Sharon Winters wins 2017 Esterbrooks Award

Sharon Winters, Gila County’s Recycling and Landfill Manager, is the winner of the 2017 Robert C. Esterbrooks Award in Operations/Constructions Support from the Arizona Association of County Engineers.

The Annual Robert C. Esterbrooks Award Program, was established by AACE in honor of founding member Bob Esterbrooks, to recognize individuals statewide in the county public works profession. The award recognizes individual county employee service that benefits the community and outstanding achievement that fosters innovation, effectiveness, better communication and efficiency.

The following is an excerpt from Winters’ nomination for the award:

Sharon Winters, Gila County’s Recycling and Landfill Manager, has 21 years of service with Gila County. She manages two landfills, oversees 11 employees, and is a tireless advocate for recycling in our communities.

A November 1997 memo, which served to nominate Winters (then Radonovich) for employee of the month reads, “Sharon Radonovich came to work for Gila County in February 1996. When she came, she didn’t let any grass grow under her feet. She has blazed her own way…” After less than a year at Gila County, it must have been clear that she intended to make an impact. In the roughly 20 years since then, that is exactly what she has done.

Winters was hired as “Solid Waste Operations Manager.” Her title has since been changed, but she has essentially held the same position for her entire tenure at Gila County. Her steadfast commitment to promoting recycling in Gila County has not only had a financial impact on the county, it has also greatly extended the life of the landfills. In a county with only 4% private land, boosting revenue and making the most of the land we have is a particularly significant accomplishment. Her passion for finding new ways to promote waste reduction has not only saved the county money, but has also allowed the landfills to operate as long as possible in their current locations.

In her time at Gila County, she has built a paper and plastic recycling program from the ground up, helping divert recyclable products from the county’s landfills. Under her innovative leadership, Recycling and Landfill Management (RLM) has placed recycle bins at schools, shopping centers, and various locations throughout the county to assist residents in recycling paper and plastic. RLM collects the bins on a regular basis and brings the contents to the county’s two landfills where the paper and plastic are sorted and then hauled to recycle centers in the Phoenix area. As a result of this program, the City of Globe now provides curbside recycling to their residents, which also helps divert recyclables from the landfill.

In the last fiscal year, RLM recycled 610 tons of paper, 8.3 tons of electronics, 354 tons of metal, 14 tons of plastic beverage bottles, and 48,000 tires. As part of the many community service projects Winters organizes, the department also collected and recycled 1,158 containers of latex paint and accepted 48.2 tons of greenwaste at no cost to residents.

Perhaps equally as important, Winters has worked to build community around recycling in Gila County. Early in her time at the county, Winters secured an ADEQ grant to implement a pilot program designed to promote recycling in Gila County schools. For the past 11 years, she has sponsored an Earth Day Poster contest in schools countywide. Last year’s contest had 612 entries.

Each year, she puts together a calendar of community recycling events such as free metal and greenwaste days, working to include even our outlying rural communities. This spring, she organized a free tire recycling day in Young that netted 946 tires-- an impressive feat in a town with a population of less than 700.

Winters is the driving force behind Gila County’s Christmas bike giveaway. All year, inmate laborers work at the landfill’s “bike shop,” refurbishing bikes that are either donated or rescued from the landfill. Each December, the bikes are presented to local families in need. This innovative program empowers the inmate laborers, provides a meaningful way for the county to give back to its residents, and reduces waste. Winters has worked to grow the program each year and in December 2017 distributed a record 160 bikes.

 “Sharon believes in the organization and her employees to an exceptional degree,” says Sanders. “She has the ability to make decisions with empathyand knowledge,” says Gila County Public Works Director Steve Sanders.

Autumn Giles, Gila County Administrative Services Manager, says “I honestly love going to our landfills. The folks who work in our landfills are incredibly passionate and knowledgeable about their jobs. I think that’s maybe not what most people might expect from ‘the dump.’”

“Whenever I’ve complimented Sharon, she puts it right back on her employees, but that kind of positive work environment really has to come from the top down,” says Giles.

Outside of work, Winters is a loving grandmother and dedicated public servant. A handwritten note from a member of the public in her personnel file reads, “We consider Sharon a real asset to the community.” Winters’ impact on the community as a whole has not gone unnoticed. In February 2017, she was the inaugural recipient of the Globe-Miami Chamber’s “Citizen of the Month” award. Her nominator for that award wrote, “Sharon is a wonderful example of what is possible when someone cares about the people of these communities and takes action to do something positive. She is already a hero in my book. Sharon Winters’ efforts have and continue to make a positive impact on our community.”

In another letter in her personnel file from early in her career, her supervisors commend her for her recognition from the Governor’s Office. It reads, “On behalf of Gila County, we are extremely proud of your recent award from the Governor’s Office. This Governor’s Pride in Arizona Award for community leadership exemplifies all of your hard work in the community. We thank you and commend you for your efforts as a leader of Globe Clean and Beautiful and all of your recycling efforts on and off the job.”

Winters’ commitment to promoting waste reduction has made a significant impact on Gila County Government, improved the public perception of Gila County, and helped the community as a whole.