County administrator recognized by Wisconsin Policy Forum with award for governmental excellence.
La Crosse County Administrator Steve O’Malley has received the 2021 Norman N. Gill Award for Individual Excellence from the Wisconsin Policy Forum in recognition of his 18 years of leadership at the county.
O’Malley was presented with the award at the Wisconsin Policy Forum’s annual Salute to Local Government ceremony in Milwaukee on Wednesday, Nov. 17. The prestigious accolade is given annually to an appointed public official who contributes to governmental excellence and innovation.
“We believe that we can make a difference, that we have to take on the tough issues, and we’ve done that,” O’Malley said at the award ceremony. “It’s not about me, it’s about the team of people that I’ve had the honor of leading.”
Watch a video about O'Malley's award here: 2021 Norman N. Gill Award for Individual Excellence - YouTube
La Crosse County Board Chair Monica Kruse said the award was well deserved and commended O’Malley for his advocacy of equity in the workplace and “exemplary fiscal stewardship” as county administrator.
“We congratulate Steve O’Malley on this well-deserved recognition,” she said. “For almost 20 years, he has been the guiding force in establishing La Crosse County as an innovative leader in county government in Wisconsin.”
O’Malley became La Crosse County Administrator in 2003 and was immediately tasked with figuring out how to expand the Jail and Courthouse and replace the county’s deteriorating downtown administrative center. Through a series of complex transactions, the county administrative center was sold and the county moved into a new administrative center by remodeling the former Associated Bank property.
As part of that process, a vacant parking lot owned by the county became the Belle Square apartment and business complex. The former county administrative building was converted into the Hub on Sixth, which is home to about 90 residential units. The developments added $47.8 million of tax base to downtown La Crosse. At the same time, the county was able to eliminate the liability its outdated buildings had created, and move into modern, sustainable offices. O’Malley cites the downtown property overhaul as one of his proudest achievements.
Other accomplishments he singled out included the creation of a multi-county commission to operate Lakeview, the county-owned nursing home in West Salem. The innovative model was the first of its kind in Wisconsin and sees other counties pay to send their residents to Lakeview. O’Malley estimates the initiative has saved La Crosse County taxpayers almost $11 million over the past 14 years.
During his time as administrator, La Crosse County also instituted groundbreaking reforms in the local criminal justice system. This included programs through the county’s Justice Support Services that help individuals transition back into the community or stay out of jail altogether.
“The vast majority of people that are coming through the system are going to turn their lives around,” O’Malley said. “The vast majority just need a chance to do that, and that’s really our philosophy.”
At the award ceremony, O’Malley thanked the county board chairs he’s worked closely with, and all the county employees he said have made his success possible. Together, county staff have worked to create a sustainable future for the county and the public services it provides, he said.
The Wisconsin Policy Forum cited O’Malley’s willingness to seek out creative partnerships, proactive approach on issues of equity in the workplace, and strong fiscal management as reasons for his award. La Crosse County currently has the fifth lowest property tax rate per capita in the state, and the lowest among counties of comparable size.
“I’m confident that we’ve established a process of managing county finances in such a way that the taxpayer knows we have the absolute lowest tax levy that we can provide,” O’Malley said.” My hope is that as I come to the end of my career the changes we’ve implemented outlast me.”