How would you describe your year as NACo president?
It’s been exhilarating, eye-opening and very rewarding. I’ve been fortunate to serve as mayor of my hometown of Chula Vista, Calif., county supervisor for nearly 25 years, president of the League of California Cities and president of the California State Association of Counties. But nothing could have prepared me to serve as president of the National Association of Counties. As president, I had the honor and, quite frankly, the pressure of representing 3,069 counties in meetings at the White House, at countless state association conferences and at NACo gatherings. It’s a heavy responsibility but I enjoyed every minute of it.
What was the most challenging part of your role?
The most challenging part was definitely the travel. I felt like a rock star on tour and waking up the next morning and wondering what city I was playing. It’s hard for me to sleep on airplanes so the travel added a few gray hairs to my head.
What did you find most interesting or exciting?
Although it was a challenge, the travel provided me with a great opportunity to go across this incredible country of ours and get to meet so many different people and learn about the many counties that make up America and the individual challenges they face. I’ve always believed counties offer the purest form of representative government because counties provide such a variety of services to people. Traveling to different counties allowed me to see the different ways local governments provide services and touch people’s lives. To paraphrase an old saying, “When you’ve seen one county, you’ve seen one county.”
What are you most proud of?
I launched my presidential initiative of “Connecting the Unconnected” because in my home county, I had seen how our local 2-1-1 call system had connected San Diegans to different services and resources. So, I was incredibly proud to see the initiative take root and expand, whether it be through the creation of a statewide 2-1-1 in South Dakota or through the expansion of the system we have in other states, including California, where 2-1-1 covers 58 counties that total 39.6 million residents.
None of this would be possible without a healthy NACo. This year, we saw an all-time high of 2,407 NACo members at last count. That shows our support is strong.
What advice would you give your successor?
Invest in a sleep mask and a comfortable travel pillow for those long airplane flights.
What’s next for you?
I have 18 months left in my term as county supervisor and I have a long list of projects that I want to accomplish before I leave. I’m looking forward to crossing those items off my list and really just spending more time with my constituents.
Let me say, first, thank you to the NACo staff for helping to guide me through an incredibly busy year. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for the staff to start each year with a new president and get used to his or her personality and style. Let me also thank my staff back in San Diego, who did a tremendous job keeping the office running and addressing the needs of constituents when I was on the road fulfilling my duties as NACo president.
Lastly, my sincere and heartful gratitude to all the county elected officials and employees who I met throughout my travels. County governments throughout our nation do a great job of serving their residents and helping them get back on their feet during emergencies and I am proud to call myself a NACo member!