Hungry for Education

TAC's 50 Years of Promoting Excellence in County Government

By Roland Gilbert and Anna McGarty

  • Share this:

Editor's Note: As County magazine celebrates TAC's 50th anniversary, it is featuring a series of articles that will look at the history of TAC through the lens of the services it provides to counties. This installment covers a the evolution of TAC's education offerings.

The final story in the series will take a look at TAC leadership throughout the years (Nov./Dec.). In January 2020, County magazine will release a commemorative 50th anniversary issue with all the 50th anniversary articles, timelines and photos. To view a complete and interactive timeline, please visit

To see the full interactive TAC Timeline, visit Read about the history of the TAC Risk Management Pool here.


TAC's 50 Years of Promoting Excellence in County Government

Since its beginning, TAC has been helping county officials address their daily challenges through training. 

In fact, in 1969 when Gov. Preston Smith signed the law that created the Texas Association of Counties, one of the Association’s primary duties was clear — “sponsorship and presentation of educational conferences and seminars relative to county affairs,” according a 1989 article in TAC’s County magazine. TAC has been educating county officials ever since. 

TAC’s educational offerings have evolved as county officials and key staff became more involved in developing training, said Director of Communication and Education Services Leah Magnus, a 27-year veteran of TAC.

TAC members wanted training on how to manage their duties as newly elected officials; updates on legislative changes, court procedures and other judicial education needs for constitutional county judges; reduce their human resources and loss control risks; develop new leaders among the ranks of county staff; and wisely invest county funds — among many other topics. Events like the national banking crisis of the 1980s and the investment reforms of the 1990s helped shape education. 

County officials have left their mark on TAC’s educational programs. Those instrumental in shaping TAC’s educational program include Judge Giles Dalby, Garza County; Former Swisher County Judge and TAC Education Director Jay Johnson; and former Communications and Education Department  Director and Executive Director Karen Norris. The program also grew under the leadership of retired Executive Director Gene Terry, who also served as Marion County Judge, and current Executive Director Susan M. Redford, who also served as Ector County Judge and TAC’s Judicial Education Program Manager prior to becoming TAC Executive Director in 2019.

 “Over time, TAC’s educational programs grew to help county officials respond to new challenges from the state Legislature as well as national issues that affected Texas county government,” Magnus said. “TAC wanted to keep up with these challenges by providing timely educational support for our members.

Risk and Management Training

Susan M. Redford welcomed attendees to the 2019 CMRCTAC Executive Director Susan M. Redford welcomed attendees to the 2019 CMRC.

CMRC, as it’s known today, began in 1992 under the name the Human Resources Institute (HRI). Its goal was “to address legal issues in personal management and promote sound personnel practices,” according to the 1991-1992 TAC Annual Report. Most counties don’t have human resources departments — often the county’s elected treasurers, many of whom have never had any HR training, serve as their county’s HR officers. The HRI was created to train them on HR laws and best practices. 

In 1995, TAC added management training through the County Management Institute (CMI).

 “They were so hungry for education, so the CMI started off very track orientated: human resource, loss and safety and management,” Magnus said. “While the training topics have changed over time, the common purpose remains the same.” 

The new CMI combined HRI and the Statewide Loss Control Conference. CMI grew each year, and in 2015 it was renamed the County Management and Risk Conference. 

The three-day conference covers a topics including HR, risk mitigation, wellness, health care updates, response to officer-involved shootings, promoting professionalism and diversity and more. The 2019 conference saw record attendance with more than 400 county officials and staff.

Preparing to Take Office Workshops

Newly Elected Officials got to know one another at the 2018 workshop in San Antonio.Newly Elected Officials got to know one another at the 2018 workshop in San Antonio.

“The elected officials who attend TAC’s Preparing to Take Office workshops tell us it’s one of the most important programs we produce,” Magnus said. “This one-day welcome to office helps county officials transition from other positions in the public and private sectors into an elected official.” 

Like CMRC, the Preparing to Take Office workshops, which began in 1989, have also evolved. Described in the November/December 1998 issue of County magazine as a “prep school for new officials,” the curriculum was designed to help the newly elected avoid “unintentional errors by well-meaning new officials” that could result in “expensive lawsuits that affect the official, the county and the taxpayers,” said then Assistant Executive Director Karen Norris.

