National Association of Counties
Washington, D.C.

 Tarrant County, Texas hosts NACo’s 78th Annual Conference: County Solutions and Idea Marketplace



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Ft. Worth puts on a Texas roundup for a taste of the Old West at the Stockyards Station.


​NACo 2013 County Solutions and Idea Marketplace


Daily Updates


Monday, July 22 


Linda Langston sworn in as NACo president


Linn County, Iowa Supervisor Linda Langston assumed the presidency of NACo July 22 in Tarrant County, Texas, and in the first contested election for second vice president in several years, Sallie Clark, commissioner, El Paso County, Colo., was elected. 

Rounding out the NACo leadership team is Riki Hokama, first vice president and council member Maui County, Hawaii, and Chris Rodgers, commissioner, Douglas County, Neb., as immediate past president. 

Langston pledged to take NACo to “great new heights” with the help of members, affiliates and staff of the association. 

She will have one key presidential initiative this year, under the banner of building Ready and Resilient Counties – Prepare, Respond, Thrive.  

“Resilient communities recover faster and better, and ultimately if you never experience a disaster, fostering resilience makes for a better community and a thriving county,” said Langston, whose home county experienced devastating floods in 2008. 

“I look forward to taking this journey with each you and all of our NACo team members across America this year.


Also elected to the executive team as regional representatives were Commissioner Joe Bryan, Wake County, N.C and Commissioner Tim Josi, Tillamook County, Ore. 

Closing General Session


Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius urged NACo members at the closing general session to become involved in promoting enrollment in the health care insurance exchanges that will launch in October.  “There is a limit to improving the health of your communities unless there is access to affordable health insurance.”  The online health insurance exchanges will launch in October and Sebelius asked counties to engage their faith, health and business communities. “It’s absolutely critical to reach out to people who will benefit the most from expansion. A healthier, more prosperous America has to be built city by city, community by community, county by county.” 

A lively panel discussion on the future of health care followed Sebelius’ speech. Moderated by Robert Early, president and CEO of the JPS Health Network in Tarrant County, the panel featured former HHS Secretary and Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt; Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe; and health care experts, Richard Migliori, M.D., chief health care officer, United Health Group Alliances; and  Timothy McBride, Ph.D., professor, Brown School, Washington University in St. Louis.

The panelists bandied about opinions on how the Affordable Care Act’s implementation would affect he private sector, while Los Angeles County, Calif. Supervisor Don Knabe related those thoughts to the concerns of county governments. Much was made of the inefficiencies in the current health care financing system, which wastes hundreds of billions of dollars a year on incorrect or untimely treatment, to the point where if those inefficiencies were eliminated, they would go a long way to properly funding it.

Former U.S. Secretary for Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt compared the transformation to going form a subsidized transportation system of personal taxicabs to a bus system, and advised officials to view the ACA’s implementation as a transformation of the way health care services are delivered.  He was more optimistic than he has been in the last decade that its goals were within reach, but it was best not to look at it as a pejorative.

Knabe agreed. “Whether you’re for or against it (the ACA), we have to be ready,” he said. He added that the ACA will still leave 10-20 million uninsured, and caring for the poor ends up being counties’ niche in health care. 

Also on Monday ...  


FirstNet’s Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network


FirstNet Board Member Wellington Webb presented a workshop on FirstNet and what counties, whether large or rural, need to work on before the system goes live in 3-5 years. 

“This will be the first high-speed, broadband wireless data network dedicated to public safety,” Webb said. “Involving the states, local and tribal jurisdictions early in the consultation process is critical to FirstNet’s ultimate success.” 

FirstNet is an independent authority within the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, that is charged with creating a nationwide interoperable wireless broadband network dedicated to public safety. It will enable police, firefighters, emergency medical service professionals and other public safety officials to more effectively communicate during emergencies and to use cutting-edge technologies. 

