The message could not have been clearer. In fact, several speakers at the West Texas County Judges and Commissioners Association 82nd Annual Conference encapsulated the content into a key word that attendees will not soon forget: ENGAGED.
Some 340 officials convened in Lubbock April 25-29 for the annual educational event, where they were schooled on issues pertinent to grassroots government. From start to finish, Association leaders and guest lecturers stressed the need for continual engagement between county judges and commissioners and their taxpayers, county employees, state agencies and state lawmakers. The “state of the State,” where every level of government will feel the effects of the largest state budget shortfall in history – some $27 billion – not only suggests it, but demands it.
Perhaps 2010-11West Texas President Patti Jones provided the best perspective. Jones, Lubbock County commissioner, opened the conference with the critical message, relating her recent experiences testifying at the capitol on county concerns.
“We have to show up during the legislative session,” Jones emphasized. “Otherwise, our representatives and senators ask, ‘If it’s such a big problem, then where is everyone?’
“It does make a difference,” she maintained. “Lawmakers need to know what kind of effects proposed bills will have on our counties.”
CJCAT State Association President Don R. Allred, Oldham County judge, echoed these sentiments, referring to a firestorm building in Austin as state officials will likely succumb to the temptation to make up the deficit by passing additional costs down to the counties.
“The one thing we have to tell the State of Texas is this: If you want us to do something, then you need to send us the funds to pay for it,” Allred declared.
One method of engagement is the passage of county resolutions supporting House Joint Resolution 56 (HJR56) filed by Rep. Burt R. Solomons (R-Carrollton) on Jan. 10 and Senate Joint Resolution 17 (SJR17) filed by Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas) on Jan. 27.
HJR56 and SJR17 call for a constitutional amendment that would bar state lawmakers from imposing any mandates on local government without paying for them. The legislative language on the House side reads: “No bill enacted by the Legislature on or after January 1, 2012, requiring a local government to establish, expand or modify a duty or activity that requires the expenditure of revenue by the local government shall be effective until and unless the Legislature appropriates or otherwise provides for the payment or reimbursement, from a source other than the revenue of the local government, or the costs incurred for the biennium by the local government in complying with the requirement.”
“If your county has not passed that resolution, then I urge you to do so,” said Texas Association of Counties President Vernon Cook, Roberts County judge. (For more information on this support resolution, see the March issue of County Progress.)
Comments by the Association leadership were followed by an opening session on teamwork, where the concept of engagement was explored from another angle, that of the engaged/disengaged employee.
Motivational speaker Mike Daggs coached officials on “the secret to leading great teams,” exploring the characteristics and habits of engaged, disengaged, and actively disengaged employees.
v Engaged employees are your “go-to” people, Daggs explained, and they are “100 percent psychologically committed to their role.”
v Disengaged employees are in a “holding pattern.” These minimalists “do just enough work to get by,” Daggs described, and likely will not get fired because they do perform, albeit at a lower level.
v Actively disengaged employees are “cave dwellers” who are consistently against virtually everything, Daggs declared. They actually devise a plan on how to avoid work and “will always win if their supervisor doesn’t do something about them.”
“You need to know where your people are so you can lead then,” Daggs maintained.
When it comes to leading successfully, he advised county judges and commissioners to re-recruit their engaged employees by using the following tools:
1. Ensure these employees know and understand their job expectations.
2. Give them the appropriate tools and training to meet these expectations.
3. Reward and recognize these engaged employees for their efforts.
When it comes to the actively disengaged, leaders need to let them go before these employees “zap the work culture” and drag down their co-workers, Daggs stated. In addition, statistics show that actively disengaged employees result in a waste of some 13 cents on the dollar, a waste counties simply can’t afford especially in the current economic climate.
Finally, Daggs stressed the importance of details, such as getting to know employee preferences, especially when it comes to rewarding, recognizing and re-recruiting the highly valuable engaged employee.
The Opening General Session continued with a presentation by Burnet County Judge Donna Klaeger, chairman of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS), who once again called upon officials to become engaged, this time in the inspection process.
“If you are a county judge or a county commissioner and you don’t know anything about your jail inspection process, then something is wrong,” Klaeger emphasized.
She also encouraged clear communication between counties and the TCJS, “as we can’t change standards to meet your needs if we don’t know what you are experiencing in your jail.”
Klaeger’s comments were followed by a panel discussion on alternatives to incarceration.
“You’ve got to be innovative,” said Tom Green County Judge Mike Brown. “It’s a lot more cost effective to monitor them out in the community than in the jail, where you feed them, clothe them, heat them and cool them.”
For example, the Tom Green County Commissioners Court has funded the Alternative Change Center (ACC) for 12-plus years, spending approximately $350,000 annually for two full-time community supervision officers and six field officers. Key ACC programs include the Criminal Housing Alternative Program and Community Housing-Extended Curfew Program.
“These programs work,” Brown stressed. “You’ve got to be willing to think outside the box.”
The educational conference continued with a broad spectrum of general and breakout sessions addressing other key topics including mental health reporting requirements, inquests, animal control, tax abatements, county purchasing, and working with the Texas Legislature.
Classroom time was complemented by social events where officials, spouses, sponsors and exhibitors mixed and mingled, allowing for informal discussion along with time to discuss shared county concerns.
Participants broke out their boots two evenings in a row for a fajita dinner and dance with Jody Nix and the Texas Cowboys, and “Taste of West Texas” featuring samples by local eateries and music courtesy of hometown band Rex Thomas and Friends.
Officials also turned out in full force for the annual prayer breakfast, where Lubbock Christian University Chancellor Ken Jones shared a poignant message on leadership, pointing to a biblical example of a man held in high esteem by his followers “because he worked for their good and spoke up for their welfare.” Jones suggested that the job of a county judge and a county commissioner is one and the same. H – By Julie Anderson