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Lights! Action! Leadership! - NACo Annual Conference Report 2016

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Day Four — July 25

Bryan Desloge, Leon County, Fla. commissioner, is the new NACo president. Delegates elected Desloge to head NACo’s executive team along with Roy Charles Brooks, commissioner, Tarrant County, Texas as first vice president; and Sallie Clark, commissioner, El Paso County, Colo. as immediate past president. Greg Cox, supervisor, San Diego County, Calif. joins the executive committee as second vice president.

Delegates at the annual business meeting also adopted more than 100 platform changes and policy resolutions, ranging from support for federal funding for local efforts to address sea level rise to opposing EPA efforts to tighten ozone air quality standards.

Presidential historian and Pulitzer- prize winning author, Jon Meacham and record-breaking athlete, sports broadcaster and author Diana Nyad were featured speakers at the Closing General Session.

Elected and appointed county officials shared their approaches to successfully working with Native American tribal governments within their counties. They also recommended strategies that might work for other communities.

In Building Effective County-Tribal Relations, Gary Shelton provided examples of successful collaboration with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community in Scott County, Minn., where he is county administrator. The county and tribe worked together realign a road to better accommodate the tribe’s plan to build a housing development. The parties reached a mutually agreeable solution whereby the county would pay to build the road and the tribe would pay to maintain it.

Shelton said that having a good working relationship with the tribe before the road issue came up was one of the keys to their success.

“It’s very important to build those relationships when there aren’t any issues,” he added, “That kind of ongoing and active intergovernmental engagement will not only improve the communication and cooperation, but it can help you to address misunderstandings … that may have developed over the years.”

Scott County and tribal leaders meet at least monthly, along with all cities and towns in the county, school districts, state lawmakers and field staff from their representative in Congress, he said.

David Rabbit, a Sonoma County, Calif. supervisor, said there are five federally recognized tribes in his county and two casinos. “Our history has been mixed,” he said. “I think initially we had some adversarial relationships, a lot of that was due to gaming.  But since then, I think we’ve really come to grips with sitting down and working through relationships … and forming intergovernmental agreements that benefit both parties.”

The national Stepping Up initiative is now in its second year, and gaining support, with more than 300 counties passing resolutions to seek ways to reduce the number of people with mental illness in their jails.

In Stepping Up: Key Considerations for Reducing Mental Illness in Jails, speakers focused on the importance of a supportive environment in which people with mental illness will land after being released or diverted from jails.

Colette Tvedt, director of public defense training at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, pointed out that many of the charges the mentally ill face are misdemeanors, which don’t come with public defenders.

“They’re convinced to plead guilty because they’re told they can go home that day,” she said. “Now they have convictions on their records, they have to pay fines and penalties and if they can’t, they have to go to jail.”

She added that they might then be facing long odds to get decent housing.

Instead, as Whitney Lawrence, program manager for Community Supportive Housing- LA said, they bounce around the most expensive, and least appropriate, services a county offers, rarely getting the right treatment they need.

Corrin Buchanan, diversion and reentry housing director for the Los Angeles County Health Agency that that supportive housing must be an integral part of any diversion plan, along with a coordinated release plan.

“Recuperative care housing, medically-enhanced housing, stabilization housing, they all offer different levels of support for people with mental illness,” she said. “It can be hard to find landlords who are into renting to people who were formerly homeless.”


 

Day Three — July 24

Educational  workshops dominated Day 3 of the conference. Their topics mirrored the broad range of issues and responsibilities counties now face in an increasingly complex world.  Attendees participated in sessions that examined ways to combat human trafficking; deal with the public health threat from the Zika virus; protect employees and citizens from active shooters and manage data.in strategic, meaningful ways.  

Altogether there were more than 20 sessions scheduled throughout the day, including a new conference series, called  “County Talks,” which showcased NACo corporate members and the solutions and products they offer counties.

NACo’s Board of Directors met and approved more than  a 100 policy platform changes and resolutions.The policy recommendations will be presented to the membership for a final vote at the Annual Business Meeting and Election tomorrow,

 

A mock press conference highlighted the workshop Are You Prepared for a Media Storm? After Lori Hudson, Hillsborough County, Fla. Communications manager at Hillsborough County, advised attendees on how to respond in an emergency scenario, two guinea pigs volunteered to undergo a brief media training before fielding questions from pretend reporters.

Hudson had stressed to importance of preplanning for the type of known emergencies a county might face, from hurricanes to sinkholes to mass shootings. The workshop was conducted by the National Association of County Information Officers.

Among the keys to responding during a crisis are having the right messenger in the right place at the right time.