Webb said FirstNet will need to balance its goal to develop nationwide public safety broadband network quickly against the need to conduct meaningful consultations with the regional, state, local, territorial and tribal jurisdictions. While the Act provides a basic framework for this process, it does not specify how state and local consultation should occur. 

“It is imperative that counties engage in the consultation process and actively seek out the designated state coordinator(s),” Webb added. “This ensures existing local broadband and infrastructure assets are identified and included in the new network.”  


Infrastructure Financing in the 21st Century


Northern Texas has addressed many of its transportation financing woes by pursuing public-private partnerships to allow crucial projects to be completed. Victor Vandergriff, a member of the Texas Transportation Commission, went as far as to say the Legislature’s decreasing funding was leaving local governments in Texas without an alternative. Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, said that exploring such partnerships should be done with the same long-term considerations as deciding to marry a spouse.


Finding the Work-Life Balance


Four county elected officials shared their perspectives on how they keep their lives in order when the demands of public service and the responsibilities of their personal lives meet.Stanley Chang, a Honolulu City and County, Hawaii council member, reserves time each evening to exercise and Sundays to spend with his family.  

Milwaukee County, Wis. Supervisor Peggy Romo West added a little flexibility to her life by routing her office phone to her cell phone while she’s out and about. Wayne County, Mich. Commissioner Alisha Bell was single when she was elected, but her family has since grown with her husband and two children in the years since. She admits she has had to miss a few performances, but makes those the priority because you can usually delegate or reschedule other things, not those performances, she said.


Sunday, July 21


Four workshop blocks dominate today's schedule covering a broad range of topics ranging from felony case management to Supreme Court decisions that impact counties to the Affordable Care Act's effects on county employees' health benefits. In all, participants can chose from among 24 sessions for the day.


The day also marks the debut of the first Awards Luncheon and the Board of Directors meeting.


Awards Luncheon


NACo award winners were recognized at the first-ever Awards Luncheon on Sunday. Fourteen Achievement Award-winning counties took home Best in Category honors. The David Davenport and CH2M Hill presidential scholarships were awarded to Keon McKay and Jhone White-Lucas, both from Douglas County, Neb. The presidential scholarships are awarded to students from the outgoing president’s home state.


Berks County, Pa. Commission Chair Christian Leinbach won NACo Membership Recruiter of the Year.  National County Government Month Award winners, NACo Prescription Discount Card Program awards and all Achievement Award winners were also recognized at the luncheon.


Staying on Point: It’s the Message


 The popular National Association of County Information Officers (NACIO)–sponsored workshop, which provides the stage for participants to test their media skills, extended its winning streak today as more than 40 participants engaged in mock news conferences with sometimes belligerent fictive reporters.


The workshop offers quick tips from seasoned public information officers on how to craft and deliver messages to the media.


Workshop moderator Todd McGee, communications director, North Carolina Association of County Commissioners and NACIO president briefly discussed how to construct a message, treat the media and prepare for an interview.


Participants then broke into four groups, with each group given a controversial decision that needed to be communicated to the media. The group was to craft a message and select a leader who would participate in a mock news conference. Several seasoned public information officers acted as reporters, while all audience members were invited to play reporter as well. After the news conference, the groups critiqued their spokespersons and messages.


There was time for questions and answers after the presentations with many participants interested in how to handle the media during major disasters or incidents.


The workshop was recorded and will be available in the Learning Center on NACo’s website.


Post Adjudicated Programs and Smart Justice


Tarrant County, Texas has several post adjudication programs currently in operation. The panel discussion at this workshop included representatives from these programs and examined phases of specialty court programs. 


Brent Carr, Tarrant County Criminal Court judge, started off the session with an overview of the different programs the county uses to help prevent non-violent offenders from being put in jail. How the programs are funded and how much counties saved was also addressed. County jails cost 500 percent more than the most expensive adjudication program ($10 per day), Carr said.


“There are more startup funds for these programs than sustaining,” he added. “These programs sell themselves but need local partnerships to withstand the costs.”


