Do Awards Matter?

Hidden behind a treasured needlework picture in my office is a modernistic pile of cubes that was given to me as an award for service on a statewide land use panel in 2007.  Much as I would like to think that my outstanding effort or attributes led to the award, I honestly don’t think I did much to earn my cubes.  Sometimes people receive recognition for showing up or being in the right place at the right time.  Anyone who has competed for medals or trophies over a period of time has probably received an award for finishing second or third in a competition where only two or three people participated.  As the saying goes, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

It would be easy to become cynical about awards when we are aware of a number of examples where they really don’t mean much.  I sometimes drift in that direction until I see someone who has truly earned recognition receive a well-deserved honor.  Last year, for example, our former Assistant Finance Director John Stahl was honored by the Oregon Chapter of the Government Finance Officers’ Association for distinguished service throughout his career.  The awards and recognition the City’s website Dashboard has received in recent months are also a worthy tribute to some important and unique work by Bob Woods and Matt Harrington.

I think awards should be given to honor achievement and inspire emulation.  When a person or organization does something that could be of great value to others if they knew more about it, an award is a good way to spread the word.  Awards can also help provide assurance of competence and integrity in areas where public trust is important.  The annual awards our Finance Department earns for our financial reports and budget presentation, as well as the recently earned accreditation of our Public Works Department tell the citizens of Albany that our organization is meeting or exceeding a standard of performance excellence.

The most important award I’ve received in the past year proudly adorns the window sill on the Broadalbin side of my office.  My plastic trophy is about six inches high and bears the inscription “ICMA 5K Race 5th Place Male.”  A few of my “friends” have asked how many people participated in the race, and I can safely say there were at least 75 people.  I can also brag that I was clearly the oldest trophy winner.  I have won other races, but this 5th place finish meant a lot because I decided a year or two ago that I was no longer capable of being a competitive runner.  The little piece of plastic reminds me that I can.

Awards matter for a variety of good reasons; and, while they shouldn’t become an end in themselves, I appreciate all the outstanding work by City of Albany employees that regularly receives recognition from local, state, and national organizations.