Santa Monica Employees Recognized with The Elaine Award

March 1, 2018
by Rick Cole

Santa Monica Employees Recognized with The Elaine Award

Santa Monica Employees Recognized with "The Elaine" Award  

By Rick Cole 

Former Assistant City Manager Elaine Polachek set a superb standard for public leadership, honesty, courage and dedication to serving others. An avid sports fan, she kept in her office at City Hall a collection of bobblehead figures of Dodger and Kings players she and her husband had collected over the years. So when it came time to honor her three decades of service to Santa Monica, we had our own “Elaine” bobblehead created with Elaine dressed as “Superwoman” in front of the Pier Ferris Wheel. We ordered two – one to give her at her last City Council meeting – and another to launch a new tradition. I felt the best way to honor her example was to recognize other City staff who follow in her footsteps of going the extra mile to serve our community.   

So each week, I personally deliver the Elaine” award to those who exemplify our commitment to excellent service. We know residents don’t often personally have the opportunity to meet many of the faces behind the services this City delivers, so we share a roundup of the "Elaine" recipients from the last four months. We hope you enjoy getting to know more of the people who contribute to making Santa Monica a city that works for everyone. Below is a look at who has received the award since early November. 

Stace Graham, Systems Policy Engineer

Information Services

On November 2, 2017, Information Services Department (ISD) Chief Information Office Joseph Cevetello nominated Systems Policy Engineer Stace Graham. Stace was recognized for his work leading ISD’s change management process, and for chairing the interdepartmental Change Advisory Board. Change management is an IT best practice. Yet, as Joseph shares, "implementing IT change management is no easy undertaking and requires hard work, deep thought, intelligent action, and time."

In a little more than six months, Stace defined the change approval procedures, instigated the change advisory governance process, implemented a change management database, and most importantly, advocated, educated, and led city staff in change management. Normally, organizations take 12-18 months before they attain the maturity that Stace helped achieve in six months. And even more impressively, he did this all while continuing his other duties. Thank you, Stace!

Sandra Santiago, Executive Administrator

City Manager's Office

Nominated by Assistant City Manager Katie Lichtig (pictured below, left), Sandra received the award on November 8, 2017. Katie wonderfully sums up Sandra's merit as having "great care and deep knowledge of every aspect of the City is the fuel that allows the City Manager's Office (CMO) to run. She takes great care of the administrative team in the CMO, the Council, and everyone working with the CMO. Sandra makes her support look easy because of her immense technical and soft skills. If you need something done at City Hall, many know to call Sandra. We're all grateful for her day in and day out."

Carlos Rosales, CIP Project Manager

Civil Engineering

The Elaine for November 15, 2017 went to Carlos Rosales, CIP Project Manager in Civil Engineering (pictured below holding the award). A Growing Place parent sent a rave review of Carlos' recent work in Marine Park. The parent wrote:

"I commend Santa Monica for how the City handled this situation. In particular, Carlos Rosales from Civil Engineering was extremely professional, cordial, and responsive. When I called the City in the late afternoon, I was given Carlos' work cell and, to his credit, he picked up the phone and listened to a concerned parent unload some frustration. Carlos also had Daniel Lee from Arcadis call me to further discuss the situation and Mr. Lee was equally responsive and cordial. Both individuals gave me (and other parents who called to voice their concern) multiple updates throughout the night as they worked to track down dispatch and, at 8:30 PM, called me (and left confirmation text messages) to inform me the asphalt laying was postponed. It isn't easy dealing with concerned Santa Monica parents, but the City did a great job adjusting construction plans and addressing our complaints."

It’s professionals like Carlos, and his ability to make pro-active decisions in the field, that enables the City to build great projects while accommodating the needs and concerns of residents. Our goal is to serve the public and Carlos shows how to balance the often competing challenges of doing just that.

Benjamin Rankin, CAD EV III

Civic Auditorium

Benjamin Rankin (CAD EV III) received his Elaine for going above and beyond in service to Pharrell Williams' production company that set up a week long concert rehearsal at the Civic Auditorium for the singer's next national concert tour.

"It was an amazing experience. It worked so well for what we are doing. Really appreciate everything. Ben is the best and hats off to him for his time and patience with us. I know we were a tough bunch to deal with. But everything was amazing. Thanks!" - John Lafferty, producer of the Pharrell Williams Tour

Ben interfaced with every aspect of the production from the initial walk-through, to the enormous load-in and set build, to the two-day strike. He put in long hours coming in early and leaving late to make sure they had the best experience possible. It should also be noted that Ben handled the pressure with calm, goodwill and the ever-present smile that a lot of us have come to associate with Ben.