Other advice included:

  • Out of the gate, express sympathy and concern for the victims and their 
  • Stay in your lane; don’t answer questions that rightly should be answered by someone with the proper expertise.
  • Be prepared with the information you anticipate that reporters will ask about, such as the number of victims, extent of damage (if known or when known), protective actions for citizens and where residents can find assistance such as shelter.
  • Determine the 3-4 key points you want to communicate to the media. Know in advance the things you won’t say, things you‘ll say if asked and things you will not say, such as speculating about “what if” questions.
  • Write out your key messages, practice speaking them out loud, and practice staying on-message.

NACIO has resources available for county public information officers and spokespersons at www.nacio.org.

 

“Disclose, disclose and disclose some more” is the advice that Mary McCarty, a former Palm Beach County Commissioner, gave county leaders in the workshop Ethical Leadership: Lessons Learned to Keep you out of Prison. “The more you put on the public record, the more you’re protected.”

She learned the hard way. In 2008, McCarty pleaded guilty to federal charges of honest services fraud and was sentenced to 42 months in prison, of which she served 22 months.

“One thing that I know was that ignorance of the law is not a defense,” she said. “What I didn’t know was how many laws there were that you could  be ignorant of.”

She believed that when she voted on an issue that benefited the company her husband worked for — but didn’t directly benefit her spouse — that there was no conflict of interests to disclose.

Speakers said that since 1985, Congress has systematically been doing away with the requirement for  “criminal intent” in honest services fraud and other ethics violations.

“I always thought you needed to have committed a crime to be guilty of one,” McCarty said. “I may have been stupid; I may have been careless, but I knew that I never ever set out to commit a crime.”

During a question and answer session, a former prosecutor and district attorney said public officials are often the target of overzealous prosecutors. “As a former prosecutor,” he said, “I can tell you there is a tendency (for some) to want to be known in the papers for prosecuting and going after public corruption, and I’ve seen overzealousness — not by all but by some — and so there is a target on your back.”

 

While Los Angeles County gets to play host to the annual conference, Supervisor Don Knabe has been using the bully pulpit to bring attention to a human trafficking, and the shifts in thinking needed to combat it.

“There’s no such thing as a child prostitute; they’re victims,” he said. “These men aren’t johns, they’re child rapists.

“I always thought this was something that happened overseas, in Thailand, but it’s happening (everywhere).”

Several participants in the system described how things work in LA County in Identifying and Preventing Human Trafficking in Your County.

That change continues with how the victims are treated, especially by law enforcement.

“We were doing broken-window theory, making arrests, and we thought we were doing a fantastic job,” said Long Beach Police Department Sgt. Eric Hooker. “The arrests are what we were looking for, but now instead of arresting them, we talk to them and see what happens. We tell them ‘We want to help you and see where we can take you from here.’”

Los Angeles County adapted its human trafficking protocol from a model in place in Washington state.

“California isn’t a decriminalization state, but we wanted to treat this with a non-criminal response,” said Michelle Guymon. “We decided that social service agencies would have 90 minutes to respond when an officer calls, and we try to honor that to show the victims that we will do what we say.”

And it’s necessary to have involvement from other departments and agencies, such as the nonprofit Saving Innocence, which supplies victims with supplies and advocates to accompany them for up to nine months after they are removed from the trafficking environment.

Amber Davies said with the social workers spending most of their time coordinating services for the victims, Saving Innocence fills in a gap.

“This isn’t the work of convenience,” she said. “Sometimes the difference is made at 2 a.m. We have to show up at all hours. When they need somebody, us being there is what makes the difference, that’s how they can start being able to make trusted relationships.”

 

Mass shootings happened in the old days, just not as frequently. And now they’re rightfully on the top of many minds in county government.

“If you don’t train, it could the be end of your county as you know it,” said Darry Stacy, a Cleveland County, Okla. Commissioner, during Best Practices in Active Shooter Preparedness.

Tom Connell, senior product manager Tyco Fire Protection Products, pointed out that the last 17 years have seen as any casualties of mass violence as the prior 100.

But he kept it in perspective.

“Just .03 people out of 100,000 people will die in an active shooter incident,” he said. That said, “There is no way we can stop every person who really sincerely wants to do harm to his fellow man. We can prepare, we can plan how we’re going to respond, how fast, how effectively. In that response we can save lives that otherwise would have been lost.”

That response has to be focused inward, Stacy said, “When things happen in seconds, the police are minutes away.”

Robert Kagel, Chester County, Pa.’s director of emergency services, said counties should address the aftermath of an active shooter incident

“After two or five minutes, how are you going to bring structure to chaos?” he said. “What happens after the threat has been neutralized?”

He recommending designating shelter-in-place locations, developing reunification plans for staff, family assistance services and ensuring continuity of government operations

James Overton, chief of police for the University of Massachusetts at Boston, said getting facts out ahead of the media is important, which he saw when one of the Boston Marathon bombers was erroneously reported to have been a student at his campus.

