When it comes to the Texas County Commissioners Courts, just who are the customers?
Some 365 officials gathered in San Angelo for the West Texas regional conference had no shortage of answers:
ü Cities and other entities
“Everyone who walks through the door is our customer,” claimed one official during the Opening General Session of the 81st Annual West Texas County Judges and Commissioners Association Conference April 26-30.
Keynote speaker Dr. David Alexander, chief mentor/arbitrator with Alexander & Associates, of San Angelo, discussed leadership strategies such as “setting high expectations,” “seeking continuous improvement,” and “building a culture of success.”
Alexander also encouraged a team approach with clear goals, built-in accountability, and measurements of achievement.
“Research shows that people like working for strong leaders, leaders who hold them accountable and who are interested in what they are doing,” Alexander maintained.
County judges and commissioners need to exhibit this strength and team leadership, especially when emergencies arise.
Texas is one of three major disaster states, said Paul Hannemann, head of the Texas Forest Service Incident Response Department, during the Closing General Session.
This means leaders across the state need to evaluate their state of readiness, Hannemann continued.
The years 2005-2009 saw the following:
• 1,083 Days of Response (68 percent)
• 8,202 Fires
• 26 Fatalities
• 807 Homes Burned
• 3,005,296 Acres Burned
• 20 All-Hazard Incidents
When it comes to emergency response, the primary goals of county leaders are to recognize conditions – and subsequently activate their emergency management systems – and realize when to ask for help, which includes knowledge of enabling actions, processes and agreements. In addition, it is crucial that county officials have a seat at the table when key decisions are made.
“If you’re not in the huddle, you’re not going to do very good on the play,” said Dr. Andy Vestal, director of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service Emergency Management Program.
In their presentation on emergency management for executives, Vestal and Hannemann discussed 11 steps officials need to consider prior to emergencies, and 11 steps to follow after the event.
Another key area of leadership involves education, especially at the state level.
“Legislators don’t always come to Austin with a thorough knowledge of county government, particularly those legislators from urban counties,” said Jim Allison, general counsel of the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas.
Allison joined Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo; Rep. David Farabee, D-Wichita Falls; and Rep. Joe Heflin, D-Crosbyton, for a legislative panel discussion to close out the conference.
“Stay in constant contact,” Farabee stressed. “You may disagree with your legislator on a particular issue, but don’t blow the bridge up. Instead, treat it like the most important public relations job you have.”
The state budget and redistricting will dominate the upcoming legislative session, Darby said. Even though money is tight, “we need to talk about the cost of doing nothing.” For example, Texas must have good roads, and failure to fund transportation may ultimately cost the taxpayers more.
According to Allison, the State of Texas has three choices when it comes to Texas county roads:
1. do nothing, which will result in deterioration, damages and inefficiency;
2. increase transportation funding, including a change in the gasoline tax; or
3. keep relying on the over-stressed property tax.
“We’re the junior partner in our partnership with the state, but there’s no need for us to be a silent partner,” Allison emphasized.
Heflin encouraged officials to speak out now rather than later.
“The time to complain is not July,” he stressed. “Don’t wait until it’s all over and say, ‘Why did you let that happen?’ ”
Darby challenged county judges and commissioners to use their collective strength to influence issues vital to counties including additional revenue sources, water and transportation.
Officials demonstrated this strength by setting a record attendance, some 365 strong, at the West Texas conference, which included three days of classroom sessions complemented by a variety of social events allowing judges and commissioners to network and discuss common issues.
The West Texas membership also voted on important Association matters, passing 26 resolutions, selecting the 2012 conference site as Ector County, and voting on the 2010-11 slate of officers:
v President – Lubbock County Commissioner Patti Jones
v First Vice President – Irion County Judge Leon Standard
v Second Vice President – Upton County Commissioner Tommy Owens
v Immediate Past President – Tom Green County Judge Mike Brown
v Directors – Swisher County Judge Harold Keeter, Moore County Commissioner Lynn Cartrite, and Ector County Judge Susan Redford
The 82nd Annual West Texas County Judges and Commissioners Association Conference will be conducted April 25-29, 2011, at the Lubbock Convention Center, with the Holiday Inn Hotel and Towers as host hotel.
By Julie Anderson