A new tradition was established at St. Petersburg College in February with the inaugural Distinguished Public Service Award Dinner. The Feb. 21 event, staged by the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions at the Seminole Campus, honored former SPC vice president Dennis L. Jones for his 32 years of public service as a state senator, state representative, civic leader and doctor of chiropractic medicine in St. Petersburg.
Nearly 200 people, including 18 current or former public officials and a large number of SPC administrators and staff, filled the Conference Center at Seminole to honor the work of Sen. Jones and to recognize exemplary public service in general. As Dean Susan Demers of SPC’s College of Policy, Ethics and Legal Studies put it in her role as master of ceremonies, the ancient Greeks considered public service to be the highest calling of mankind, and Sen. Jones epitomized that quality in his career and life.
SPC President Bill Law opened the program by recognizing Sen. Jones for his role in funding and creating the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions, which serves as a conduit for civic engagement and academic enrichment within SPC and the community, and also represents all 28 members of the Florida College System in the public policy arena.
In summing up Sen. Jones’ career, speakers focused on the important legislation that he had a major role in passing as well as on his skill at building consensus by working across party lines. A humorous note was provided in a video message by former House Speaker Fred Lippman, who served with Sen. Jones in the Florida House for 20 years. Dr. Lippman, now chancellor at Nova Southeastern University, said that the two of them were responsible for passage of more legislation in that period than any other legislators.
Seminole Provost Jim Olliver enumerated highlights of those legislative successes: mandatory child safety seats and driver/passenger seat belts, organ donor designation on driver licenses, Bright Futures Scholarships, “Rails to Trails” using old railroad corridors, Seminole Indian casino tax compact, state poison control registry and judicial reforms to aid small business. Among major projects affecting SPC, Dr. Olliver credited Sen. Jones for helping to secure funding for the Health Education campus, the Seminole Library and the Bay Pines STEM learning center.
Dr. James Winterstein, President Emeritus of National University of Health Sciences, spoke of Sen. Jones’ role in establishing the University Partnership Center, which includes NUHS’ doctor of chiropractic medicine program. And Kim Black, President of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, offered detailed evidence of his commitment to public education.
Perhaps the most significant legislation credited to Sen. Jones is the Florida Beach and Shore Preservation Act, which created a continuing fund to finance repair of Florida beaches after storm-caused erosion. As Dr. Olliver noted, “Pinellas County especially, but every county in Florida that depends on sandy beaches to nurture its tourism industry, is indebted to him for ensuring that there will be continuing funding to keep those beaches healthy.”
To memorialize that accomplishment, the Institute arranged for a section of public beach in Treasure Island to be planted with sea oats after a June renourishment project is completed. The sea oats plants, which also served as table centerpieces and stage decor, were donated by a sponsor of the dinner, Green Seasons Nursery of Parrish. Students from the SPC chapter of the International City Managers Association have volunteered to help with the planting. Other sponsors were the Tampa Bay Times and National University Health Sciences.
Dr. Law concluded the program by unveiling the Distinguished Public Service Plaque, with Sen. Jones’ name as its first entry. It will be hung in the Conference Center foyer.
The Institute initiated the Distinguished Public Service Award to honor exemplars of the true meaning and purpose of public service — individuals who recognize that public service is a special calling and enter into it for the moral and humanitarian benefits derived from serving their country, state and community. The criteria for nomination are:
- A distinguished career of public service in elective or appointive office — local, state or national OR a distinguished career serving the public interest in the private sector, either in the nominee’s profession or in a volunteer capacity.
- An unblemished record of integrity and selflessness in public service.
- A demonstrated spirit of bipartisanship in seeking solutions to public policy challenges
- Overall, a career that best exemplifies public service and dedicated effort in keeping with the greatness of the United States of America.
With Dennis L. Jones as the first recipient, the bar is set high for future nominees. Hopefully, his example will inspire younger public servants to strive for his high standards.
For more photos from the event, please visit the Institute’s Facebook page.
Watch the event on the college’s YouTube channel.