More than 500 county officials and staff from across the state gathered in Austin Aug. 29-31 for TAC’s annual Legislative Conference to learn about and discuss what the 86th Legislature may hold in store for local government.
Attendees took in inspiring and informative general sessions, a raft of in-depth discussion sessions, mini-presentations on social media, a pre-conference session on the National Incident Management System and more. They discussed common concerns and got insights from experts and state leaders about some of the biggest issues facing counties and local taxpayers heading into the next legislative session, which begins Jan. 8, 2019.
“The Legislature only meets every other year, but the work has no beginning and no end for counties. It’s a non-stop effort, which is why this conference is so important every year. It’s a chance to connect with colleagues and legislators, learn what’s new — what the best practices are — and make the connections and the case for how valuable local government is to this state,” said TAC Legal and Legislative Director Garry Merritt.
During the three days in Austin, county officials heard from not only their peers in public service, but also experts on a wide variety of issues and the legislators who worked on those issues at the Capitol.
This year’s discussion sessions included:
• An update on contentious property tax and appraisal system issues, a central focus last time the Legislature met, and a priority again for the coming session;
• A discussion of disaster recovery, Hurricane Harvey and the State Action Plan with the Texas General Land Office;
• A spotlight on current criminal justice issues, including mental health and criminal justice programs aimed at reducing incarceration rates for individuals with mental illness;
• An examination of the rising costs of unfunded and underfunded state mandates, and the plan for ending the practice;
• And candid discussions of numerous other issues counties face.
County magazine will feature in-depth coverage of many of these issues and sessions in the coming months.
The Opening General Session kicked off with former Disney executive, Dennis Snow, a customer service and leadership expert. He provided a “how-to” program for delivering outstanding experiences, and an all-encompassing approach to county operations, making excellence business as usual.
“You know your constituents have high expectations. They want a high standard of service, and they want good value for their taxes. The bottom line is that they expect world-class service,” said Snow. His presentation focused on how counties can deliver on those expectations.
Nancy H. Baird followed Snow, bringing a leadership lens to his approaches and processes that refocus teams to a constituent-centered experience mindset.
Finally, TAC Sr. Legislative Manager Rick Thompson took the stage to zero in on how the lessons imparted by the previous speakers could be put into practice in engaging with legislators and the legislative process in 2019. He closed out the session by calling on the audience to put those lessons into practice right then. He asked them to text TAXPAYERS to 52886. Participants received an instant reply with a link to a microsite that allowed them to send messages to their legislators about unfunded mandates in just a few clicks. A map behind Thompson displayed pins for the home county of each official who took action.
The videos are now available on www.ProtectPropertyTaxPayers.org
and www.county.org/unfundedmandates for playback at any time.
The conference closed out Friday morning with the a stirring talk from outgoing TAC Executive Director Gene Terry who emphasized that Restore What’s Right, the theme of this years conference, means county officials must continue doing what they do best: Serving their communities and ensuring that Texas counties deliver on the promise of local government that is connected and accountable to the people.
“You will go into that courthouse and do what you do best. You’ll do what you did last week and you’ll do what you’ll do the next week. You’ll serve the people of Texas.”
Notable speakers included Rep. DeWayne Burns (R-Cleburne), Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), Rep. Geanie Morrison (R-Victoria), and Rep. Hugh Shine (R-Temple) who spoke on session panels and answered county officials’ questions about a variety of legislative topics.
Several county officials, department heads, and state agency staff also led discussions and helped educate their colleagues on many topics. Those county officials and county employees included Harris County Chief Appraiser Roland Altinger, Refugio County Judge Robert Blaschke, Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick, Executive Director of the Texas Indigent Defense Commission Geoffrey Burkhart, Lubbock County Justice of the Peace Ann-Marie Carruth, Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody, Tom Green County Auditor Nathan Cradduck, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, Travis County Constable Chief Deputy Bobby Gutierrez, Glasscock County Judge Kim Halfmann, State District Court Judge Julie H. Kocerek, Executive Director of the Texas Association of Regional Councils Ginny Lewis, Kaufman County Assistant District Attorney Rebecca Lundberg, Burnet County Justice of the Peace Roxanne Nelson, Senior Deputy Director of Community Development and Revitalization at the General Land Office Pete Phillips, Brazos County Tax Assessor-Collector Kristeen Roe, Washington County Clerk Beth Rothermel, Mental Health and Jail Diversion Bureau Watch Commander for the Crisis Intervention Response Team (CIRT) and Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Tommy Shelton, Webb County Judge Tano Tijerina, and Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley. In-depth coverage of the topics discussed at this year’s conference will appear in subsequent issues of County magazine.