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Kristin Klopfenstein: Tom Clements Awardees Offer Inspiration


It was such an honor to serve as a judge this year to help select recipients for the Tom Clements Better Government Award. The award honors the life and services of Tom Clements who, after 30 years of serving the public, was tragically killed while serving as Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections.

In honor of Tom’s progressive and selfless work for the government, the award recognizes individuals and teams who go beyond perfunctory execution of their duties, delivering results that matter to Coloradans and improving state government.

Tom Clements former Executive Director of the Colorado Dept of Corrections

To a person, our panel of judges was inspired by the creative approaches, dedicated service, and remarkable results shown by every one of the 28 nominees across 16 state agencies. We reviewed each submission to understand how data was used to drive outstanding service and innovation, and how an individual or group’s work aligns with and advances the Administration’s goals. There were several rounds of tie votes as our team worked toward the incredibly difficult task of selecting one winner in each of the two categories.

L-R: Charles S. Gilford III, Lisa Clements, Governor Jared Polis, Ajay Bagal, Kristin Klopfenstein

Panel of Judges for the 2021 Tom Clements Better Government Award

The panel of judges is selected by the Governor’s Office and represents diverse sectors, including business, nonprofit, higher education, and government.

  • Lisa Clements, PhD, Owner, Clements Consulting, widow of Tom Clements
  • Charles S. Gilford III, Director, Regional Affairs, Mayor’s Office, City and County of Denver
  • Kristin Klopfenstein, PhD, Director, Colorado Evaluation and Action Lab
  • Ajay Bagal, Executive Director, Statewide Internet Portal Authority
  • Tony Gherardini, Executive Director, Department of Personnel and Administration, State of Colorado (non-voting judge)

Outstanding Innovation in Government

The 2021 award goes to the Department of Revenue-Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for “Coloradans Can DMV Anywhere,” its pivot in response to the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. The department’s redesigned and streamlined process provides the ability to:

  • Complete transactions online, including obtaining and renewing a driver license and identification card for Coloradans older than 65, and upgrading an instruction permit to a driver license.
  • In March 2021 alone, the DMV broke a record with 502,000 online transactions in a single month, compared to 259,000 online transactions the previous March.
  • Schedule an appointment online and wait for the appointment anywhere. This resulted in 89% of customers being in and out of the DMV in less than 30 minutes.

The scale of customers impacted by these improvements is impressive and, not surprisingly, these innovations are the new normal as more and more Coloradans use online services.

Outstanding Service in Government

In 2021, the CBI team worked with local law enforcement to identify 11 cold cases that were good candidates for genetic genealogy investigation, out of around 1,800 current cold cases, and submitted them for testing. This effort resulted in five cases being brought to trial, directly impacting the families of victims. The CBI also engaged in direct outreach to these families to help them navigate the investigation process.

Our panel of judges was struck by the scale of the impact that solving these cold cases has on the families of victims and their communities.

Honorable Mention

  • Colorado Department of Transportation – Developed a new approach of using stacked large aggregate sacks to lessen mud and rock slides following the 2020 Grizzly Creek wildfire, saving resources and opening I-70 safely and quickly.
  • Colorado Energy Office – Provided more than 450 Colorado homes with rooftop solar systems resulting in cumulative utility bill savings of more than $200,000 for Colorado residents each year.
  • Department of Corrections / Buena Vista Correctional Complex – The “Take Two Team” allowed for low-risk offenders releasing back to the community within a year the opportunity to work for willing employers within the community while completing their sentence, reducing recidivism to 10%, compared to statewide rate of 50%.
  • Colorado Department of Education COVID Response Team – Received emergency relief federal funding in record time to address the COVID-19 crisis, providing a myriad of health and education support to schools.
  • Department of Corrections (CDOC) / Staff Testing & Vaccination Program – Built a massive staff testing and vaccination program for more than 6,000 CDOC team members statewide. This efficient and effective program has been looked to by other state agencies for assistance in developing best practices and protocols.
  • Office of Economic Development and International Trade – Launched the Rural Opportunity Office, providing support to Colorado’s rural business community to address and adapt to challenges and take advantage of opportunities, such as alternative funding sources.
  • Governor’s Office of Information Technology – Vastly improved the detail and usability of its monthly service usage reports, eliminating a 2-year lag time between when services were received and billed.

The awards ceremony and luncheon was hosted on March 29th at the Carriage House at the Governor’s Residence. Congratulations again to all nominees, honorable mentions, and award recipients. It was a treat to meet in person with many of these dedicated and smart leaders and thank them for their passion and hard work. At a time when it’s easy to get bogged down by the seemingly endless stream of bad news, it’s a blessing to know that we have so many good folks who are making a difference every day in the lives of Coloradans.