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The annual 5281 Awards ceremony is the City and County of Denver’s traditional way of recognizing and honoring city employees who exemplify the STARS values and go above and beyond expectations in their conduct, work ethic, dedication, and above all their passion for the position they hold with the city. In addition to the STARS awards, there is also a Sustainability category that recognizes actions to promote the city’s sustainability goals. The awards strive to maintain the City and County of Denver's commitment to diversity. The 5281 Awards are a prestigious honor and each year the winners are personally recognized by Mayor Michael B. Hancock.

View the 2017 event photo gallery or Denver 8 event broadcast.


5281 Individual and Team Winners - 2017

Congratulation to this year’s award winners, who were recognized at the 5281 Award ceremony held on May 10 at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House.

Pets for Life

Jill Brown, Emily Caldwell, and Julian Wolff
Department of Environmental Health

The Denver Pets for Life program launched in April 2016 during one of the biggest blizzards of the season in Denver. The team which includes Jill Brown, Emily Caldwell and Julian Wolff, rallied to deliver vaccinations to 304 pets during the severe weather — a true testament that the needs for free pet wellness resources is high in the Westwood and Barnum neighborhoods. Over the next 12 months, the Pets for Life team connected with 743 residents and served 1,216 pets. This means connecting with at least 14 new residents each week all while maintaining and building relationships and serving over 100 animals each month!

The work of the Pets for Life program is much bigger than just helping pets. The team meets clients where they live and connect with people that may otherwise never know about or access Denver Animal Protection services – as well as services across the City and County of Denver. Ultimately, this means that Pets for Life improves the quality of life of Denver residents and their pets. 

Read the full Pets for Life nomination.

Public Works HR Service Team

Gabriele Bankers, Jack Davies, Lacy Gonzales and LaToya Linzey
Office of Human Resources

Gabriele Bankers, Jack Davies, Lacy Gonzalez, and LaToya Linzey serve as the HR Business Partners to Public Works. Everyday this team shows courage by questioning the status quo and asking, “how can we do this better?”. They display credibility by understanding the business of Public Works and acting as a trusted advisor for its employees.

Through a proactive approach and tireless dedication, this team has achieved some major accomplishments over the past year in Public Works including:

  • Helping Public Works reduce turnover to 7.7 percent in 2016, down from 10.7 percent in 2015 - a 28 percent improvement
  • Disciplinary actions have decreased by 62 percent from 2015 by focusing on accountability and creating a leader coaching culture
  • They implemented key process improvements leading to increased efficiency and cost savings of over $27,000
  • And they implemented a formal leadership program for all leaders in Public Works, designed to provide development and learning opportunities that enhance a leader’s ability to build functional teams. 

Read the full Public Works HR Service Team nomination.

Child Support Services - Intake Unit

Lori Coleman, Juls Crawford, Jessica Evaristo, Scott Gates, Alex Gessler, Lupe Gonzalez, Angela Griefenberg, Olisa Schaefer, Jose Sigala, Deanna Smith and Pam Thomas
Denver Human Services

In the past two years, the Child Support Services Intake Unit has created a new Intake Orientation Process so that they could see more clients in a shorter amount of time. They wanted to do what was best for their clients so they focused on innovation and change management. They relied on each other and remained focused on their goals to serve their clients.  There would be times when things were going so well and then a roadblock would threaten progress, but this team never gives up.

From where this team was two years ago to where this team is now can be described as nothing short of spectacular. The time spent together working to make this a better place for the families in the City of County of Denver have made this group more than a just a team; they are a family. The respect and care they show for one another is beautiful. Even through the day-to-day stress, they support each other and genuinely care for the success of one another. The individuals have exemplified the true meaning of STARS. They have demonstrated what true teamwork can achieve. 

Read the full Child Support Services - Intake Unit nomination.

Technology Employment in Colorado Partnership (TEC-P)

Miguel Jara-Garcia, Elaine Lint-Scott and Todd Nielsen
Office of Economic Development

Technology Employment in Colorado Partnership, or TEC‐P, is a regional program that connects Colorado’s hidden tech talent market with IT and advanced manufacturing careers. The Denver team leads six workforce regions and helps employ almost 600 underemployed job seekers.

At the heart of this team is a group of individuals who are dedicated, hardworking, and committed to insuring success for their customers, both businesses and individuals. This team consists of two full time staff, Elaine Lint‐Scott and Todd Nielsen, and college intern, Miguel Jara ‐Garcia (Hara-Garcia). The team works together to get employers connected to IT and advanced manufacturing job seekers. They spend time helping job seekers connect to resources to reach their goals.

