Four Outstanding Arizona Public Servants Honored at 2017 Gabe Zimmerman Awards

Posted on July 20, 2017 • Category: The Arizona We Want

The Center for the Future of Arizona (CFA) today announced four recipients of its Gabe Zimmerman Public Service Awards for 2017.

Outstanding public servants honored this year were: Coconino County Manager Cynthia Seelhammer, City of Phoenix Public Works Director John Trujillo (ret.), City of Avondale Youth and Community Engagement Supervisor Christopher Lopez and Arizona Commission on the Arts Deputy Director Jaime Dempsey.

On January 8, 2011, Gabe Zimmerman – Gabrielle Giffords’ community outreach director – gave his life while serving the citizens of Arizona. In honor of his memory, CFA presents awards each year to non-elected public servants to recognize their contributions to Arizona communities.

“Public servants are unsung heroes who work for the common good and demonstrate a true spirit of service to fellow Arizonans,” said Dr. Lattie Coor, Chairman and CEO, Center for the Future of Arizona. “We are pleased to celebrate the achievements of this year’s recipients who carry on the legacy of Gabe Zimmerman through their outstanding leadership and commitment to improving communities throughout our state.”


The 2017 honors were presented Thursday, July 20 at the Arizona City/County Management Association Summer Conference.

Civic Leader Award: Recognizes long-standing public servants who have spent much of their careers supporting Arizona communities. These leaders have demonstrated knowledge, skills and commitment for addressing Arizona’s long-term issues and the personal leadership capacity to make Arizona a better place for future generations. The 2017 award recipient is:

  • Cynthia Seelhammer, County Manager, Coconino County

Community Builder Award: Recognizes public servants in cities and towns who advance community pride and connectedness. These leaders have be instrumental in transforming their communities through a variety of efforts including job creation and training, healthy communities, environmental and historical preservation, volunteerism and philanthropy, and educational advancement. The 2017 award recipients are:

  • John Trujillo, Public Works Director, City of Phoenix (ret.)
  • Christopher Lopez, Youth and Community Engagement Supervisor, City of Avondale

Emerging Leader Award: Recognizes early-stage public servants committed to improving civic health and community connections for their constituents. These leaders bring innovation, energy and compassion to their organizations while serving as role models for others seeking to build their careers in Arizona. The 2017 award recipient is:

  • Jaime Dempsey, Deputy Director, Arizona Commission on the Arts

All award nominees are judged on their qualities and achievements—how they have changed the way government works to serve the public interest; ability to take risks and inspire others; impact of connecting Arizonans to civic life; improving the health of their community; new ideas to reduce costs, improve efficiency and enhance delivery of public services; and legacy contributions of lasting significance.

An independent volunteer selection committee of Arizona leaders chose this year’s honorees. Members included: Lisa Atkins, Deborah Embry, Marcelino Flores, James Jayne, Lisa Lovallo, Jacob Moore, Steve Peru, Marilyn Rodriguez, Paul Senseman, Joan Timeche, Rosemary Ybarra-Hernandez and selection committee co-chairs Amanda Aguirre and Evelyn Casuga.

Presented by CFA with support from the Zimmerman family, the Gabe Zimmerman Public Service Awards are sponsored by the Arizona City/County Management Association, Arizona Department of Administration, County Supervisors Association of Arizona, Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, League of Arizona Cities and Towns and Cox Communications.


Civic Leader Award:

Cynthia Seelhammer, County Manager, Coconino County

Seelhammer oversees personnel, budget and day-to-day operations for the second largest county in the continental U.S. with 1,200 employees serving in departments including the Courts, Public Works, Public Health, Community Development, Emergency Management, IT, Parks and Recreation, Facilities, Finance and Budget.


Cynthia has been a dedicated public servant for more than 30 years with much of her experience in local government since making Arizona her home in 1980. Prior to serving Coconino County, Cynthia served as a Deputy City Manager for the City of Phoenix, and was the first Town Manager of Queen Creek where she guided the design and build of the newly incorporated municipality that grew from 2,000 to 20,000 during her 12-year tenure.


Community Builder Award:

John Trujillo, Public Works Director, City of Phoenix (ret.)

Trujillo retired as Public Works Director in April 2017. During his tenure he was responsible for the fourth largest city department in Phoenix with more than 1,000 employees in seven divisions and a gross operating budget of $250 million. The department provides solid waste services to approximately 400,000 Phoenix households.


Trujillo was instrumental in the rise of Phoenix as one of the world’s most sustainable cities. He reinvented the city’s waste collection and recycling policies to streamline pickup, dramatically increase resident participation and move the city toward zero-waste. In 2013, the Phoenix City Council established a goal to divert 40 percent of solid waste by the year 2020. In 2016, this goal was expanded to achieve zero-waste by 2050. In order to meet these goals, Trujillo provided the vision and leadership that led to the development of Reimagine Phoenix, a circular economy initiative to create economic value from city waste. Through the initiative, the city offered new solid waste services, increased education and community outreach, while also creating public/private partnerships that diverted waste, fostered economic development, encouraged entrepreneurship and sparked innovation. As a result, Trujillo expanded the Phoenix Public Works Department beyond its role as an excellent service provider to a viable job creator and driver of sustainable economic growth for the city. In 2015, Trujillo was selected as one of the Top Ten Public Works Leaders of the Year by the American Public Works Association.


Community Builder Award:

Christopher Lopez, Youth and Community Engagement Supervisor, City of Avondale

Lopez serves as a spearhead for numerous programs, services and partnerships that benefit local youth in the Avondale area. Under his leadership, the Youth and Community Engagement Division works to address the needs of underserved youth and provides meaningful community engagement opportunities for all Avondale residents.


Lopez introduced the Kids at Hope philosophy to the city and paved the way for Avondale to become the first official Kids at Hope city in the nation. As a result, staff from various school districts, local government and community leaders have adopted the Kids at Hope support system and belief that all children are capable of success, no exceptions. He also was instrumental in fostering relationships with the Corporation for National and Community Service, as well as expanding youth workforce development and teen leadership opportunities in Avondale.


Emerging Leader Award:

Jaime Dempsey, Deputy Director, Arizona Commission on the Arts

Under Dempsey’s leadership, the Arts Commission has become a leading force in the creative and professional development of Arizona’s arts and culture sector. Through robust programs, research initiatives, and strategic grantmaking, the Arts Commission catalyzes arts-based partnerships that strengthen Arizona communities through the arts.


During a period of significant volatility in public funding, Dempsey was instrumental in reimagining the Arts Commission’s programmatic, communications and organizational strategies to increase community engagement and expand the agency’s range of services. She also is the architect of NextAZ, a visionary planning initiative designed to empower communities to activate creative assets and co-create ideas to fuel Arizona’s next 50 years.

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