McGeorge School of Law adjunct professor of public policy Jim Mayer has received the National Public Service Award—one of the most prestigious professional awards in the country for his efforts in public service in California.
Established in 1983 by the American Society for Public Administration and the National Academy of Public Administration, the award honors leaders who have made outstanding contributions to public service and whose accomplishments are models of excellence for those dedicated to the public good.
“It’s a stunning honor to receive this award and to be recognized nationally for my work is unexpected,” said Mayer. “I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have worked in the public sector and to have been able to make a difference in ways that other people have determined to have lasting value.”
Mayer began his career working for the Bakersfield Californian and the Sacramento Bee.
“Like all journalists at daily newspapers in those days I ended up covering everything,” he said. “But, mostly I covered education and then started covering a lot of natural resource issues. Primarily, I wrote a lot about water and water systems.”
Mayer made a profound and positive difference in California through his writing, informing and educating the public in the process.
“I love journalism and loved every minute of it, but I also aspired to do more,” explained Mayer. “In some ways I wanted to be closer to the action, so I started at an independent state agency that had a bipartisan structure called the Little Hoover Commission. It was a great way to make that transition from journalism into government public service.”
The Little Hoover Commission reviews programs and recommends changes to the governor of California and the legislature. While serving, Mayer managed and directed nearly three dozen in-depth performance reviews of California state policies and operations, including health and social services, education, criminal justice, emergency preparedness, water resources, the regulation of utilities and personnel and procurement practices.
He then helped establish California Forward, a statewide nonprofit organization focused on identifying solutions for challenges the state faced and to help ensure the economic, environmental and social prosperity of all Californians.
“There was a group of bipartisan foundations who realized we needed to look at political process reforms in California,” explained Mayer. “Throughout a two-year process of engagement and discernment we designed a project that was bipartisan by nature and was flexible enough to look at various reforms in the state.”
The organization became the managing partner of the California Economic Summit, a statewide project harmonizing the priorities of California’s diverse regions into a coherent state strategy promoting “triple bottom line” growth.
“Jim’s career is inspiring evidence that a very competent person can have tremendous impacts within and outside of government, maintaining personal integrity and engaging all with respect,” said John Kirlin, McGeorge law professor. “He created and nurtured arenas in which many could be successful, always with grace.”
As the founding director of McGeorge’s public policy program, Kirlin invited Mayer to join the law school, where he teaches courses in systemic change and increasing societal capacity.
“His focus on effective uses of public authority, often in partnerships among governments or nonprofits, informs and inspires students.”
Mayer will be presented the National Public Service Award virtually at the 2021 Annual Conference of the American Society for Public Administration, which will take place online from April 9-15.
“Honestly, I’m happiest when I am engaged in an activity that in one way or another has clear benefits for other people,” said Mayer. “To be recognized in this fashion for that work, I don’t imagine that it will be eclipsed.”
Past awardees of the National Public Service Award include: Paul Volcker, former chair of the Federal Reserve Bank; Alice Rivlin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office; and Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. In the Sacramento region, past awardees include Elizabeth Hill, legislative analyst for the State of California and John Shirey, former city manager of Sacramento.