Over the past two years, the TEC-P team has been actively serving Metro Denver companies and job seekers, and there are many stories that can measure the collective success, both from testimonials as well as the performance metrics but what makes this team special is the day to day friendship, collaboration, and the ability to not say “I can’t” but “how can we” when it comes to helping our customers achieve success.

Read the full TEC-P nomination.

Jesse Hernandez

Jesse Hernandez has been instrumental in shining a bright light on areas for improvement from the 2015 Employee Engagement Survey. Denver Human Services opted to have focus groups which Jesse facilitated to get at the root cause of employee concerns and use the voice of the employee to help solve many issues, and improve communication across the agency.

Through Jesse's strong leadership, employees feel empowered to speak up and provide solutions to the leadership team and thereby helping to grow employee engagement at Denver Human Services. He has employed lean processes to approach problem solving and by using the lean processes, he is endorsing the use of these tools as a way of modeling for the employees. Jesse is the epitome of a team player who is also focused on serving our most vulnerable population in the City and County of Denver.

Read Jesse Hernandez's full nomination.

STARS Enterprise

Claudia Chavez, Robin Gray and Eric Wolf
Denver International Airport and Department of Finance

The STARS Enterprise team is an inter-departmental team comprised of Robin Gray and Eric Wolf from the Department of Finance, and Claudia Chavez from Denver International Airport. The team implemented an online process for entering property and motor vehicle damage information to be used by all city departments and agencies. The STARS database provides information and data to city leadership in maintaining accountability and making informed decisions.

By streamlining this process the STARS Enterprise team has taken accountability to the next level. Documenting property damage claims has become much more efficient and comprehensive. The data entry process is much easier to train and understand for the end user. Through this effort Risk Management eliminates the paper process, receives and disseminates data immediately after it is entered, provides apps that can be loaded on smart phones and tablets and creates efficiencies in time costs. These enhancements allow city leaders to make more informed and data driven decisions.

Read the full STARS Enterprise nominations.

Karen Devine

Since the day Karen Devine began with Adult Protective Services at Denver Human Services, she has gone above and beyond to address the needs of her clients, enhanced the quality of service delivery of Adult Protective Services as a whole, contributed to positive morale in the section, supported her peers, developed professionally as an individual, and has had an impact on the development of others. She seeks out not just the services necessary to improve client safety but also those that enhance their quality of life.

Karen's commitment to service does not stop on the individual client level. She goes several steps further to ensure that Denver Human Services and Adult Protective Services is building strong relationships with and delivering a high level of response to our community partners.

Karen along with a co‐worker envisioned that Adult Protective Services should have a more prominent place in community events serving their clients or the agencies that advocate on their behalf. She consistently volunteers to present at community events and in 2016 she volunteered to take over the newly established DHS Alzheimer’s Association Walk team and fundraising efforts.

Karen is a positive presence on her team where her daily efforts at making Denver, DHS and Adult Protective Services a great place to work are evident in every moment.

Read Karen Devine's full nomination.

Lt. Debra Thorson

Lt. Debra Thorson is the Denver Fire Department’s only full-time public educator. She can never be all the places she wants to be or teach all the people who request her classes or her expertise. She has overcome the limits of budgets and time constraints. A couple of her contributions include:

  1. In recent years, the Denver Fire Department did not provide fire extinguisher classes for residents; buying and recharging fire extinguishers is costly and requires outdoor spaces due to the mess. Lt. Thorson found a solution: the BullEx laser-driven extinguisher training system simulates dry chemical or carbon dioxide fire extinguishers to allow people to learn in any indoor location. Lt. Thorson now takes the BullEx training system to the mayor’s Cabinet in the Community and other public events to train residents on the BullEx technique.
  2. Lt. Thorson is currently working with the nonprofit Colorado Emergency Preparedness Project to create a Facility Safety Administrator training and certification program. Its goal is to improve customer experience and protect life safety in the event of an emergency. There are almost 14,000 buildings eligible for this program, and Lt. Thorson and her team are creating a wide-reaching training, giving building managers the tools they need to protect themselves and others in an emergency, whether they live here, work here, or are visiting our city.

For these reasons, and many more, Lt. Debra Thorson is a star in promoting safety for our residents and employees.

Read Lt. Debra Thorson's full nominiation.

