Every so often, County Progress asks our distinguished Judges and Commissioners to allow us a glimpse into their public lives giving us a fresh appreciation for the myriad of roles and responsibilities they shoulder every day. Our thanks to Comal County Commissioner Donna Eccleston for taking the time to visit with us.
HISTORY: I’m a military brat and an Air Force wife. My father was active duty Air Force, and I was born in the Philippines. My husband, Bob, and I have been married 40 years and have two sons and two granddaughters. As kids our families were stationed together in the Philippines and Maine, and I have known him since I was 2. We moved to Comal County in 1999. Bob retired from the Air Force in 2001. Together we were stationed in the United States, England, and Germany. We were fortunate to have been stationed in Texas four times. Comal County is in my blood.
I am a charter member of the Canyon Lake Rotary Club, and I serve on several non-profit boards in the county. My community is important to me, which prompted my decision to run for office and for re-election. Before taking office, I was a mortgage lender and real estate agent; knowledge and skills from these experiences have proven very useful as a Commissioner.
IS IT WHAT YOU EXPECTED? Yes and no. I attended Commissioners Court for almost two years before taking office, and that was very necessary and useful preparation for being ready to do the job on day one. But it is quite a bit more challenging to be a decision-making participant rather than just a spectator. As such, it has been very satisfying to serve my neighbors in a useful and purposeful way. The best thing about county government is that it is neighbors serving neighbors. That being said, Comal County is growing rapidly with half our total population residing in the unincorporated areas. With a greater population comes urban-style issues. Unlike cities and towns, our rural governing tools do not include the ability to deal with many of the growth issues we are experiencing.
TYPICAL DAY: I think one of the very best things about this job is that there are no typical days. Each day presents its own opportunities and challenges, which are always interesting and complex. Each day can include anything from road issues (e.g., potholes), to environmental issues, boat ramps, parks, mental health services, indigent health care, and economic development, just to name a few. Large construction projects such as the county satellite office, the new jail, new courtrooms, and other new developments round out our weekly issues. Continuous collaboration among staff, stakeholders, and other entities is key. It’s something I feel we all must do to the best of our ability every day.
We all wear many hats. In addition to my constitutionally directed duties, I serve on statewide and regional boards including the Texas Association of Counties Health Employee Benefits Pool, the Public Employees Benefit Alliance, the Texas Council of Community Mental Health Centers, three regional boards, and numerous non-profit boards.
BIGGEST CHALLENGE: Our greatest challenges are all tied to our rapid growth. We are the second-fastest-growing county in the United States. Many people move from cities to the unincorporated areas expecting city-type services. Unlike cities, county authority is derived from specific statutory authority.
Education is vital to people understanding our limitations. As we grow, advocating at the legislature for better tools will become even more important.
We initiated and have been steadily updating and working our Strategic Plan to expand facilities and personnel while making the best use of our limited resources. Several years ago we recognized the need, and we have been working to increase access to county offices via technology. It paid off. This forward-thinking has been crucial during COVID-19 to keep the county running as efficiently as possible to provide uninterrupted services.
FAVORITE SUCCESS STORIES: Mental health issues are a passion for me. I am proud to represent Comal County as a current board member and past chair of our 19-county mental health authority. Through these efforts, every day Comal County has expanded our system of care in an organic, grassroots way. We came together to solve a crisis and have stayed together as the mental health stakeholders group for over 11 years. We now have a Mobile Crisis Outreach Team, a Veterans Treatment Court, the Canyon Lake Rural Mental Health Clinic, and in January a Mental Health Court in addition to our primary clinic, all made possible by grants and pooling resources. We have embedded our local mental health authority into our jail services for continuity of care and cost savings. Everyone has a piece of the puzzle, which is why we work every day to find collaborative partners in different areas to benefit all of Comal County. I still have several projects I am working on to expand targeted services and cost savings.
FAVORITE PART OF BEING A COUNTY COMMISSIONER: I love this county, its people, and the complexity of the job. It is not always easy or clear cut, but it is always interesting, and the effort is rewarding.
I am very solution-based, so being able to bring things to fruition for my community is what drives me. “We are all in this together” is an oft-used phrase, but it’s so true. This is where I live. It is my home, and I cherish the fact that people feel comfortable approaching me with their concerns when I am out in the community, particularly at the grocery store, which I love. I may not have an immediate answer to help directly, but I can help get the correct information they need and point them in the right direction.
Most importantly I enjoy the people. This is a “people-first” business, and I never forget that. I am blessed in my friendships, and I have made many friends along the way whom I may not have met otherwise. I’m a little biased, but I live in the best precinct in the best county in the best state in the United States. I’m doing everything I can to help others feel the same way.