Voices of County Government: Lawrence Francell

Jeff Davis County Commissioner Lawrence Francell discusses his passion for public service

Jeff Davis County Commissioner Lawrence Francell

How long have you been involved in county government? What was your background before being elected?

I am into the first year of my third term. I spent almost 40 years in the museum profession, approximately half of that working in museums, and the other half as a partner in an international museum and art services company. Working for, and with, non-profit organizations was great experience for the job of county commissioner.

How did you become involved in county government and what drives you to stick with it? What is the best part of your job?

I have two degrees in history and political science. Since this is where government has the most direct impact on people, I have always had an interest in how things operate at the city and county level. In Jeff Davis County, the commissioners are not paid, so one has to believe in community service to hold this office. The best part of the job is being able to interact not just with my constituents, but the entire county.

What has been biggest challenge you’ve dealt with as an elected official and what advice would you give to other county officials facing the same or similar challenges?

The biggest challenge we face in our small (in population) rural county is the change from ranching to tourism as our primary economic driver, with an attendant increase in new citizens. The concept of change is difficult for some people, but inevitable. Those of us in county government that face this challenge must do so creatively and head on.

What kinds of things do you do to ensure that you’re working for your constituents and hearing from them?  

In a small population county interacting with one’s constituents is a way of life. All that is required is to be out in public or hit the post office between noon and 1 p.m.

What’s been your proudest accomplishment as a county government official?  

My proudest accomplishment as Jeff Davis County Commissioner was coordinating the community clean-up during the major Rock House Fire in spring 2011. Working with the Department of Public Safety, TxDOT, Texas Disposal, and several volunteer groups we were able to clear the debris even as the fire burned. Second to that, and as a follow on, I was able to persuade my fellow commissioners to institute an Emergency Notification System (Reverse 911) for the county.

What’s the best thing about your county? 

The best thing about Jeff Davis County is the people I am allowed to serve and work with, and the fact that we have a tremendous amount of great scenery.

How do you describe your job to people who may not be familiar with the day-to-day of what you do or the responsibilities of your office, or with the way county government functions? Are there any common misconceptions that you hear?

Explaining the job of county commissioner is an everyday occurrence. The town of Fort Davis is unincorporated and managed by the county. People do not understand that we are not like a city, which has wide legal latitude and ordinance making authority while the county is subject to the whims and authority of the Legislature.

What’s the biggest challenge facing your county, or what project are you most looking forward to accomplishing in the future?

The biggest challenge faced by Jeff Davis County is the slow down in growth and loss of income due to serious drought conditions, coupled with the continual pressure from the Legislature to do more with less.

When you’re not at work, what are you doing? Do you have any hobbies or something interesting you do that may surprise your colleagues?

When not at work I enjoy historic research, and have written a history of Fort Lancaster (Crockett County), a photographic history of Fort Davis, and I am working on a editing a journal from the 1880 Victorio Campaign in West Texas conducted by the 10th Regiment of Cavalry against Apaches led by Chief Victorio. I also volunteer at Fort Davis National Historic Site and especially enjoy providing tours to visitors.

Is there anything else you’d like to add or talk about regarding your role as an elected official, your office or your county?

I have had to overcome the difficulties balancing the interests of the old and the new populations of the county, the inevitable change that is occurring and the difficulties of managing not only a county, but providing de facto governance for an unincorporated village.​