By Kevin Burns, Wise County Commissioner
An unexpected job befell me in the fall of 2013. As you are likely aware, we lost our County Judge, Bill McElhaney, during Commissioners Court on
Oct. 19. Walking back up the granite steps and cast iron stairs of the Wise County Courthouse to finish out and adjourn that meeting was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.
Judge Bill, or “Wild Bill” to some, was a friend to any person he met. He was a treasured friend and mentor to me, and an inspiration to many. He was a true public servant – a statesman.
Bill was instrumental in the construction of our 100,000-square-foot community college building that we completed last year. It currently serves approximately 1,000 students and has a core capacity for 2,500. Bill was a lifelong student and an advocate of education, which brings me to the point of this article: Education is important to all of us.
Two other Commissioners Court members were elected when I took office. Needless to say we were very “green” (in the old sense of the word green). I’m sure it was a source of frustration to the other two members of the court, as well as department heads and staff. They all stressed that it would be a steep learning curve regardless of our backgrounds. We were encouraged by all to seek as much education as possible in the months to follow. Monies for educational opportunities and travel were budgeted prior to our arrival. Of course, our first prerequisite was to attend “rookie school,” the four-day Phase I component of the Commissioners Court Advanced Curriculum (CCAC) program.
CCAC was adopted by the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas (CJCAT) in 1992 to provide curriculum for an advanced study in county government. Phase I Orientation courses are offered at the LBJ School of Public Affairs Seminar for Newly Elected County Judges and Commissioners, which is conducted in Austin every January following an election year. This conference is co-sponsored by the Texas Association of Counties. It is much easier to call it rookie school, but that doesn’t give credit to those who have invested time and money to help all of us.
Commissioners and Judges are required to pursue continuing education (see page 66 for specifics), or we are subject to removal from office. Opportunities abound through many organizations via conferences and schools to obtain required hours, including the CJCAT, V.G. Young Institute of County Government, Texas Association of Counties, and Texas Conference of Urban Counties. Lucky for elected officials, they cooperate and send completed class hours to the CJCAT for documentation without requiring elected officials to do anything but attest to the hours completed and sign the documentation.
CCAC takes mandated education a step further, with Phase II and Phase III courses being offered at the annual CJCAT regional and state conferences and the annual V.G. Young Institute of County Government School for County Commissioners Courts.
Receiving a periodic record of my attendance from the CJCAT indicating classes needed to complete the next CCAC Phase has been a great service in determining which classes to attend to achieve advanced certification.
It seemed early in my term of office that I was being bombarded by educational opportunities and providers. They may seem competitive for your time and participation, but all of our organizations are mindful to prevent conflicts in schedules, and many offer classes and conferences regionally to limit burden on our travel budgets.
An elected official can strictly follow the class requirement schedule provided by the CJCAT and complete his or her certification fairly quickly.
I believe you should schedule your conferences and classes to meet your local needs. You can balance your decisions based on the need to educate yourself on the newest statutory requirements handed down to you from the latest legislative sessions, or needs specific to your position or job responsibilities. I have often thought I may be making a mistake following a fellow elected official into a class I didn’t need for certification, only to find it was relevant to the budget process or helped me understand the needs of another department.
In retrospect, it is certainly a good idea to follow the Phases spelled out in the CCAC certification process. It certainly helps a budget officer familiarize himself/herself in the requirements of both constitutionally and statutorily established offices. The more familiar I am with my fellow elected officials’ duties, the better I can communicate with them about their needs.
As a former businessman, I had a profit motive to inspire me to be more efficient. As an elected official, I believe we have a duty and responsibility to provide required services as efficiently as possible to reduce tax burdens on our citizens and at the same time ourselves. Educational opportunities are available to give you to tools to do so. It is a pleasure to serve with all of you.
It is my hope that Judge Bill’s legacy of dedication to education and service lives on in all of us.
– Editor’s Note: Commissioner Burns received his Commissioners Court Advanced Curriculum Completion Certificate in October 2013.