A quality public servant

December 23, 2004

BALTIMORE finance director Peggy J. Watson wasn't pleased when she learned she had been chosen for a special honor. And she probably won't be pleased about this very public notice of her receipt of that award. That's because Ms. Watson believes the public has a right to expect exemplary performance from its public servants. And if she wasn't performing to that standard, she wouldn't be doing her job. Self-promotion isn't her thing.

That selfless attitude and drive to excel are the reasons Ms. Watson deserves to be the first recipient of the Richard A. Lidinsky Sr. Award in Excellence in Public Service. Add to the mix that she possesses a keen mind, affable manner and an institutional knowledge of city government, and you've got a public servant who reflects the spirit and ethic of the deputy comptroller for whom the award is named.

Like Dick Lidinsky, Peggy Watson is serious about her work, but not so serious that she can't find time to enthusiastically admire a new photo of a secretary's baby or genuinely compliment a junior staffer about her command of the facts. As Baltimore's finance director, she has marshaled the economics of ever-dwindling city resources and secured Baltimore's Triple-A bond rating while highlighting the human impact of budget choices and policy decisions. She's an advocate who knows how to close a deal with a smile.

Mr. Lidinsky was from one generation of civil servants. Ms. Watson belongs to a second. A Baltimore native, she came to work for the city from the banking industry to help manage its investment portfolio. That was in 1976. With smarts, savvy and simpatico, she was promoted four times within the Finance Department until Mayor Clarence H. Du Burns tapped her to be its deputy director. She decided to retire in 1997, but her retirement was short-lived.

When Martin O'Malley was elected mayor in 1999, he recruited Ms. Watson to return to city service, and she has provided the young administration with its institutional memory. She's a take-charge administrator with a gift for pointing out an employee's shortcomings with praise. Among the most powerful women in city government, she's not among the self-absorbed (there are plenty of those) and she doesn't suffer colleagues who don't take care of their end of the city's business.

Ms. Watson, who will retire after the New Year, has served with distinction, and her service should be emulated. Yesterday, city officials unveiled a plaque in the City Hall rotunda memorializing quality public service, and Peggy J. Watson's name will forever be first on the list.

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