Cori Newlander, Training Coordinator

Information Services

Creating a tech savvy Total Workplace is not just a matter of software and hardware. Ultimately it comes down to our ability to deploy and use technology to make our work more efficient and to better serve our citizens.

A trusted and talented contributor for years, Cori Newlander was assigned her new role of Training Coordinator in our Information Services Department only 10 months ago. Already she has had an impact in helping staff learn and develop greater technology literacy. During this short time, she has introduced the City’s first cybersecurity awareness program, training all permanent and as-needed employees on how to protect the City and themselves against cyber crime. Our tests confirm a dramatic drop in staff duped by phishy emails!

During this time, Cori has also coordinated and conducted more than 25 training sessions on software applications such as Microsoft Office, SharePoint and other City technologies. Cori chairs the Technology Liaison group and represents ISD in the HR new hire orientations, providing information to new employees on the use and policies behind City technology.

Cori often takes her curriculum on the road promoting new technologies through SMI and the Lunch and Learn Byte-sized Learning sessions. Cori does all of this with a positive can-do attitude. She is a true team player and leader. Her hard work is appreciated and valued by her peers.

Library Staff

The Elaine Award was presented to the staff at our incredible Library, which received a 5-star ranking from the Library Journal. These are the Oscars of the library world.

Our Director of Library Services, Patty Wong, nominated her staff for this remarkable achievement, including:

  • Public Services for their fearless programming, entertaining and educating of Santa Monicans.
  • Youth Services for expanding the minds of children and teens through programming, homework help, Teen Council, and summer reading programs.
  • Reference Services for being courageous information detectives and uncovering the truth wherever it lies.
  • Branch staff for being envoys in neighborhood engagement and outreach.

There are a few individuals Patty would like to spotlight among this dynamic staff, including: 

  • Judith Graham's work with volunteers to support community engagement with the Library.
  • Bobby Tsui for long-term engagement educating the community in technology through computer classes.
  • Traci Keiser for being a long-time and beloved member of the MB staff with strong ties to the community and tons of positive recognition for being kind and helpful.

Rodney Tatum, Motor Coach Operator

Big Blue Bus

Big Blue Bus motor coach operator Rodney Tatum is the first MCO to win an Elaine!

A local attorney wrote Big Blue Bus with a letter of appreciation for Rodney’s help after she missed the R10 bus to Downtown LA by just seconds. She was prepared to live with the 20 to 30 minute wait for the next bus, but Rodney stopped his route 14 bus and told the attorney, “Come on, I think we can catch him.” At the Bundy/Olympic stop, route 14 was able to pull up behind R10 just in time for the attorney to switch buses after Rodney safely signaled the R10 driver.

Our customer put it eloquently: Rodney went above and beyond his job description “to show a human face to a very grateful passenger.”

Rodney responds that he was just doing his job: “I could see the dilemma she was under and I just wanted to help her catch the R10.” When he received the Elaine, he accepted it on behalf of all the drivers who provide excellent service every day to our 13.5 million annual passengers. After 10 years with Big Blue Bus, Rodney represents the unsung heroes who are battling traffic and showing a human face to our (usually) grateful customers. Thanks, Rodney, for all you do out there!

Estefania Zavala & Ari Spitzer

City Manager's Office

The City Hall Demolition Derby went a lot more pleasantly because of the hard work of a dedicated team across several departments who made sure we distributed laptop computers and headsets; provided flexibility on work schedules and locations; distributed timely information and updates; and worked with the construction crews to minimize disruptions. The Elaine, therefore, went to two members of that team: Assistant Administrative Analyst Ari Spitzer and Administrative Intern Estefania Zavala of the City Manager's Office. Ari and Estefania were tasked with the unique challenge to keep spirits high during the onset of construction at City Hall. If you spent time having donuts while petting therapy animals or were greeted by bagels and bubbly (yes, Martinellis), you have these two creative and hard-working team members to thank.

Massages were particularly popular -- one recipient told Ari, "I've been waiting for something like this since 1990!"

The daily pop-up activities were so well-received that we want to keep them going periodically throughout the year.

When they aren't herding kittens or serving coffee, Ari and Estefania are both staff of the CMO, and work closely to ensure the citywide workflow that our office oversees. Estefania balances completing her Master's in Public Policy at UCLA's Luskin School with the demands of working for our office, and does so with consummate skill. Ari started out as a summer intern during his college years and has served with both the Office of Communications and the CMO, He's been an invaluable asset in matters of strategy, policy, and communications and plays the role of Agenda Wrangler, making sure the Council agenda reports get completed, reviewed and approved. Ari is currently applying to go to law school next year.

Aside from the new dust and the sound of the muncher munching, we saw the power of what can happen when we take a few minutes out of our day to connect with the people around us. For that holiday gift, we are very grateful to Ari and Estefania for taking the time to bring us all together.