Non-violent offenders have two options in Tarrant County when it comes to supervised treatment, according to Cynthia Velasquez, program manager, Drug Impact Rehabilitation Enhanced Comprehensive Treatment (DIRECT). DIRECT Diversion and DIRECT Drug Court offer non-violent offenders a judicially-supervised treatment regimen in three or four phases over 12 months. The program has a 62 percent completion and 21 percent recidivism rate.


Kathryn Omarkhail, professional staff, Family Court Services, focused on the issue of mental health and how Tarrant County designed their diversion program to divert mentally-impaired offenders out of the traditional criminal justice process and into appropriate rehabilitative alternatives.


Courtney Young, program manager, veteran’s court, talked about veterans who are currently facing prosecution for one or more criminal cases can seek help into appropriate rehabilitative alternatives.


“Most vets with mental health issues have them as a result of years in the field of combat,” said Young. “The veteran’s court helps rehabilitate them back to a normal life with their families.” 


Jim Sinclair, assistant director, Felony Alcohol Intervention Program (FAIP), concluded the workshop by talking about how FAIP helps high-risk repeat DWI offenders with enhanced supervision and individual accountability when it comes to alcohol abuse.


Solutions for Shale-impacted Counties


Counties as diverse as Potter County, Pa., Forrest County, Miss. and Trumbull County, Ohio joined with counties better known for their involvement in the shale gas and oil industry to learn from each other in this educational forum. Improved hydraulic fracturing techniques have enabled drilling in areas once deemed inaccessible or too costly.


More experienced counties from states like North Dakota and Colorado, offered advice while all participants benefited from the expertise of the facilitators, Dick Gardner and Don Macke of the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship. They outlined four phases of past natural resource booms: planning, development, production and reclamation.


Counties new to the game can expect to deal land use planning, infrastructure and social issues — such as friction between newcomers and old timers, and increases in crime and domestic violence, among others.


However, participants from counties with longer track records with the industry said benefits can outweigh any perceived risks. Officials from Pennsylvania touted working with the industry to obtain funding to improve first responder training for gas emergencies. In Sublette County, Wyo., gas companies helped local officials construct an emergency medical facility closer to the gas fields, which also serves local residents.


Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, a NACo past president, offered his county’s expertise in working with the shale gas industry — which is firmly established in the Fort Worth area — to counties where the industry is emerging. “We’ll be glad to set up a workshop,” he said. “We’ll sit down and we’ll plan an agenda that will bring folks from the cities, from the oil and gas companies, the pipelines, all of that, and we’ll help.”


Gardner and Macke said partnerships, sooner rather than later, can make all the difference. The keys to a successful experience, they said, are to take the potential boom seriously; get organized; think strategically; and to stay ahead of the curve.



Saturday, July 20


The conference officially opens today, with final steering committee meetings in the a.m., workshop sessions and the Opening General Session this afternoon.


Opening General Session


A panel discussion on innovations in county government and an address from the chairman and CEO of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Corporation, or BSNF, highlighted the Opening General Session.

Government Innovation – Governing in Times of Transition

A discussion panel, moderated by Governing publisher Erin Waters, discussed the challenges facing county governments, the innovations they have developed and the future of local government.


NACo Immediate Past President Lenny Eliason, an Athens County, Ohio commissioner, said in most of the country, there’s a basic lack of understanding of what counties do.


“There’s no understanding of what goes on at the local level,” he said, nothing that civics classes in schools focus on federal and state government. “It’s a lot easier to get a message out when people understand what you do.”


Cook County Council President Toni Preckwinkle said Cook County was dealing with trying to keep its public health system sustainable, create an environment that encouraged economic development and find alternative ways to handle 90 percent of the county jail population, that is awaiting trial.


She also related how she helped orient then-newly elected Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to the city-county relationship before he took office.


“We both occupy a building that takes up an entire city block, but there wasn’t much collaboration,” she said.


By creating a task force that identified ways the two governments could work together, the two executives built common ground by starting to focus on cost-saving measures, such as collective purchasing and combining workforce initiatives.


