Voices of County Government - Hon. Laura Hinojosa

County government officials are as diverse as the Texans who elect them, coming from every background imaginable. In this issue we talk with Lynn County Tax Assessor-Collector Donna Wilis

By County magazine

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How long have you been the Hidalgo District Clerk?

I was elected in 2006 and sworn  in January 2007.

 Prior to your election, what kind of work did you do? How did you get interested in running for office?

I was actually a stay-at-home mom prior to running, but I did a lot of volunteer work. My parents always told us that we had to give back —  always. So, volunteering for me was the way to give back. It makes you feel good too. Before that I was a certified secondary English teacher. I started teaching in 1991. Our family is blessed. I only taught for five years because we realized we were paying more in taxes than what I was making. We decided I should stay home and raise our babies. I stayed home for almost 10 years and then I decided to run for office. I was  debating between going back to school to get my master’s degree or running for office. My husband said, “Run, and if you lose, go back to school.” So, I ran.

What was the biggest surprise or adjustment after taking office? 

When I came on board, there was a lot of scrutiny about me when I wasn’t in the office. I worked really hard at letting the public know where I was and what I was doing to help improve that impression. The first day I was in office, I took down the blinds in my personal office. People started clapping.  With today’s technology, you’re in three places at one time. I may be at a conference but I have office situations going on which I am briefed on via email, family situations going on and you’re trying to balance everything. You’re always on. I was also surprised at how many people are there to help you learn and improve. After winning in March of 2006, I visited the six counties larger than Hidalgo County because I wanted to see what other offices were doing. I wanted to think outside of what we were doing. I spent two days and three nights in Bexar County trying to learn before I took office. So many people embraced me and wanted to help. I wasn’t expecting that.

What are some of the most difficult challenges you’ve faced, and what advice would you give your peers across the state that may face the same or similar challenges?

I think it’s a very personal decision to determine how accessible you will be in and out of the office. Before elected start making changes, I suggest new officials assess. You should observe and try to learn as much as possible from your other county officials before making changes. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel if something is already working well for the county but you also have to do what’s right for the county… sometimes that means change. 

Since taking office, what accomplishment are you most proud of?

Honestly, I can’t pinpoint one thing but when we started my office had 55 employees — now we have 75. I am very proud of the enhanced office structure and we have improved the systems of accountability. But that’s not just me — it is also about the technology we have. We can be more responsive to the public because of how we have evolved over the past few years. 

I work hard to collaborate with the judges in my county and the Hidalgo County Bar Association. I am not a lawyer, so I rely on my working relationship with the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office. The only way you can improve is by asking the people who are using your office about what we’re not doing properly, so we can improve on it for the public. I’m very proud not only of my relationship with the people of Hidalgo County but also with the different state agencies.

 What do you find are the most successful methods for reaching out to the residents of Hidalgo County to communicate what your office is doing and why?

We issue a lot of press releases directly from the office however, we also utilize our public affairs office. We send out information to local radio and TV stations, in addition to social media. We also have an electronic quarterly newsletter that goes to school districts, different entities including municipalities within the county. 

In conjunction with County Government Month and Jury Appreciation Week, we host an open house — it has been  great. Our judges love it!

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

I continue to spend a lot of time volunteering. Not like before, but I do try to as much as I can. I really enjoy doing that in my free time. I enjoy taking my children to volunteer and encourage my staff to volunteer as well. There are so many different organizations here I like to get involved with and support.

I also love cooking, especially barbecuing. I was given a barbecue pit as a Mother’s Day gift a few years ago. I also enjoy baking and being creative. I have been married for 25 years. We have three children: a 22-year-old who is attending the University of Denver, a 21-year-old who is at Trinity University, and 16-year-old who is still in high school.

What is your favorite thing about Hidalgo County?

I was born and raised in Hidalgo County and love so many things about it. But, the best part of the county is the people. Our community is extremely family-oriented and very friendly.  I’m very happy here.