Partnership in Asbestos Materials Mitigation (PAMM) Team

Emily Freeman, Steve Gonzales and Bill Nuanes
Department of Environmental Health and Denver Parks & Recreation

In May 2016, a joint team comprised of Emily Freeman and Steve Gonzales from Environmental Health and Bill Nuanes from Parks & Recreation, came together to create an inter-departmental approach to address regulated asbestos containing soils incidents throughout the city. This team collaborated to create “Partnership in Asbestos Materials Mitigation” (PAMM) which includes bringing together resources, capitalizing on Environmental Health’s environmental management and asbestos expertise, and developing a wholly new technology that Parks & Recreation now utilizes as a real-time tracking and mapping database. PAMM is truly a safety program because its primary focus is improved safety in Denver’s parks by ensuring regulatory compliance, reducing financial liability from potential future incidents, reducing environmental impacts, and reducing human health risk for our employees and residents.

Park projects, from major capital improvements to irrigation or beautification projects, all disturb soil. PAMM ensures we have properly trained staff and the tools to minimize the risk of exposure and liability with asbestos soils. Parks are Denver’s direct link between our residents, employees, and health and safety. We all strive to have safe, inviting places for our children, family and friends to gather.

Read the full PAMM Team nomination.

Taylor Moellers

Taylor Moellers from the Department of Environmental Health leads the Sustainable Neighborhoods Program which gives residents the opportunity to become active partners in making Denver a vibrant and sustainable community. Neighborhoods participating in this unique certification program organize workshops, projects, and events that enhance the livability of their neighborhood and reduce residents' ecological footprint. The program directly ties to the 2020 sustainability goals of energy, waste, food, and mobility.

Taylor has been with the program from the start and has grown it into one of Environmental Health’s most recognized community programs. Her commitment to the program and her passion for the work has helped to build strong bridges with neighborhoods around sustainability programs. Her vision for the program is to build deeper relationships with the existing neighborhoods and encourage greater efforts in the areas of energy efficiency, waste management, mobility, and community resilience.

Read Taylor Moellers full nomination.

Denver Golf Maintenance at Willis Case, Harvard and Wellshire Golf

Jesse Moisson, Rob Ross, Dave Schuyler, and John Swain

The Denver Golf Maintenance team at Willis Case, Harvard and Wellshire Golf carried out several sustainable initiatives last season.

This began with a beekeeping project at Willis Case Golf Course, where the staff began a three-hive honey bee colony, showing that golf courses can serve as a habitat and have a positive influence on honey bees.

Then, at Harvard Golf the team planted a vegetable garden instead of flowers that was not only aesthetically pleasing, but produced a harvest that was donated to a non‐profit who provides low‐cost and free meals to the public.

At Wellshire Golf, the staff grew a pumpkin patch on an out of the way of play area. The pumpkins were grown and harvested and sold at the Wellshire Golf shop in the fall of 2016. Proceeds were donated to the First Tee of Denver Junior golf program.

The team expects to expand these projects and continue to return proceeds to these sustainable initiatives and provide outreach to educate the community on how Denver golf courses are much more than recreational areas.

This team has shown that we can utilize non‐turf areas for alternate uses that ultimately serve our community through innovative and sustainable projects. Projects like these hit the triple bottom line where we have provided value for environmental, social, and financial objectives.

Read the full Denver Golf nomination.

5281 Individual and Team Winners - 2016

Awarded May, 2016


Service to Customers Award
Liz Lightfoot - Department of Safety

Over the past couple of years, the Denver Sheriff Department had some challenging publicity for a variety of reasons. The cause of many of these troubles was due to the lack of staffing. A courageous decision was made by the Budget Management Office, the Executive Director of Safety, and the Mayor's Office in late summer 2015 to start a sheriff academy in January 2016 made up of 100 cadets. Thus the "Mega Class” was born.

Liz Lightfoot led the recruitment effort that resulted in the selection of 109 candidates who were placed in either the January 2016 class or will start in the summer cadet class. The Mega Class is the largest cadet class ever in the 115 year history of DSD and it deserves mentioning that Liz executed this recruitment within a four month period. The speed of this recruitment is unprecedented in the history of the Denver Sheriff Department.

Prior to Liz’s work on this recruitment, it would take an average of 257 days, or 8.5 months to seat a qualified applicant into a Denver Sheriff Department Academy. To reduce this time in order to meet the Mega Class’ recruitment timetable, Liz employed several innovative strategies.

