Heading up the public-health department for the third-largest county in the U.S. is never going to be an easy task, but Harris County brings its own special challenges, like hurricanes and, this year, its seeming to be Ground Zero for the swine-flu pandemic/panic (take your pick). Herminia Palacio handles these duties with competence and class — during Ike, she and staff members were at TranStar headquarters full-time; during Katrina she supervised operations at the Dome, an experience she still is asked to lecture about to public-health organizations nationwide. And when the swine flu hit, she worked closely with cities and school districts in her jurisdiction to keep things a lot calmer than they might have been. She's loved by her staff, and she keeps them up-to-date by ensuring they have the opportunity to get the latest training. Handling public-health issues in Harris County demands a calm and capable leader; luckily, we have one.