By Julie Anderson
As a young athlete, Ronnie McDonald was passionate, unapologetically so. Winning was everything to this basketball player, and a loss was simply unacceptable. He hollered with intensity, whether it be an encouraging “LET’S GO!” or a wall-rattling “NO!” when the scoreboard was not in his favor.
McDonald tried to draw in other players by touting a mentality that winning was all that mattered, and if everyone would just get on the same page (McDonald’s page), then the team would undoubtedly win.
The basketball coach cautioned McDonald against his leadership style.
“Ronnie, you can’t lead like that,” Coach stated.
“But I have passion!” the athlete countered.
“You have to lead by example,” Coach replied.
McDonald shared his leadership experiences with some 245 officials during the Opening General Session of the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas Annual Conference Sept. 29-Oct. 2 in Lubbock.
“Leadership is a journey,” McDonald emphasized. “It is a training process.”
As McDonald transitioned into adulthood, he could not deny that youthful drive to succeed, fueled by a determined mentality that still suggested, “If you’re not for me, you’re against me.”
When presented with the opportunity to run for County Judge at the young age of 27, McDonald was encouraged by friends and mentors who helped him reshape his approach to leadership.
“I learned it’s not all about me,” McDonald admitted. As he met with members of the community, McDonald began rephrasing questions. Instead of talking about being on “his team,” McDonald asked the following:
- What is happening in your community?
- Is there anything I can do to help?
Once in office, McDonald continued to reframe his mindset and embraced the concept of servant leadership. The question was no longer, “How can I win?” but instead, “How can I bring others in?”
As issues came before the county and the Commissioners Court, McDonald made sure he practiced inclusivity, gathering ideas and inviting feedback from the varied county offices.
Votes were taken, some resulting in a 3-2 two victory or a 2-3 loss. In the past, a loss would have provoked a bitter reaction with a silent promise to “get you back on the next vote,” he disclosed. However, as McDonald continued to refine his leadership mentality, he now reacted to a loss with disappointment, of course, but with a resolve to move on to the next issue at hand, reminding himself that “I didn’t come to fight; I came to serve.”
McDonald served as Bastrop County Judge from 1998-2012 during a time in which the population of the county doubled. He oversaw a $31 million county budget and was in office during the Bastrop County Complex fire, the most destructive wildfire in Texas history. He is now the executive director of Community Relations and Strategic Planning Partnerships for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and executive director of the Texas Rural Leadership Program, Inc.
McDonald concluded his leadership presentation by posing the following question to his audience, a question worth repeating as Commissioners Courts face challenging issues, tough votes, and related pressures: Are you going to be a politician, or are you going to be a public servant?
The former Judge’s educational class was one of 17 approved hours of education credit for County Commissioners offered at this year’s State Association Conference, along with four hours of judicial education credit. The opening class on leadership also served as a Commissioners Court Advanced Curriculum session (CCAC). Twenty-six officials earned their CCAC certification this year and were honored at the conference Installation Banquet.
The conference education package offered a broad slate of important topics including the Texas Legislature and lawmaking, county investment policies, bonds and certificates of obligation, personnel policies, road funding, and disaster preparedness. Several county officials served on education panels, adding their personal and professional perspective to the discussion. For example, Jack County Judge Mitchell G. Davenport and Cherokee County Commissioner Kelly Traylor shared their experiences with county government and social media.
“There’s just so much misinformation out there,” Davenport stated. “You have the opportunity through social media to put the positive story out there about what county government is, and you can reach the far corners of the state and even the world!”
“People sometimes accuse us of not being transparent in county government,” Traylor declared. “I think social media is a great tool that enables you to be transparent and at the same time stay connected with your constituents.”
Connectivity was broached in another class, this time spotlighting the crucial relationship between Commissioners Courts and state lawmakers. The issue could not be more important, considering the extraordinarily high turnover of senators and representatives and the upcoming 84th Legislative Session.
“Legislators need information,” emphasized Jim Allison, general counsel of the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas. “They need you to bring them details explaining how bills will affect your county.”
This process, becoming involved on the state level and helping impact how laws are made, “is something to get excited about,” offered Polk County Judge John Thompson, chairman of the State Association’s Legislative Committee. “You are playing an important role!”
While learning was certainly the focus of the four-day meeting, a variety of social events were well-attended as officials greeted old friends and met fellow public servants from around the state. Hundreds of Judges, Commissioners, guests, exhibitors and sponsors turned out for Host Court Night at the Bayer Museum of Agriculture, where they were entertained by the Rex Thomas Band. Golfers enjoyed beautiful weather during the Bobby Smith Memorial Golf Tournament, and the tables were filled for the popular domino competition. The final evening featured a new addition, a jam session open to any and all to share their musical talent.
The conference officially closed with the Installation Banquet, where the membership honored 2013-14 President Patti Jones, Lubbock County Commissioner, with a standing ovation for her years of service to the 254-county organization. The Association welcomed incoming President Raul Ramirez, Brooks County Judge; First Vice President Grover “Tiger” Worsham, Trinity County Commissioner; and Second Vice President Susan Redford, Ector County Judge. Jones will now serve as Immediate Past President.
The 93rd Annual County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas Conference will take place Oct. 5-8, 2015, at the Embassy Suites San Marcos Hotel, Spa & Conference Center.