Every other year, the Texas Association of Counties' County Best Practices Awards Program recognizes noteworthy innovations and solutions that increase efficiency, improve operations or overcome obstacles brought about by, say, a pandemic. These solutions help Texas counties better serve their residents. The best of them also serve as models that other counties can shape to fit their particular needs.
Here are the recipients of the 2020 County Best Practices Awards. Congratulations to all!
Program Title: County Clerk's Office Straight to You! / Records on the Run
County: Bexar County
Contact: Priscilla Hernandez, chief deputy-operations, county clerk's office
Phone: (210) 288-8130
Description: A first-of-its-kind mobile satellite office, established as part of County Clerk Lucy Adame-Clark's community outreach efforts, allows residents to record, buy or request copies of vital documents, such as military discharge papers, real property records or marriage licenses, without having to drive to downtown San Antonio.
Program Title: Food Accessibility and Distribution
County: Harris County
Contact: Listed below.
Phone: Listed below.
Description: The Texas Association of Counties combined six related food programs and events initiated by Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia into a single award titled "Food Accessibility and Distribution." These efforts formed a comprehensive approach to countering limits imposed on food accessibility by the pandemic while reducing the risks of exposure to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The six programs:
- Distributed hundreds of brown bag lunches each week to children at parks and to residents of all ages at community centers. Contact: Jose Jimenez, Precinct 2 purchasing director; (713) 274-2371.
- Expanded the daily delivery of free hot meals to qualifying homebound seniors. Contact: Jimenez.
- Established a partnership with local restaurants to provide hot meals on Fridays to residents of all ages, not only feeding those in need but also supporting small businesses in the precinct. Contact: Jimenez.
- Collaborated with the Houston Food Bank to set up giveaway events that distributed food and supplies to thousands of families throughout Precinct 2. Contact: Chara Bowie, Precinct 2 director of community programs; (713) 274-2124.
- Partnered with the nonprofit Second Servings to rescue excess, perishable food and used social media to give it away at pop-up drive-thru locations before it spoiled. Contact: Sydney Pennie, Precinct 2 superintendent of parks administration services; (713) 274-2073.
- Collected nonperishable food items approved by a registered dietitian, converted community centers closed by the pandemic into storage space and organized delivery routes to bring hundreds of shelf-stable meal boxes to about 300 senior residents. Contact: Bowie.
Program Title: Communication Coalition
County: Kaufman County
Contact: Jerry Dean, county administrator
Phone: (469) 376-4138
Description: Realizing the need for more effective countywide communications, County Judge Hal Richards assembled a group of local leaders and supporting partners to build a cooperative approach to sharing accurate information. The countywide coalition that developed from Richards' initiative gives participants a platform for communications training and networking.
Program Title: Video Marriage Licenses
County: Kaufman County
Contact: Laura Hughes, county clerk
Phone: (469) 376-4735
Description: When the pandemic closed the county courthouse to visitors, the Kaufman County clerk's office was no longer able to verify a couple's application for a marriage license in person or administer a sworn oath, as required by state law. So, County Clerk Laura Hughes and her staff developed a cost-effective solution using tools already available. They adapted videoconferencing and electronic-signature software to continue to issue marriage licenses and collect payment for them while observing COVID-19 safety protocols.
Program Title: Intimate Partner Violence / Domestic Violence Initiative
County: Tarrant County
Contact: Sharen Wilson, criminal district attorney
Phone: (817) 884-1400
Description: A new intake program developed under the leadership of Criminal District Attorney Sharen Wilson streamlines the evaluation of misdemeanor domestic violence cases and draws on the special knowledge and skills of a review team to better assess individual cases and understand the legal goals for each one.
Program Title: Videoconferencing Kiosk for Marriage License Processing
County: Tarrant County
Contact: Clint Ludwig, chief deputy, county clerk's office
Phone: (817) 884-1079
Description: Determined to continue to process marriage licenses during the pandemic while remaining compliant with state law, Tarrant County Clerk Mary Louise Nicholson's office set up a computer kiosk in a separate, private room using existing videoconferencing capabilities. Disinfectant and hand sanitizer were provided. The kiosk enabled clerks to verify and issue marriage licenses while following safety guidelines.
Program Title: Neighborhood Fire Drill
County: Travis County
Contact: Brigid Shea, county commissioner
Phone: (512) 854-9222
Description: With Travis County ranked at high risk for wildfire, Precinct 2 Commissioner Brigid Shea worked with other county officials, residents in a 200-home, fire-vulnerable area and a University of Texas professor to design, conduct and document a neighborhood-based evacuation drill. The successful experiment offers other counties and communities a template for preparing against the threat of wildfire.
Program Title: Silver Watch Program
County: Travis County
Contact: Jama Pantel, government relations, Precinct 5 constable's office
Phone: (512) 854-9101
Description: Recognizing that there were many elderly residents who didn't have anyone around who could check on them regularly, Travis County Precinct 5 Constable Carlos B. Lopez devised a solution: the Silver Watch Program. Precinct 5 deputies, trained in partnership with Meals on Wheels, call on seniors when they're out in the community. These welfare checks, even with safety restrictions in place, have proved crucial during the pandemic for residents who have little or no support.
Program Title: Financial Literacy Program
County: Williamson County
Contact: Evelyn McLean, Precinct 3 justice of the peace
Phone: (512) 943-1508
Description: Williamson County Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Evelyn McLean saw how repeat citations for driving without a license, driving with an invalid license or driving with no car insurance often traveled hand in hand with financial problems. Working with the Financial Literacy Coalition of Central Texas, she developed a financial literacy class that defendants could take to avoid paying a fine and, it was hoped, reduce their chances of becoming a repeat offender. The program's quick success has prompted other county officials to adopt it.