Michael Hein had the opportunity to mold Ulster County, N.Y.’s vision of what a county executive was when he took office as the first such official. His first executive order was an anti-nepotism, anti-cronyism policy that he said represented the kind of focus on accountability the public wanted when they changed their form of government.


“Elections are a great way to figure out if people trust you or not,” he said, noting that he had been unopposed when he ran for reelection.


He said that caring for veterans was one of a county’s biggest challenges and obligations. Ulster County opened transitional housing for veterans by taking a former group home, funding it by selling the community college’s president’s house and doing community fundraising.


Waters asked panel members where they say county government going in the future.


Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson said cities and towns couldn’t possibly deliver the services that counties could, a point highlighted by the nearby city of Detroit’s recent bankruptcy filing.


Eliason said counties would continue to be the most responsive form of government, comparing it to a hand, whereas the federal and state governments were like the bicep and forearm.


Hein observed that partisanship, which has been so divisive on the state and federal levels, takes a backseat to willingness to solve problems on the local level.


Matt Rose, BSNF CEO


Matt Rose, chairman and CEO of the BNSF Railway Company, focused his remarks on the advantages freight rail brings to counties and their communities.


“One train load removes 300 trucks from the roads,” he said. “It’s easy to imagine less road congestion, it would make everyone’s commute easier.”


He said his railroad company and NACo had a good relationship because his annual meeting with the Transportation Steering Committee gave each side a chance to understand the other’s concerns,including three paramount issues:

  • Avoiding land-use conflict
  • Protecting the right of way and
  • Managing residential development right near railways

He added that a comprehensive rail system impacts the costs of transporting freight to the point where it would significantly impact costs.


“These trains deliver goods to businesses and right to the consumer,” he said, “Higher fuel efficiency means lower costs to get them to the market.”


He said the projected 40 percent increase in freight tonnage by 2040 was a good reason to plan on doing more rail transportation for those goods, which would reduce the number of overweight trucks on the road and thus the road maintenance costs required.



Justice and Public Safety Steering Committee


NACo and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have signed an MOU to promote DHS’s Blue Campaign.  The Blue Campaign is designed to coordinate and enhance the department’s anti-human trafficking efforts. It focuses on prevention, protection, prosecution and partnership efforts associated with its anti-trafficking activities, according to the memorandum.


The MOU was announced at the Justice and Public Safety Steering Committee, Saturday.  To learn more about the campaign, go to humantrafficking, or contact Maeghan Gilmore at NACo,


Agriculture and Rural Affairs Steering Committee


Department of Commerce Deputy Assistant Secretary Matt Erskine gave an update on Commerce Department initiatives aimed to help rural counties.


 “State and local governments do not have resources to make critical investments when the need is more urgent than ever,” Erskine said. “No one, including counties, can go it alone to achieve economic development success. Getting together with state associations and tapping into regional resources are more important than ever.”


He also talked about how counties in the past often found themselves applying for federal assistance programs from many different agencies. This is why the Obama administration wants to synchronize these programs to maximize federal tax payer returns but also enable communities when they develop their long term development plans.


States and counties are in a better position fiscally than 2-3 years ago and general fund spending levels increased 2.2 percent this fiscal year


“When rural America is strong, America as a whole is strong,” Erskine said.


Transportation Committee


 First term U.S. Rep. Roger Williams (R-Texas) seemed wistful when describing how he saw county government to the Transportation Committee.


“The decisions you make on the county level affect people a lot more than what we do in Congress,” he said, adding that counties were a level of government where new solutions could be tried and evaluated quickly.


Not to seem disillusioned with legislative work already, he said he was pleased to serve on the House Transportation Committee. “It gives me influence into every bit of our transportation systems,” he said. “If we can’t move people or product, we can’t do anything.”


He advocated for public-private partnerships wherever possible for transportation infrastructure financing because of the respect he has for the private sector’s efficiency and the fact that federal spending on transportation would be under $1 billion for the first time in a while.