SMFD Firefighters Dedicated to the Skirball, Creek and Thomas Fires

Santa Monica Fire Department

In commendation of their heroics, the Elaine Award was presented to the Santa Monica Fire Department staff that helped battle California's three major fires blazing at the same time, including the Thomas Fire which became the largest in California history. Mutual aid is essential to the way California responds to these types of emergencies. 9,000 firefighters on the Thomas Fire alone.

Santa Monica Fire got the call at 10 pm and were in Ventura by midnight helping save homes, save lives -- all during a complicated evacuation.

Deputy Chief Tom Clemo played a key leadership role along with our battalion chiefs and captains. I know that our entire Santa Monica City community joins me in paying tribute to the dedication, tenacity and valor of all of our firefighters who served for two weeks on the line of fire:

  • Deputy Chief Tom Clemo
  • Battalion Chief John Nevandro
  • Battalion Chief James Altman
  • Captain Walter Patton
  • Captain Mike Fitzgerald
  • Captain Matt Hill
  • Captain Johnny Maccini
  • Captain Dan Caldwell
  • Engineer Bill Howard
  • Firefighter Evan McManus
  • Firefighter Jeff Adams
  • Engineer Tim Wenger
  • Firefighter Dominick Bei
  • Engineer Brendt Noon
  • Firefighter Christopher Alexander
  • Firefighter Alex Martinet
  • Firefighter Zachary Mendoza
  • Firefighter Jon Sly
  • Firefighter Tom Stanfill

Danny Gomez, Wastewater Operations Supervisor

Public Works

Wastewater Operations Supervisor Danny Gomez received the Elaine for going above and beyond in his public service. Danny was notified by a Mr. Xiao of tree roots intersecting with the City's main sewer line. Mr. Xiao is the head of the 908 21st Street HOA, and stopped by Danny's office to share the problem. Despite not having an appointment, Danny took the time to speak with Mr. Xiao of the next steps the City would take to fix the situation.

A City crew was dispatched within 24 hours and took video of the roots and the sewer line. Mr. Xiao expressed gratitude on behalf of himself and the HOA for the professional and speedy handling of the situation.

The City now has a plan in place to mitigate the minor root growth thanks to the quick and responsive services led by Danny. I join Mr. Xiao and the 908 21st St HOA in thanking Danny for his continued and valued service to the greater Santa Monica community for more than 30 years!

Gus Guzzetti, Collections Superintendent

Resource, Recovery and Recycling

Our front-line staff out in the field are our best connection to the neighborhoods. They also bear the burden of hearing a lot of complaints. It can be hard to respond to every complaint with kindness, quickness, and action, but it is our job to do so. Resource, Recovery and Recycling Collections Superintendent Gus Guzzetti is known for his superb customer service demeanor. In a recent anecdote, Gus exchanged multiple emails with a resident concerned about the excess recycling accumulating in her alley. He went the extra mile to review her pickup schedule and even investigate the need for additional bins at the location. The resident was very happy with the personalized service. I, along with everyone here at City Hall, thank Gus for his daily commit to going above and beyond, especially in helping residents meet our waste diversion goals.

Bill Friedel, Senior Human Resources Analyst

Human Resources

Senior Human Resources Analyst Bill Friedel is awarded the Elaine for his professionalism and resolve in recruiting talent for the City of Santa Monica. Recently, Bill played a crucial role in the hiring of Alisa Orduña – our new Senior Advisor on Homelessness. Bill is recognized for his ability to work with hiring departments in understanding their needs and identifying the best candidate to meet those needs.

For the City of Santa Monica this is no easy task, we have extremely high standards and look for people who add to our already stellar workforce. Bill understands that public sector leadership is special – that we are looking for more than just technical expertise and competence – that serving our community members requires a passion for excellence. Bill’s skilled and sensitive evaluation of candidates benefits both the City and the impression we make on applicants. We thank him for bringing his great talents to work each day – and ensuring our new colleagues bring that same spirit of public service to our team!

Lieutenant Saul Rodriguez

Santa Monica Police Department

Lieutenant Saul Rodriguez deserves his Elaine Award for his professionalism and transparency as the Public Information Officer for the Police Department. Saul works tirelessly with local media and citizens to provide information on issues and incidents that are of key interest to the public. He has reinvigorated the Department’s social media presence, working with both PD members and other departments to ensure that information is timely, appropriate, and engaging.

In an age when sensationalism is de facto, Saul has demonstrated that timely, fact-driven information has great value. Saul has developed strong relationships with both local and national media due to his approachability and veracity. His thorough research and steadfast delivery often calms volatile situations. We thank him for always being available to get the word out, whether it’s a breaking crime with a wanted suspect or information about a new service provided to the community.

