Each year, County News offers outgoing NACo presidents an opportunity to review and describe their year in office. Outgoing NACo President Bryan Desloge, Leon County, Fla. commissioner, takes his turn.
How would you describe your year as NACo president?
I would describe my year as NACo president the way I once heard a celebrated Olympic bobsledder describe the unique talent and skills he brought to his job when he said, “I just held on and tried not to die.” The job of NACo president is not unlike many of the unique roles and experiences that we as elected officials are fortunate enough to have in our brief time in public office.
For me, the experience has been exhilarating, refreshing and exhausting all at once. Of course, it has been the relationships I have made in this role that make all the hard work and travel worth every minute. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to my fellow board members, Matt Chase and the amazing NACo staff, a dedicated aide and the Leon County government family back home whose support made this opportunity possible for me.
What was the most challenging part of your role as president?
As county commissioners, none of us are strangers to challenges, and the tough and sometimes unpopular decisions that come with the job. Similarly, in the role of president, the greatest difficulty of the job is not in finding the right answers, but in having the courage to act on the knowledge you have.
As president, you put yourself way out there on the issues that matter the most to all counties. Sometimes those issues are controversial and the challenge for the president is not to “go wobbly,” but to have the courage to speak truth to power. It’s easier said than done and rising to this challenge does not take a special brand of courage inherent in a select few, but rather it takes the moral and intellectual support of the people around you to do it effectively. In my opinion, that support structure is one of the things that makes NACo so effective.
What did you find most interesting or exciting?
Prior to becoming president, I thought I had a great appreciation for the vast diversity of issues and the immense range of challenges among counties. I even thought I had a healthy respect for the talent and dedication of elected officials and public professionals … I had no idea. What I found most interesting during my time as president was seeing how counties adapt, evolve and adjust to tremendously complex challenges of all stripes and innovate to find new ways to better serve their communities in spite of the challenges.
Counties continue to be the greatest laboratory of ideas and solutions to address the real problems real people face every day. And what excites me most is knowing the enormous potential we have as an organization to share and scale ideas to improve the lives of so many people.
What are you proudest of?
As an adept politician, I could probably come up with ways to connect myself with some of NACo’s biggest accomplishments over the past year, but I don’t know if that would be quite accurate. I guess what I am truly most proud of is holding myself accountable for the things I told myself I would do if given the opportunity to serve as president. As such, I am proud to have tried to lighten the load of others and to then follow through.
I showed up. I said yes more than no. I tried to provide a calm and pragmatic voice when it was needed and tried to remind myself to speak up loudly for those whose voice might not otherwise be heard. And finally, I felt a tremendous obligation to build on the good work of the others who came before me and to be inclusive and find opportunities for others to contribute their talents to NACo. These are the things I am most proud of.
What advice would you give your successor?
Lose 15 lbs. before you take office as you will gain them back quickly with all the food available. Get your TSA Pre-check number from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) — avoid those long screening lines at airports. Make sure you have someone who can handle as many of your county duties as possible as you will often be handling them by phone, email and text.
Take some down time between trips — you’re in for a long haul with a great deal of time away from the office and home. Just know that you have an extraordinary support team in the NACo staff, who will help get you through it. You may also want to make sure your fellow commissioners know of the amount of time required as there may be times you will either have to call into Commission meetings or miss them altogether. With all of the above said, it was an incredible experience.
What’s next for Bryan Desloge?
A long nap.
It’s not enough to fight the good fight. We have to continue to demonstrate that we still do that which is worth fighting for.