COVID brought out the best in the village staff, factored into Employee of Year awards

The annual Employee of the Year awards for Key Biscayne, like most things during 2020, took on a much different tone this year, with a new informal criteria never before imagined: response to the coronavirus.

“This year, every single member of the village staff has responded to community needs related to COVID-19, and we are proud of the entire staff as they have all shown their dedication to this island paradise,’’ said Director of Human Resources Juan Gutierrez.

Each of the village’s five departments honors its top employees each year during an awards ceremony where other employees also are honored for their years of service starting at five years. The top service honoree, Candice Roig in Fire Rescue, was recognized for 25 years of service.

Anyone can nominate someone as an Employee to the Year as the village staff works closely together. Department heads make the final selection. The village started with one general employee of the year award, with additional awards for officer of the year and civilian of the year for the Police Department, and firefighter of the year for Fire Rescue. Over the years the awards have grown to recognize someone from each of the village’s five departments.

Winners for 2020 are:

  • Natalie Winters – Procurement Specialist (Administration)
  • Dunia Yera – Permit Clerk (Building, Zoning, and Planning)
  • Keith Bean - Fire Driver/Engineer (Fire Rescue)
  • Roxy Lohuis-Tejeda - Adult Program Manager (Parks & Recreation)
  • Lt. Danny Valdes - Police Officer of the Year
  • Daynara Llompart – Administrative Services Coordinator (Police Dept. Civilian of the Year)
  • Sgt. Martin Santiago - Police, Special Recognition
  • Maria Robleto – Cleaning Staff (Police Dept., Special Recognition)

In previous years, said Gutierrez, the awards were given to employees who demonstrated consistent service excellence throughout the year, sometimes making it hard to decide which to honor. This year, because of the scope and changing needs during the COVID-19 crisis, all employees in all departments had to pitch in for the best result, he said.

“It is often difficult to select the winner because each (staffer) goes above and beyond,” the village HR director said. “We look at each employee’s service and achievements as a whole. None of the awards are given based on one action or as a result of one incidence response. We look at the nominations and the big picture to finalize the winners.”

This year, selections were difficult because of how all staff members responded to COVID-19, he said.

“The pandemic has impacted each of our roles and, while the pandemic was not specifically mentioned in the criteria for nomination, the way our employees responded to the needs of the community was taken into account,’’ he said.

“From the start of the pandemic, the staff stepped up, offering to help in ways that go above and beyond their ‘job description’ to ensure that residents’ needs were met and that the island could be safe,’’ he added.

Among the things staffers did was taking care of seniors who were uneasy about leaving their homes, purchasing personal protective equipment for staff, and ensuring offices were clean and safe to work in. “Everyone has pitched in this past year and, for that, everyone deserves to be recognized,’’ he said.

Village Manager Andrea Agha, in her final comment of her tenure with Key Biscayne, also praised the village staff.

“The best organizations thrive as a result of the dedication and professional excellence delivered by its staff,” she said. “Key Biscayne residents are very fortunate to have a truly amazing and committed team who care about the needs of this community.

“I have been privileged to work with this fantastic team that has gone above and beyond throughout this unprecedented year,” she added. “While I congratulate each of the Employee of the Year winners, I applaud the entire staff on another exceptional year of service.”