He advocated for inter-city passenger rail and the reauthorization of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, which is due to expire in September. He also noted that he had introduced a bill to repeal fuel efficiency standards that were recently adopted by the Environmental Protection Agency.


Robert Fogel, NACo staff liaison to the transportation committee and a NACo senior legislative director, is retiring in September after 28 years at NACo, and committee members honored his work at the conclusion of the meeting.




Modernizing Health Plans


As workshop sessions kicked off, Tina Glenn, Tarrant County, Texas HR director, and United Healthcare officials shared innovations that are lowering the costs of employee health care for counties.


John Bass, vice president, United Healthcare, said half of what counties spend on health care is preventable. Based on his company’s data, he added, 40 percent of health care costs can be linked a single statistic: elevated blood sugar levels.


An employee without diabetes may cost a county, on average, $3,000 a year, according to Thomas Diaz, M.D., medical director, United Healthcare. That doubles for someone with controlled diabetes, and a person with uncontrolled diabetes could cost $10,000 to $22,000 a year.


Glenn said Tarrant County participates with several other counties in a Public Employee Benefits Cooperative (PEBC) created in 1998. It developed a common plan design for all medical and dental benefits for its members, including Dallas, Denton and Parker counties.


“Diabetes is something that we’re grappling with,” Glenn said. The PEBC has a disease-management program for people with such chronic conditions. “These individuals are closely monitored; there’s a lot of good outreach.” Their supplies are covered at 100 percent to ensure better compliance in taking their medications.


Bass said one way counties can rein in their health benefit liabilities is by providing such incentives. Though they have upfront costs, in the long run, they reduce such factors as hospital admissions and costlier readmissions, and give employees a stake in managing costs.





Friday, July 19


Technology-Innovation Summit


Applying innovative technologies to reduce costs and improve service delivery were the focus of NACo’s 2013 Technology-Innovation Summit. It featured county CIOs and officials discussing issues ranging from shifting criminal justice responsibilities to enhancing cyber security.


Among the speakers were Susan Green, assistant CIO, and Deputy District Attorney Mark Whitmore, both from San Diego County, who moderated a session on how technology and operations can combine to create efficient and effective juvenile justice systems. Later, there was a demonstration of the Justice Electronic Library, an electronic management system used by San Diego County’s attorneys and courts.


Cathy Marias, CIO, Bexar County, Texas, talked about how counties can manage threats in the digital age even if they don’t have a chief information security officer.


Mary Singer, director, Healthcare Strategic Services, IBM, explained that the company is using its know-how to build sustainable health care systems, improve quality and patient safety, and increase access and patient value.


NACo is partnering with AT&T to produce a Cyber Counties guidebook that is scheduled to be released in October.


Environment, Energy and Land Use Steering Committee


An educational session brought together several different programs that addressed the committee’s portfolio: the environment, energy and land use.




Santa Barbara County, Calif. – EmPower
Santa Barbara County ‘s energy inefficient and deteriorating housing stock got a boost from a county programs that provides low-interest financing options — including rebates for improvements of up to $4,500— and referrals to participating contractors.


The program, EmPower,   developed a loan loss reserve, effectively insuring against losses by contractors doing the work. The program leveraged federal funding for improvements at a 20:1 ratio.


In 18 months, 217 homes had work done by associated contractors, work that generated $1.7 million in business for those contractors.


Ramsey County, Minn. – Law Enforcement Center Solar Panels Project
Hoping to diversity energy sources, the county installed solar energy cells on its law enforcement center. “Our goal was to give us options for how we acquire energy for our county buildings and reduce carbon emissions if we could,” said Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt.


The county hopes to share its experience with neighboring counties.


Mesa County, Colo. – Minerals and Energy Resources Master Plan
In 2011, the county adopted a comprehensive plan for mineral extraction and energy resources, updating plans that had been passed almost 30 years prior.


