Legendary Leadership

County officials provide direction, broad perspective to TAC.

By Liz Carmack

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Half a century ago, county leaders successfully fought for legislation that allowed them to unite through the Texas Association of Counties (TAC), and since 1969, they have led TAC’s work to support county government.

The Association’s broad array of programs and services — from its legislative representation, educational opportunities, risk pools, and member communications, to its technology services and legal support — are directed by county officials.
Each county office came together during the first meeting to form the Association in 1969. This cooperative effort continues today. Current county office holders from each county office sit on the TAC Board. They establish TAC policy, determine the scope of TAC’s services and set the Association’s budget.

TAC Board President and Hidalgo County Constable Larry Gallardo urged officials to get involved and said counties across the state benefit when all county office-holders come together to “fight for our cause for better county government and local control.”

TAC Milestones Guided by Boards
TAC’s boards have directed numerous important milestones in the Association’s evolution to serve counties’ challenges — from the beginning, when TAC served about 120 members from a small trailer on the outskirts of Austin, to today, when it serves all 254 counties from its multi-story offices just blocks from the Texas Capitol. 

In 1969, Dallam County Judge W.D. Henson, who was president of the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas at the time, stepped up to become TAC’s first Board president.  Henson and Greg County Judge Bill Owens, who was appointed as the Association’s unpaid, part-time executive director, averaged three days a week in Austin during Legislative sessions representing county interests at the Capitol. (See “Seven Executive Directors at TAC’s Helm during 50 Years.”)

Here are just a few of TAC’s milestones across the decades that have been guided by county officials serving on the TAC Board. These are marked by the tenures of particular Board presidents:  

During Henson’s term as president (1969-71) TAC published its first newsletter to members. In 1974, Owens served as Board president when TAC established the Workers’ Compensation Fund, TAC’s first risk pool. The Unemployment Compensation Fund (now called the TAC Unemployment Compensation Group Account Fund) was established during the tenure of Brazoria County Commissioner Joe Brigance (1977-78). Also during the 1970s, Knox County Judge Sam Clonts played a major role in TAC’s judicial education program and established an orientation program for newly elected county judges and commissioners during his term.

The Group Health Insurance Plan (today’s TAC Health and Employee Benefits Pool) was established during the presidential term of Rockwall County Judge Derwood Wimpee (1979-80). TAC’s fist Legislative Symposium was held when Garza County Judge Giles Dalby served as president (1983-84). Jefferson County Commissioner Norman Troy worked to obtain legislative approval during his term (1985-86) that led to the establishment of the County Government Risk Management Pool. The TAC Property and Casualty Insurance Fund was established during Cameron County Commissioner Adolph Thomae Jr.’s tenure (1989-90). Then later in the 1990s, Smith County Judge Larry Craig (1998-99) saw to the creation of the County Information Project and initiated county official email Listservs. 

The County Best Practices Awards Program, TAC’s Leadership Program and the County Information Resources Agency (TAC CIRA) were established during Palo Pinto County Judge Mickey West’s presidential term, 2000-01. Under the leadership of Brazos County District Clerk Marc Hamlin (2005-07), the TAC Board approved the merger of the Association’s three risk pools offering workers’ compensation, liability and property/casualty coverages into the TAC Risk Management Pool (TAC RMP). 

During Oldham County Judge Don Allred’s term (2014-15) the Board oversaw the roll-out of TAC’s Texas Counties Deliver public education campaign. Brazoria County Clerk Joyce Hudman presided over the Board during the launch of Leadership 254 (see “Developing County Leaders, Recognizing Leading Counties”) and the roll-out of the County Elections Database. During current TAC President Gallardo’s leadership, the Association has undertaken initiatives such as offering cybersecurity awareness training to counties, launching a new online TAC Member Portal and a new LegalEase eNewsletter.


