Midway into the 2004 State Conference, officials already were calling it “one of the best.” Insightful educational sessions coupled with engaging social events culminated in an annual meeting that will be long remembered.
Approximately 245 county judges and commissioners gathered in Houston Sept. 20-23 for the 82nd Annual County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas (CJCAT) Conference. Total attendance, including vendors representing 102 companies, sponsors, and presenters, numbered more than 550.
A variety of speakers representing federal, state and local levels of government lectured on key topics such as homeland security, adult protective services, traffic safety, voting requirements, contract negotiations, and legislative issues.
When given the opportunity to voice concerns, county judges and commissioners were quick to respond, posing a steady stream of questions addressing timely issues such as diminished indigent health care funds, mentally ill offenders in county jails, the cost of indigent defense, reimbursement for new voting machines, and unfunded mandates.
Wednesday’s general session featured a full panel of legislators who issued brief comments before opening the floor for discussion.
Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston: Approximately 152,000 inmates are locked up at 110 locations around the state, and 32,000 of those have mental health issues.
Sen. Jon Lindsay, R-Houston: The Legislature needs to balance the state budget without cutting into the counties’ budgets.
Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown: “Most of us believe that we should not require you to do something without giving you the tools to do it.”
Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa: The state needs to prioritize aging courthouses in Texas.
Rep. Carter Casteel, R-New Braunfels: “You would be surprised at how much we learn by just listening to your testimony…It’s important that you be involved in the political process.”
Rep. David Farabee, D-Wichita Falls: Senate Bill 7 (indigent defense) is an unfunded mandate, and “I pledge to you that your cause is my cause on that regard.”
Following the comment period, the legislators listened to concerns from the floor, many of which referred to the continual challenge of unfunded mandates. Members of the panel acknowledged the problem and encouraged elected officials to continue broaching the issue with their legislators.
Casteel recounted a situation when she received 300 e-mails asking her to vote against a particular bill.
Commissioners court members need to voice their concerns, she said, especially when they come across legislation that will have a negative impact on counties.
“Be sure and do that,” Casteel told the audience. “Stop us from hurting county government.”
The legislative session closed with then-CJCAT President Bobby Smith, Polk County commissioner, honoring both Farabee and Casteel with the Legislator of the Year award.
While serving on the House Committee on County Affairs, Farabee has sponsored legislation to improve the collection of fines and fees, said Smith, now CJCAT immediate past president.
“This legislation saves taxpayer dollars,” he continued. “We appreciate these efforts by Rep. Farabee to protect the taxpayers’ interest.”
Casteel also serves on the House Committee on County Affairs and has introduced a proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit unfunded mandates on county government.
“We appreciate the leadership demonstrated by Rep. Casteel on this important issue,” Smith said.
Throughout the educational sessions attendees were encouraged to participate in a variety of social gatherings, giving everyone the opportunity to renew friendships, make acquaintances, and discuss common interests in an informal – and enjoyable – setting.
The President’s Party and Vendor Appreciation Night at Reliant Arena featured steaks grilled by The President’s Cook Team, a group of men and women from Livingston and Houston that Smith cooks with throughout the year. The following evening, Host Court Night, offered complimentary tours of Reliant Stadium, along with dinner and dancing in the Reliant Stadium West Club.
Other highlights included visits to Space Center Houston and the Museum of Natural Science and a fishing excursion to Galveston, along with the traditional golf, pool and domino tournaments.
Spouses were treated to a fantasy spa afternoon in the Park Plaza Hotel’s Celestial Suite, where they were pampered with massages and pedicures.
The conference closed with the Installation Banquet, where Smith received many thanks and a standing ovation for his year of dedicated service to the State Association.
Throughout the banquet several special presentations were made:
Rep. Glenn Lewis, D-Fort Worth, received the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Debbie Ho of Houston was awarded the Immediate Past President’s Scholarship from Harris County Judge Robert Eckels and Robert Wendel, managing director of AIG Variable Annuity Life Insurance, sponsor of the $5,000 scholarship. Ho’s father accepted the award on her behalf.
Six officials were recognized as part of the Second Annual County Progress Awards Program.
Forty-one county commissioners received their Curriculum 2000 certificates.
Following the presentations, keynote speaker Ron Stone, former Houston area news anchor, used lessons from history to demonstrate the value of learning from mistakes.
“You can live with a mistake,” Stone told the audience. “The lesson is in how you live with it.”
Finally, the Association welcomed incoming President Van Lee York, Borden County judge, who pledged to “do everything I can for the counties of Texas.”
Fellow officers sworn in alongside York included First Vice President Gilbert Pargmann, DeWitt County commissioner; Second Vice President Mark Evans, Trinity County judge; and Immediate Past President Bobby Smith, Polk County commissioner.
82nd Annual CJCAT State Conference