Those concerns remain today. TAC continues to hold the Preparing to Take Office workshops every election year. The curriculum is developed with input from TAC directors, Board members and feedback from member evaluations of previous workshops. 

Texas Judicial Academy

Judicial Education

Thanks to ever-changing legislation, the needs of constitutional county judges throughout Texas are ever-evolving. TAC has been at the forefront of unifying, organizing and promoting judicial education since 1984.

The visionary behind TAC’s judicial education programming was then Garza County Judge Giles Dalby. In the early ‘80s, Dalby led the charge to provide county judges educational opportunities — specific to their needs — before earning continuing education credits became a requirement. A group of county judges approached the Texas Tech University School of Law and the National Judicial College for assistance. Both institutions were eager to help.

Dalby, serving as TAC board of directors president from 1983 to 1985, simultaneously chaired the newly formed County Judges Education Advisory Committee. Norris, who helped coordinate efforts to formulate the fledgling program, was also instrumental in forming a partnership with the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas. That partnership was most useful for orienting newly elected county officials, including judges, to county government.

Dalby and the Committee, still working independently from TAC at the time, were equipped with a vision, a mission and a strategic plan. Funding sources were soon secured, including grants from the Texas Center for the Judiciary and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The first County Judges Education Course offered 16 hours of judicial training.

In the late ‘80s, then Swisher County Judge Jay Johnson joined the Committee to help steer the direction of the program. Dalby and Johnson teamed with Norris at TAC to build a sound foundation.

The mid-1990s were pivotal for the program. Johnson joined the TAC staff, the Committee joined with TAC and the program partnered with the Texas Tech University School of Law. The Texas Judicial Academy — as it’s known today — was developed as the center for judicial education for constitutional county judges.

1996 program offerings included two 16-hour Judicial Institutes, a 12-hour legal writing workshop and three 16-hour computer skills and research courses. That year, the Court Assistants Seminar, designed specifically for court personnel and administrative assistants, debuted.

In the mid-2000s, as more funding became available, the Academy was able to create its Judicial Hotline. The toll-free number is monitored full time by a former constitutional county judge, who is also an attorney. The first to accept the role was former Marion County Judge and County Judges Education Committee member Gene Terry. Terry went on to serve as TAC’s executive director until his retirement in 2018.

In 2015, the Probate Academy was launched. The annual conference is designed to meet the educational needs of judges, clerks and other court personnel responsible for setting and disposing of probate and guardianship cases.

Today, the Texas Judicial Academy is driven by the County Judges Education Advisory Committee. The Committee is comprised of elected officials and a representative from the Academy’s partnering institute of higher learning — Texas Tech University School of Law.

The Academy hosts a variety of educational opportunities across the state. Two Judicial Education Sessions occur every spring and fall, the Probate Academy occurs annually in May, the annual County Court Assistants Training Conference occurs in February, and various Judicial Roundtable events occur throughout the year in various locations.

It’s notable that two of TAC’s executive directors — former Executive Director Gene Terry and current Executive Director Susan M. Redford — were both associated with TAC’s Judicial Education program. 

Learn more about the Texas Judicial Academy at judicial.

Leadership Training

The first Leadership 254 classThe first Leadership 254 class

TAC’s leadership training is almost 20 years old, launched in 2000 by the TAC Leadership Foundation. Under Norris’s guidance, the Foundation was created as a non-profit, tax-exempt organization by the TAC board of directors. The goal was to develop leadership among elected officials to help all the offices in the courthouse to work together.

“After 15 years, we saw the need to evaluate the program and retool,” Magnus said. “Leadership principles and training have evolved over the years and to continue to be relevant, we needed to evolve our training, too.”

She brought on Education Program Manager Haley Click tolead the charge. 

“I was honored,” said Click, who has been with TAC for 14 years. “Program development is exactly what I love to do.” 
TAC established the Leadership Development Committee, made up of an elected official from each office in the courthouse, in 2015 to evaluate county officials’ leadership needs. In mid-2016, the Committee launched Leadership 254. The 14-month program of four educational modules is conducted between election cycles. 