Pool Boards, Education Committees and More
County officials from multiple county offices across the state also contribute their insight and leadership as directors on boards governing TAC HEBP, TAC RMP, the TAC Unemployment Fund and TAC CIRA, and as members on various TAC education committees, such as the Judicial Education Committee and the Leadership Development Committee. 

TAC HEBP Board Chair and Hansford County Judge Benny Wilson said, “Alongside my fellow Board members, and with the hard work and research offered by TAC staff, we have helped all our Pool members in each county by keeping costs down and offering outstanding healthcare plans.”
Likewise, TAC RMP Board Chair and Lubbock County Judge Bill McCay said one of his Board’s greatest contributions in support of counties has been, “providing a critical service that meets the needs of counties that can’t be found in the marketplace.”

Cass County Judge Becky Wilbanks said volunteering as chair of the TAC County Judges Education Committee is part of her commitment to serve as county judge and to be of services beyond the borders of her county. She said her 33 years of experience as an elected official have equipped her with insight to share through her participation with the Association.

“TAC’s collaboration with the Texas Tech School of Law in the formation of the Texas Judicial Academy has resulted in the best legal education initiative produced at TAC,” said Wilbanks. “The Committee is dedicated to providing the highest quality and most current legal training.  The committee’s continued participation in the development of Academy curriculum continues to be its most significant contribution in support of county judges.”


Leaders Urge Member Involvement
County officials in TAC leadership roles urge fellow county officials to get involved in their Association.

“TAC was created by and for county officials to provide services and resources that can’t be found anywhere else,” McCay said. “It’s our Association, so it’s up to each of us to get involved and give back to an organization we depend upon.”

Gallardo added, “I believe it is important to get involved no matter what office one holds or whether one is from a rural or urban county. Being part of TAC leadership whether as a committee member, director on the TAC Board or the pool boards brings knowledge from all levels of county government.

Together as one, we help direct TAC to provide better education, training and the utmost services such as health and employee benefits, risk management and other resources to member counties across the state.” 

Developing County Leaders, Recognizing Leading Counties

Nearly 20 years ago, the TAC Board of Directors established leadership programs to help county officials meet their full potential and to advance the efficiency and effectiveness of county government.

“None of us know what challenges and changes the next millennium will bring for our state, but we do know there will be changes and that it will take strong leaders to pave the way,” said then TAC Executive Director Sam Seale in 2000 to the TAC Board.

Since then, hundreds of county officials have participated in TAC’s leadership training, and the TAC County Best Practices Awards Program has recognized dozens of counties for more than 200 innovative efforts to better serve Texans.

Leadership Training

The Leadership 254 program today is a four-module course for county officials. It includes 11 days of training delivered across 14 months between election cycles. 

Officials apply to participate. Those chosen receive a scholarship from TAC and each class is comprised of officials from across the state that represent every county office. 

The training includes interactive discussions, theory building, skills assessment and experiential learning activities. Topics covered include developing self-awareness and examining relationships with others, ethics and integrity, leading and inspiring others, and identifying individual strengths and creating a leadership mission. 

The 2019-20 Leadership 254 Class will complete the program in May 2020. Applications for the 2021-22 class will be accepted in the summer of 2020. Learn more at www.county.org/leadership254.

County Best Practices Awards Program

Since 2000, TAC has recognized county leaders’ efforts to create new, efficient and effective solutions to challenges facing local government. These include innovative programs, increased delivery of services and superior achievements in all areas of county operations.

TAC presented nine counties with County Best Practices Awards in 2018. The Association promotes these achievements multiple ways to inspire fellow counties to develop similar programs and to illustrate to the Legislature and the public how Texas counties deliver for Texans — goals the program has held since its founding.

“The core purpose is to focus public attention on innovation and progressive county programs and create an information source on best practices in a wide range of county functions,” wrote Seale in his July/Aug. 2000 report to members in County magazine.

Nominations for the 2020 awards are being accepted through March 31, 2020, at www.county.org/bestpractices.