities to replicate the program, promotion of the county’s prescription drug take-back locations, online resources and heightened community awareness of the dangers and realities of heroin and opiates in the county.
“The unique aspects of this campaign are that it was victim-driven, collaboratively managed with county, nonprofit and victim input and was delivered in a short amount of time,” the NACo website page listing the achievement award winners states.
“It also created substantial media attention, which helped further a larger conversation with the Twin Cities metro area about heroin.”
Sivarajah has had people call her to ask that more community forums to provide information and awareness on the heroin and opiate issue be scheduled next fall, she said.
It is said that these forums have to focus on this issue, but it is a great way to raise awareness and how to address the problem, Sivarajah said.
“The information that people get is empowering,” she said.
The veterans service office’s virtual waiting room, a new automated check-in system, was launched April 1, 2013 to handle recent growth in the number of office visits.
To purchase the software and equipment for the system would have cost between $10,000 and $20,000, so the veteran services office turned to the county’s information technology department, which was able to create a specialized program tailored to the needs of the office at a cost of 40 hours of staff time and $500 for a touch screen monitor.
Through the program, when a veteran has checked in at the office and is waiting to be seen, notification is sent to all five of the county’s veterans service officers displaying what services the veteran needs and how long he-she has been waiting.
The program also produces up-to-the-minute, daily and monthly reports that show how many veterans have visited the office, their age, reason for visit and average wait times, helping to determine where the office’s resources are best used and where changes can be made to provide better service.
“I am really excited about this program which has really served our heroes in a much more effective and efficient way,” Sivarajah said.
Indeed, the county has been contacted by a California county wanting to find out how the system works, she said.
The NACo achievement awards are designed to “recognize unique, innovative county programs.” Started in 1970, each application is judged on its own merits and not in competition with other applications, the NACo website states.
The National Association of County Park and Recreation Officials presents a number of awards each year during the NACo convention, but Kordiak was one of only two public officials to be recognized, according to John VonDeLinde, county division manager for parks and community services, who nominated Kordiak.
The award is presented to an official who “has contributed significantly to the benefit of NACPRO member parks, recreation, leisure services and open space programs,” the NACPRO website states.
Kordiak has been a member of the Anoka County Board’s Parks and Recreation Committee (now Parks and Community Services Committee) since he was first elected to the board in 1987 and has been its chairperson since 2011.
In that time, the county has acquired some 5,000 additional acres of property for parks and open space, opened two new regional parks, two conservation areas and several miles of trials as well as opening Bunker Beach Water Park, Chomonix Golf Course, nature centers and other amenities, VonDeLinde said.
The county boasts more than 11,000 acres of parks and natural areas with some 3.8 million visitors annually, VonDeLinde said.
In his nomination of Kordiak for the award, VonDeLinde also wrote about Kordiak’s volunteer work on behalf of the county park system, including fundraising for amenities at Riverfront Regional Park in Fridley and Kordiak County Park in Columbia Heights, the latter named in recognition of his father, former County Commissioner Al Kordiak, who was known as the “father of Anoka County parks.”
According to VonDeLinde, Kordiak is also active in many community service organizations as well as national and state park and recreation associations.