Liz attracted qualified candidates statewide by attending career fairs in places like Colorado Springs, Blackhawk, Grand Junction, and law enforcement agencies throughout the Front Range. Liz represented the positive aspects of the Denver Sheriff Department throughout the state and even via radio stations to attract top talent to become a part of the Mega Class.

Liz successfully leveraged her relationships with our private medical vendors to expedite their physical and psychological tests for these candidates. Liz used her considerable communication skills to impress upon our vendors the importance of working over the holidays and in conducting these important tests in an expedited fashion.

Liz led a team of civilians in using recruiting best practices to identify the quality and quantity of applicants necessary for a class of this size. This transition was uncomfortable at times and would have led an employee of lesser temerity than Liz to quit.

Ultimately, Liz used every skill set and tool at her disposal to build this first ever Mega Class, including courage, tenacity and customer service.

Because of Liz’s efforts, it took 82 days to seat the Mega Class; a reduction of 175 days.

Teamwork Award
Child Support Services, Accounting - Department of Human Services

At the beginning of 2015 the Department of Human Services’ Child Support Services, Accounting team was facing a substantial backlog in reviewing account ledgers for a variety of inherited reasons. Timely ledger reviews are an integral piece of the Child Support Service’s process, as it is important to get the correct amount of child support to families in a timely manner. It also ensures that the non‐custodial parent is paying the correct amount to minimize financial hardship.

Through lean methodologies and efforts to utilize lean practices, the accounting team put together an action plan to review all ledgers out of compliance within ten months. This was in addition to increasing their output of ongoing ledger reviews to ensure no ledger reviews would ever become out of compliance.

Through their incredible hard work and selflessness, the accounting team eliminated the backlog by more than 66% within the first three months and completely eliminated the backlog three months ahead of the target date. The team also increased the number of ledger reviews completed monthly by 64% within eight months.

This increase in production ensured families received their child support monies more effectively and quickly and also ensured that non‐custodial parents did not pay the incorrect amount. The accounting team was able to accomplish this great feat by developing an awareness on how their work could impact, positively or negatively, the families of Denver.

One thing is for certain, their work has clearly positively impacted many families in our city.

Accountability Award
Jessica Naberhaus - Department of Human Services

Jessica Naberhaus has dedicated her time and energy to the Denver County Adult Protection Team for almost 10 years. During this time she has consistently exhibited an incredibly strong work ethic while both serving her clients directly and collaborating with other professionals in the Metro area and nationally to foster development of a comprehensive network of services and community education focused on the subject of elder abuse.

In working with her clients, Jessica has always been a committed advocate for ensuring that her clients receive all available resources while also maintaining them in the least restrictive living environment necessary to keep them safe. When resources do not exist, Jessica does not hesitate to suggest how DHS might go about identifying new resources that will effectively assist her clients. She digs deep, tapping into her strong community network, to find or create through collaborative effort, just the right solution for each individual client.

Jessica’s vast knowledge and passion for Adult Protective Services has led to her being viewed as a subject matter expert at the local, state and even national levels, where she is often asked to serve as a presenter at educational conferences. Jessica has been nominated for and received several awards by community partners for her incredible service to clients.

Jessica demonstrated tremendous ingenuity and exceptional problem solving skills as she worked together with the City Attorney’s Office and the Probate Court to develop a new legal strategy that could be implemented on the client’s behalf in order to ensure the client’s safety. As a result, the financial exploitation of the client ended and the City Attorney’s Office was provided with a blueprint that can be used to protect additional victims in the future.

Jessica’s commitment to serving this population has never wavered, rather it continues to develop as does her knowledge and awareness of the issues affecting our ever growing aging population. She is a tremendous asset to the APS team, the Denver Department of Human Services, and to the City and County of Denver.

Respect for Self and Others Award
Marie Madrid - Denver Fire Department 

Marie Madrid serves in the role of Executive Assistant to the Chief of the Denver Fire Department. Marie helps the Fire Department communicate with their customers every day via phone and email and throughout the year on a variety of special projects.

Every day, Marie helps bridge gaps among uniform and civilian employees and residents. In her position, Marie’s dealings with the public are respectful and tireless, even when confronted with the most difficult of personalities. She can translate “firefighter speak” into everyday language to connect with broader audiences.

The Denver Fire Department honors members who achieve promotions. Marie was instrumental in developing an innovative and efficient system of checklists and templates that allow for clear assignment of tasks to make DFD’s promotion ceremonies run smoothly. Marie considered the distinct perspectives, interests, feelings, and needs of every promotion ceremony participant, from the members who were promoted, to the Executive Director of Safety, to the families and young children who attend the events.

