As the 82nd Session of the Texas Legislature grows closer, county officials have been warned to brace themselves. Headlining this Austin assembly will be issues innately fraught with tension: a projected $18 billion-plus budget shortfall, redistricting, limited transportation funding, and a potential water shortage, to name just a few.
“But this also can be a session where you, as county judges and commissioners, assert yourselves,” said Rep. Patrick M. Rose, D-Dripping Springs. “I think the more you are in the driver’s seat, the more empowered you are, and the more we look at the total taxpayer impact, the better we will be,” Rose told officials gathered in San Marcos.
Some 320 county judges and commissioners convened in Hays County June 21-24 for the 76th Annual South Texas County Judges and Commissioners Association Conference. Rose joined Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio; Rep. Richard Pena Raymond, D-Laredo; and Jim Allison, general counsel of the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas, on a legislative panel during the Closing General Session.
Raymond acknowledged the budgetary plight of many Texas counties and encouraged officials to “give us input to where the priorities should be.”
“I hope you will take the time between now and January to engage with your legislators,” Raymond continued, “even if you don’t like them.
“Your voices don’t fall on deaf ears,” he continued. “But if you don’t talk to us, we can’t hear you.”
Prior to the panel discussion, county judges and commissioners were given poignant advice on how to ensure their voices communicate effectively, especially when conversing with fellow officials and taxpayers.
“When you are talking to a taxpayer, be sure you listen to the little things,” said Dr. Richard Cheatham, dean of fine arts and communications at Texas State University in San Marcos. “The little things will astound you.”
People spend their lives developing perspective and a frame of reference, he continued. Consequently, “we know what we expect people to say based on our frame of reference. With this frame of reference, it is likely in the last week we have answered a question that has not been asked.”
As presenters of messages and participants on the court, officials need to recognize the different communicative personalities of their co-workers, Cheatham stressed. Chances are, commissioners courts are comprised of one or more of the following:
v The Driver: start on time, stay on task, all business, all work.
v The Amiable: people-person, examines every issue from all sides in an effort to please all parties.
v The Expressive: says what is on his mind the minute it comes to mind.
v The Analytical: data-driven – wait until all data is in place to ensure success.
Each of these personalities is important, Cheatham maintained, and each can contribute positively to the task at hand. The driver ensures deadlines are met, the amiable reminds one and all to treat others well, the expressive offers creativity, and the analytical can help prevent errors early on.
“We need to be able to communicate with all of them and thank all of them for what they have to offer,” Cheatham said.
The four-day conference included other topics of key interest to county government and commissioners courts including the nuts and bolts of economic development, interlocal agreements, mental health commitments, and personnel issues.
Educational sessions were complemented by a variety of social activities, affording county judges and commissioners the opportunity to network with their peers and make new acquaintances. Hundreds of officials and guests were on hand for Host Court Night organized by the Hays County Commissioners Court, featuring a fajita dinner and casino night. Conference planners noted a record turnout at the spouses’ event, which included a tour of the Aquarena Center.
In a unique twist of events, two of the South Texas Association officers stepped into the Hollywood scene when the cast and crew of the television series “Friday Night Lights” used a section of the host hotel, the Embassy Suites, to film a portion of an upcoming episode. 2009-10 President Roger Galvan, Calhoun County commissioner, and then-Second Vice President Jerry Garza, Webb County commissioner, were pulled in as “extras” during filming. The scene featured actors attending a conference, and Galvan and Garza served as audience members during taping.
Both Galvan and Garza took the stage later in the week, this time in an authentic setting, at the South Texas Association Installation Banquet. During the last year the South Texas Association lost an officer due to a job transition leaving Galvan and Garza to lead the 67-county region and plan the annual conference. The Association membership applauded the pair for their diligent leadership and welcomed the incoming slate of officers:
v President – Brooks County Judge Raul Ramirez
v First Vice President – Webb County Commissioner Jerry Garza
v Second Vice President – Calhoun County Commissioner Neil Fritsch.
The 2011 South Texas County Judges and Commissioners Association Conference will take place June 6-9 in McAllen. County Progress will publish host hotel information in our County Calendar once details become available.
By Julie Anderson