In January of odd-numbered years, newly elected county and state officers assume their duties and continue the cycle of transfer of power that defines our democratic system. With each renewal of this process, we should pause and thank those who have completed their public service. Your experience and leadership will be missed. Please accept our appreciation for your dedication and faithful participation in county government.
This January, the cycle of change will be extraordinary. The number of new members of commissioners courts will exceed any period in recent memory. The number of new members of the Texas House of Representatives will be the largest in nearly 40 years. The successful implementation of this wave of succession will require extra effort on our part.
Facing a daunting legislative session with budget deficits and redistricting, new members of commissioners court must be immediately prepared to assume a full role in the representation of county interests. Providing those new members with the knowledge and skill to undertake their duties must be a top priority. Please encourage these members to attend the LBJ School of Public Affairs Conference for Newly Elected County Judges and Commissioners in Austin, beginning Jan. 11. This is also the opening of the legislative session, and we will ensure that the new commissioners court members have an opportunity to visit with their legislators.
Also, new and returning members of the Legislature require our attention. In a deficit session, it is especially tempting to avoid funding responsibilities by requiring counties to fund these services. Unfunded mandates can be disguised as reductions in the appropriations bill or concealed in floor amendments and conference committee reports. Urge your legislators to be especially vigilant for provisions that state “the county shall …” This is a mandate. Simply revising the language to “the county may…” will preserve local option.
Finally, please sign on and monitor the Texas Association of Counties listservs for commissioners courts or county judges. We will post information on bills affecting counties as a “Legislative Update.” When a bill requires immediate attention, we will post a “Legislative Alert.” With a consolidated effort, we will overcome these challenges and successfully implement this extraordinary transition.
For more information, please call me at 1-800-733-0699.