“One of the most exciting and beneficial outcomes has been watching people from different offices, county size and region get to know each other and create these relationships of personal and professional support and camaraderie,” Click said. “That translates to when officials are back in their home counties. If a judge can establish a strong bond with a sheriff in Leadership 254, then they can do it in their courthouse.”

Participants said Leadership 254 touches on several topics meaningful to their role as county officials.

“My favorite part of being a member of Leadership 254 is gaining relationships that will last a lifetime,” said Collin County Commissioner Susan Fletcher, class of 2019. “[It’s a]  permanent resource of knowledge as well as friendships.” 

Applications for the third Leadership 254 class will be accepted in summer 2020; the class begins in February 2021.

Learn more at

Public Funds Investment Training

First County Investment Office Class, 1992First County Investment Office Class, 1992

Texas counties deliver valuable services to their respective residents. One of these services is being good stewards of the public’s funds.

This training began in the early '90s, following the high-growth banking days of the late '70s and early '80s. During those days, however, rampant inflation, rising interest rates, the deregulation of the savings and loan industry led to one of the worst global banking disasters in history. To oversimplify those events, the banking industry was forced to change. This changed the strategies counties in Texas used to invest public funds.

"The banking crisis of the '80s brought the reform of the '90s," wrote Sandra Bragg and Ron Schultz for County magazine in 1993. "The government imposed a capital-to-asset ratio that most banks couldn't meet without lowering their assets and liabilities." Investment banks were now required to maintain equal collateralization for all public fund deposits — an unattractive, if not impossible, proposition. The void that counties experienced from disappearing banking partners was filled with investment brokers with often bad, and sometimes illegal, advice.

Another impetus for TAC to offer investment training was the passage of the Texas Public Funds Investment Act (PFIA) in 1987 during the 70th Legislative Session. The Act required investing entities to adopt and approve a written investment policy. One subsequent amendment also identified the individuals within the organization who are required to attend an approved training course. For counties, that's the treasurer, chief financial officer and investment officer.

At the time, public funds investment training was scant. In 1991, the County Treasurers' Association of Texas approached the TAC Board of Directors with the idea of developing a new educational program. TAC was eager to help. Over the next year, then TAC Assistant Executive Director Karen Norris, along with TAC staffer Sandra Bragg and outside investment consultant Ron Schultz, worked with county treasurers and other experts to form an education advisory board to develop a curriculum.

County Investment Officer Training Program

TAC's comprehensive two-level County Investment Officer (CIO) Training Program launched in 1992. The introductory Level I course covered federal and state regulations, types of securities, market risk, investment strategy risk, performance measurement and investment controls. Level II covered cash management, economic forecasts, investment accounting, valuing collateral and investment policies, strategies and reporting. The key message — then and now— is that investments should be prioritized for safety, then liquidity, then return.

The message of safety, liquidity and return reverberated across the national news when Orange County, Calif. filed for bankruptcy in December 1994. "And it served as a warning of how rapidly new and popular financial strategies can sour, leaving an apparently prosperous county unable to pay its bills," the New York Times said at the time. The sudden announcement shook the bond market for public borrowing across the country, threatening to make it more expensive for many local governments to borrow.

County Investment Academy

In 2013, the CIO Training Program morphed into today’s County Investment Academy. The Academy, driven by an education advisory committee, comprised of county officials, and an advisory resource group, comprised of investment professionals, is a cooperative partnership with the McCoy College of Business Administration at Texas State University. Membership into the Academy is earned through completion of the Basics of County Investments Course (formerly the CIO Level I course), offered annually.

The Academy holds two other annual conferences — the Conference of the County Investment Academy and the Texas Public Funds Investment Conference —each offering certain participants continuing education credit hours. Membership is not required to attend any program by the Academy, and all programs are open to all county officials and staff. Members do, however, have unique access to a network of experienced county investors, economists and other experts from across the state through its County Investment Academy Community.

Learn more about the County Investment Academy at

"Today, we strive to continue to provide 'conferences and seminars relative to county affairs,' as the constitution spells out," Magnus said. "By listening to our members' needs, staying abreast of legislative changes, constantly evaluating and developing our events, making innovative changes and staying true to our heritage, we'll continue to serve Texas counties, county officials, staff and our founding affiliate associations the next 50 years as we have in the first 50."