A recent National Fire Prevention Week theme was about how working smoke alarms save lives. Marie’s creativity produced an English and Spanish educational campaign about smoke and carbon monoxide alarms with messaging anyone could relate to: “You wouldn’t drink expired milk. Don’t use an expired smoke detector. Check the date on the back.”

Firefighters are frequently invited to visit schools and libraries to talk about fire safety. As a mom and grandma, Marie knows that kids learn in a variety of ways. She researched children’s books about firefighting and fire safety and purchased the books for firefighters to read to students.

Marie always takes time to listen to her coworkers’ concerns with patience and empathy. Her background in social work is evident as she strives to find solutions that enable our work family to coexist in a positive and productive way. Nobody at DFD Headquarters will ever go hungry or without an afternoon treat as long as our den mother Marie is in the building.

Marie demonstrates respect through patience. She uses her voice to encourage change where it is warranted and strives to do the right thing. She greatly values the work of her colleagues and demonstrates it with simple notes and kind gestures that make the DFD’s work life easier. 

Sustainability Award
Sarah Anderson - Department of Public Works

Sarah Anderson from the Department of Public Works directed the production of Denver's first green infrastructure manual.

Green infrastructure refers to the use of natural systems like bioswales, stream buffers, constructed wetlands, and permeable pavers to handle stormwater runoff, rather than conventional "gray" infrastructure consisting of sewer pipes and pumps. Natural systems are cheaper and also more effective at keeping pollutants out of our streams and rivers during events involving high levels of precipitation. They also produce much more attractive landscaping features.

Although green infrastructure helps make a city more sustainable and resilient, developers are often reluctant to use it, in part because they aren't familiar with it. Sarah's green infrastructure manual removes that obstacle by providing detailed "how to" examples that developers can use. The information in this manual is specifically tailored for the unique combination of soils, hydrology and water laws that we have along the Front Range. It not only provides value to Denver developers but can also be used by developers in other communities. This benefits Denver because when green infrastructure is used by communities upstream from Denver it protects the quality of streams and rivers as they flow down into Denver.

Sarah's green infrastructure manual is a cutting‐edge product that few, if any, other cities have yet. Her work has put Denver in the forefront of cities promoting the switch from gray to green infrastructure and will help us continue to be a more sustainable city.


The 2018 5281 Awards nominations are now open and close on April 10, 2018.

Submit your nominations online.

Nomination Criteria:

  • Please note that accomplishments and outstanding performance for the nominee must be validated through specific examples and documentation. The emphasis should be on significant achievements, results and impact.
  • Management level employees (directors, managers, supervisors) are exempt from nomination.  
  • Please consider limiting team size to 20 individuals or less if possible. If your team nomination is larger than 20 members we will ask that you name the core members to equal 20 members.
  • Nominations may only be submitted by currently employed City and County of Denver employees.
  • Rather than have multiple employees submit similar nominations for the same nominee, please combine all nominations into one nomination for that individual or team.
  • Submit your completed nominations by 5:00 pm on Tuesday, April 10

For questions regarding the 5281 Awards, please contact us at or call 720.913.5693.

We look forward to seeing this year's awardees and invited guests at the 5281 Awards ceremony held at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House on June 6, 2018.

5281 Awards Categories

Service to Customers - The goal is to continually exceed customer expectations by identifying and meeting needs, working collaboratively to solve problems and developing trusting constructive relationships with residents, employees, officials, vendors and contractors.

Teamwork - Works cooperatively with others to achieve team goals. Actively fosters commitment and team spirit and works with others to meet business objectives.

Accountability - Follows through on commitments made and takes responsibility for results and subsequent outcomes. Contributes to maintaining the integrity of the organization and displays high standards of ethical conduct. 

Respect for Self & Others - Treats others with consideration and high regard.  Demonstrates respect for the differences that exist among customers and fellow employees and recognizes that those differences are an important source of innovation, progress and interpersonal awareness.

Safety - Creates and maintains a safe work environment by taking action which prevents injury or harm to self, others, equipment and/or property. Additionally, creates and fosters an environment of open and respectful dialogue in which individuals may offer diverse perspectives.

Sustainability – This award recognizes individual or team actions that promote achievement of Denver’s 2020 Sustainability Goals in one or more of the following resource areas: air quality, climate, energy, food, health, housing, land use, materials, mobility, water quality, water quantity, and workforce.