Activities & Organizations

UH MPA program announces Public Official of the Year


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Mario Diaz, director of Houston Airport System, won the Public Official of the Year award for his work in making the airport system more efficient.  |  Karis Johnson/The Daily Cougar

Houston Airport System director Mario Diaz was recognized Friday afternoon as Public Official of the Year at the award’s third annual ceremony hosted by the University’s Masters of Public Administration Program.

MPA focuses on working collaboratively to address issues such as health care, education and the environment. It works to increase community service efforts while also honoring those who have laid the groundwork for public service throughout the years.

Every year since 2011, the MPA program has held a luncheon to present one of five finalists with the Public Official of the Year award. Nominations for the award begin in October, and over the course of eight months, a committee — consisting of two MPA students, two alumni and the director of the program, James Thurmond — works to decide who will be named Public Official of the Year.

In addition to Diaz, the public officials who were selected as finalists this year were Michael Alford, district engineer of the Texas Department of Transportation; Allen Bogard, city manager, City of Sugar Land; Julie Robinson, city administrator, City of Dickinson; and Dottie Kaminski, district councilwoman-at-large in the City of La Porte.

All of the finalists exemplified a desire to solve relevant issues by working together as a community rather than individual cities or groups.

“To look beyond your specific jurisdiction to solve a problem is a real skill,” Thurmond said. “If you look at a problem with only your view on the issue, then the right focus isn’t there. These finalists look with a broader view to see what impact they can potentially have on the community.”

Before the winner was announced, James Calaway, CEO and president of Center for Houston’s Future, was featured as the keynote speaker. He discussed how many public-service workers are not given the credit they deserve for the amount of work they put in to bettering the metropolitan area.

“Community servants have to find a deep internal perseverance to keep doing what they do,” Calaway said. “They really are here because of a love of service. When we see these public officials taking bold and courageous steps, they deserve a heck of a lot of credit.”

After the keynote address, the finalists were called to the stage and Thurmond presented Diaz with the award.

Diaz is responsible for all three of Houston’s aviation facilities as well as more than 1,400 employees. He is a leading authority in the study of future developments in commercial aviation and was instrumental in the new improvements to the George Bush Intercontinental Airport and the William P. Hobby Airport.

“Mario is a hard worker who drives all of us to be the best we can be in our departments. He is a leader by example,” said Tim Joniec, director of government affairs for the airport system.

Diaz’s desire to make the airport system efficient and well-maintained is only part of what qualifies him to receive this prestigious award. He said optimism is also an important part of being a leader.

“As a leader, understanding that decisions aren’t made on a unilateral base is key,” Diaz said. “There needs to be a 360-degree view of the issue and all of the people who are involved, affected and informed. Effective leadership remains optimistic in the face of every adversity.”

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