“We tried to create a balance between present and future resourced development and land use,” said Commissioner John Justman.  “We’d like to limit the impact that comes from extraction.”




Fairfax County, Va. – Stream and Pond Restoration
Nearby development and increased use of impervious surfaces caused a stream near the county government center to erode, cutting the stream off from local flood plain . By dredging the stream and transferring silt using custom-made bags, engineers were able to transfer sediment and raise the creek bed.



Land Use


McHenry County, Ill. ​ Green Infrastructure Plan
As part of the county's 2030 comprehensive plan, the planning department looked to link its major assets via open space. That meant determining what those assets were and best to develop those greenways. 


Printing out huge map allowed commissioners to annotate their districts and help inform the plan, going forward. Land use and environmental advocates were included, too.


“It was one of the least controversial projects we’ve done,” said Dennis Sanquist, the county’s director of planning and development. “It had near-universal support.”


Brookings County, S.D. – Pipeline overlay district
The county adopted an overlay district to identify when development is planned near a transmission pipeline. “By keeping communication open between the county and interested parties, we know who is planning what,” said Robert Hill, the county’s development director. “I can force people to talk about their plans.”





July 15, 2013 ... County officials from across the country will meet July 19–22 at the 2013 NACo Annual Conference: County Solutions and Idea Marketplace in in Tarrant County, Texas to establish national policies affecting counties and work collaboratively to find innovative solutions to challenges facing American communities.


More than 2,000 elected and appointed county officials, exhibitors, presenters and guests will participate in the conference at the Fort Worth Convention Center. Implementation of the Affordable Care Act and protection of the tax-exempt status of municipal bonds are key issues to be discussed during the four-day event.   


NACo President Chris Rodgers said NACo’s annual conference is the most important gathering of the year for county officials. 


BulletClick here for a full conference schedule, including a list of workshops and speakers


“The County Solutions and Idea Marketplace offers the best opportunity for leaders in county government to determine our federal legislative priorities and set a course of action to meet the challenges facing the communities we serve,” Rodgers said.  “We are pleased that Secretary Sebelius will join us at this critical time as the nation prepares for historic changes in our health care system.” 


Featured guest speakers at the conference’s general sessions include U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius; J.R. Martinez, army veteran, actor, author and motivational speaker, and Matthew K. Rose, chairman and CEO, BNSF Railway Company.


Conference participants are also attending a variety of educational workshop sessions to gain greater understanding of issues affecting county government such as environmental benefits and immigration reform.


Sebelius will open the July 22 General Session with remarks about implementation of the Affordable Care Act, followed by a panel discussion entitled “Where is Health Care Going?  The Public Sector Impact.”  The panel will be composed of former Health and Human Services secretary, Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt; Dr. Richard Migliori, chief medical officer for United Health Group and Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe; and Timothy McBride, Ph.D., professor, Brown School, Washington University in St. Louis.  


Rodgers said NACo’s efforts to protect the tax-exempt status of municipal bonds will be a major issue of discussion. NACo released important new research last month on the impact of changes to the tax-exempt status of municipal bonds on counties and their residents. The paper explores the unique characteristics of municipal bonds, such as the locally driven nature of municipal financing and its focus on infrastructure.


Featuring profiles of 45 counties, the study provides estimates of the impact of proposed changes to the tax-exempt status of municipal bond interest on counties.


Another priority issue will be cyber security, an issue Rodgers made a NACo priority this year. Cyber security workshops will discuss tools and best practices that county officials can implement to protect counties against cyber-attacks.

More Why Counties Matter!  v2.0

NACo will release an expanded version of its popular Why Counties Matter! infographic at the 2013 Annual Conference: County Solutions and Idea Marketplace in Tarrant County, Texas, July 18–22.  

In bold, colorful fashion, the new eight-page version shows the dynamic impact that county government has upon the lifeblood of America’s communities. It features data about transportation networks, public health, hospitals, courts and corrections, public safety and much more. 

Copies will be available at the conference and can be downloaded from NACo’s website after July 18 at