When I look at the county offices in Hastings, I see awards attesting to what a great place Dakota County is to live, work and raise a family.

Customer satisfaction surveys of county residents say the same thing, with residents giving high marks across the board to county services, low taxes, financial management and amenities.

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Our local communities share in these award-winning ways. For example, Money Magazine named Rosemount one of the best places to live in the United States, and research compiled by a consumer rating site ranked Rosemount and Farmington among Minnesota's 10 safest cities.

At a recent awards ceremony, a commissioner from another county asked me what Dakota County's secret to success is. He said, "You have the lowest property taxes in Minnesota, and still somehow manage to have great roads and parks and libraries and businesses. And every time I turn around, Dakota County wins another award for something. What's the secret?"

I responded by quoting something my first boss told me almost 30 years ago.

While working full-time to put myself through college and law school, I had a boss who was one of the best business people I have ever known. I asked him how he accomplished so much. He said, "Hire great people, and give them the credit they deserve."

Those words have stayed with me for three decades, and I have applied them in my own law practice, as well as in my roles in government. Whenever I received awards, I always made a point to give the credit to the people I work with, since they were the ones who really deserved it.

In responding to my neighboring county commissioner's question, I said Dakota County's secret is not so secret. We have great employees. We also have the lowest number of employees per capita of any county in the metro area. And they deserve credit.

On March 7, the Dakota County Board of Commissioners recognized county employees who had reached certain milestones this year. County Board Chair Mike Slavik honored employees for 25, 30, 35, even 40 years of service to the county.

The recognition wasn't merely about longevity, however. As brief bios were read, we heard of the integral contributions these representative employees had made to improvements in county services, financial management and amenities - the very things for which Dakota County keeps racking up awards.

Special recognition was also given to two collaborative projects emblematic of the sort of work county employees do.

The first was the Birth to Age Eight Collaborative. This effort connects local families to services that prepare kids for school. Data shows too many kids are not enrolled in their school district or are unrecognized by the district prior to kindergarten. This lack of identification and enrollment impacts student readiness and limits the reach of early-learning opportunities. As every teacher and parent knows, even a single kid who is not ready to learn can impact the learning of every kid in a classroom, so this collaborative effort benefits more than just the student who is in need of a little extra help.

The second was the Dakota County Electronic Crimes Task Force.

Dakota County's Electronic Crimes Task Force partners with eight cities in Dakota County to solve crimes and strengthen cases, using evidence from digital devices like cellphones and computers. The collaboration has led to some great results for crime victims and residents, including greater turn-around time on cases, shorter waits in the charging process, stronger cases for the county attorney's office to prosecute, and better public education about electronic crimes.

The unit helped solve serious and high-profile crimes, including three murders in Dakota County. In one murder, detective Ryan Olson helped solve the case by offering a crucial tip that unlocked the victim's cellphone, leading to the arrest of a suspect. A grant from 360 Communities led to the hiring of a forensic analyst, who helps gather evidence in domestic abuse cases. As a result, the conviction rate in domestic violence-related cases increased from 51 to 94 percent.

Thank you to all those who work hard to make Dakota County a great place to live, work and raise a family.

As always, I welcome questions and comments about Dakota County issues. For those interested in receiving more frequent updates, I also send out email updates. Please contact me at Joe.Atkins@co.dakota.mn.us or by phone at 651-438-4430 with questions, comments or to receive my e-updates.