Roy Pogue, Principal Network Engineer

Information Services

Roy Pogue, Principal Network Engineer, earned his Elaine after receiving the following commendation from CIO Joseph Cevetello:

Roy is one of the true unsung heroes of the City. He is the primary individual responsible for maintaining all of the city’s networks both wire, wireless, secured, and open. He is responsible for the strategy and operations of the City’s networking infrastructure, including firewalls, switches, backbone equipment, access points, ports, and monitoring equipment. To give you an idea of the immensity of his challenge, think about just about every City process and realize that if it were not for our network we would be back in 1980. Traffic lights, traffic systems, BBB, Dispatch, Fire and Police CAD, ERP, Permitting systems, email, and I could go on and on, would not function without the robust and redundant network that Roy, assisted by Christina Wu, plan, implement, and maintain.

Why call Roy out now? Well, in addition to all of that, he is also responsible for ensuring the success of the fiber relocation project to support CSB. It all has to be moved, re-rerouted, and moved again. Roy has spent nights lasting to 5:00 a.m. His job, overseeing the cutting and splicing of 144 strands of optical fiber that support not just City buildings, but the entire southern part of CityNet’s network. I liken splicing optical fiber to threading a needle, only imagine doing that 144 times in the dark, at night between 2:30am and 5:00 am, knowing that if you are not successful entire parts of the city will be without connectivity. And he did that all very successfully.

He will be back here again tonight working to 5:00 am to ensure that the remaining 144 strand fiber cable that services finance, other City buildings, and our parking structures are successfully cut over. He will continue to repeat this process, along with additional cut-overs, again in June as construction continues.

Roy is a true team player who works in the background, but his duties are vital to our City communication lines 24/7. As CIO Cevetello sums it up: "He does the work of three staff, and always quietly."

Officer Noell Grant

Santa Monica Police Department

PAL Officer Noell Grant received her Elaine in February after being recognized by the National Police Activities & Athletics League for her work here in Santa Monica.

PAL Program Supervisor Karen Humphrey had this to say about Noell: "Since joining the Santa Monica Police Department 11 years ago, Officer Grant has committed herself to serving youth in the community. She is an advisor to over 15 Explorers: conducting drills, guidance, leadership, chain of command, teamwork, and problem solving. She also teaches D.A.R.E. to 5th graders, is Youth Leadership Council (YLC) co-advisor, as well as the lead for the National PAL Mentoring Grant in which Santa Monica PAL is a recipient of.

Not a day goes by when you can see Officer Grant in the hallway talking to kids, helping them with homework, playing basketball in the gym, or doing an arts & crafts project with the little ones. She counsels families in their time of need, and makes necessary referrals when requested. She is professional, courteous, upbeat, enthusiastic, but more importantly, always looking out for the wellbeing of the PAL Youth. In conclusion, I admire and commend Officer Grant for her sense of conviction, integrity, and her determination to make a difference as a police officer."

As we enter the final stage of selecting Santa Monica's next Police Chief, professionals like Noell Grant embody why SMPD is the "benchmark of excellence." Not only do the sworn and civilian staff keep our community safe, they are committed 24/7 to the wellbeing of our community, starting with our youth.

The Embankment Clean Up Team, Homeless Liaison Program

Santa Monica Police Department

The combined agency efforts of the Embankment Clean Up Team, including SMPD Officers, Public Works staff and LandCare partners, deservedly won an Elaine Award by tackling the unsafe and unsanitary areas along the 10 Freeway in our community.

Santa Monica Police Sergeant and Homeless Liaison Program Supervisor, Erika Aklufi, sums up the team's hard work:

Thank you to our dedicated team of officers who spent the morning walking the eastbound and westbound embankments of the I-10, from Cloverfield Blvd. to 4th St., clearing campers along the freeway. HLP Officers Smith and Allen organized additional sworn resources and created an operation plan that was executed seamlessly and effectively. The officers used the opportunity to remove individuals from extremely unsafe and unsanitary living conditions and identified areas in dire need of clean up.

The really visible work was done by our excellent partners at LandCare. On short notice, Hector Kistemenn and Kevin Vargas arranged for four workers and three trucks to follow the officers and clear out the campsites. Despite their lack of appropriate tools and equipment, these brave souls managed to fill all three trucks with large quantities of trash, furniture and other discarded personal belongings.

I certainly hope you will pass along the HLP Team’s appreciation to all of those who contributed to the effort. I look forward to working with them and others in a few weeks when we tackle this again.

The City joins Sergeant Aklufi in thanking HLP Officers and LandCare for their hard work!


Has a staff member gone above and beyond for you? Feel free to let us know by emailing communications@smgov.net with "The Elaine" in the subject line.

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