Todd Gibson, a retired from Norman Oklahoma swat team officer and a partner, with Stacy, in Centurion Security,  said the lowest level county employees have to be as well-trained as the commissioners, to the point where they can be the leaders if members of the public are trapped during an active shooter incident.

“The police officer certainly knows what to do,” he said, but does the administrative assistant on the second floor know?

And mid-day, Achievement Award winners were recognized at a luncheon held today in their honor.

 


 

Day 2 — July 22

More meetings, the NextGen Community Service Project and the Opening General Session highlighted the formal opening of the conference. The NextGen Community Service Project supported the work of Project Innocence, a L.A. county-based non-profit devoted to rescuing and restoring child victims of sex trafficking. Volunteers packed 150 backpacks with clothing, shoes, tablets, blankets and toiletries, Chris Lim, Saving Innocence director of partnerships, told the volunteers they were filling  the packs “with hope, peace and protection.”

The Opening General Session featured all-time basketball great, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and GIS guru and entrepreneur Jack Dangermond, founder and president of world’s fourth largest GIS company. The session also marked the launch of a new NACo strategic partnership, USPERS.

Dangermond, touted the benefits of linking data with geography to identify and help find solutions to perplexing and threatening world problems such as climate change and habitat destruction. GIS, with its geography-based data layers provides a fresh way at seeing and understanding problems.

Interviewed by L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe, Jabbar talked about his heroes, short movie career and offered thoughts on racism and policing. Afterwards, he signed copies of his latest book, Writings on the Wall: Searching for a New Equality Beyond Black and White

The session also marked the launch of a new NACo strategic partnership, US PERS —  the United States Public Employee Resource Solution. US  PERS will offer retiree health care solutions.

 

Jack Dangermond

ESRI president and co-founder Jack Dangermond showed assorted county officials at the Opening General Session what was possible with geographic information systems.

The software he pioneered is now at work in many departments in counties across the nation, with applications ranging from real estate assessment databases to emergency management. “Mapping and GIS technology is becoming a kind of language that is essential for managing in a digital environment,” he said. “It’s a visual language that helps us look at and see instantly understand things that we couldn’t understand with all of the written words and mathematical languages. This is a language for everybody -- it touches everything.”

Throughout, Dangermond illustrated the impact geography, what he called “the platform or understanding and acting,” has on management.

“GIS is affecting the whole process of planning in economic development, from green infrastructure planning to urban design in terms of understanding before acting.”

He showed off how weather information can be adapted through GIS maps to predict how the rainfall will eventually flow downstream, and warnings for earthquakes hundreds miles away that could give people a chance to get to safety before the shocks reach them.

“Counties are using it in different departments to save money, save time, be better, but the holistic aspect is something I particularly think you as elected officials need to know and understand, it’s right there to be captured and used.”

“We create geographic knowledge, understand it and then act in a more sensible way.”

Dangermond described the future of what was possible with GIS, as it is integrated into various new and existing technologies, including dynamic data.

“The world is becoming real time in digital space,” he said.

“You and I are living in an interesting time because everything is digital even though many of us claim we are not technical,” he said. “Underneath your feet, we’re learning how to measure everything that moves and changes.

 

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

A true Renaissance man, basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the main attraction at the Opening General Session.

In his typical quiet, thoughtful manner, he held forth for the better part of a half-hour, taking questions from Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe and left time to answer several questions from the audience.

Abdul-Jabbar, the highest scoring player in NBA history, shared his thoughts on race relations, which he also explores in his latest book, Writings on the Wall: Searching for a New Equality Beyond Black and White.

“Why write this book now?” Knabe asked. “I think I’ve been motivated to write on these subjects my whole life,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “I paid of lot of attention to to the civil rights movement when I was growing up in the `50s and `60s.”

Hearing of the murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi “really got to me,” he said. The turbulent times made him concerned for his own safety.

“The fact that attitudes that had been around for over 100 years really had a lot to do with that,” he said. “It made me very aware of what we need to do in order to communicate with each other and do a better job of making this a great nation for all of our citizens.”

Harking back to his playing days, Abdul-Jabbar fielded several questions from the audience about his college and pro basketball careers.

Knabe also mentioned that Abdul-Jabbar has been nominated for a Presidential Medal of Freedom, and has been asked to speak at the Democratic National Convention.

In closing, Knabe asked Abdul-Jabbar about his Skyhook Foundation, whose mission is to bring educational opportunities to underserved communities. It’s mission: “Give a kids a shot that can’t be blocked.”


 

Day One — July 21

 

The opioid medication and heroin abuse epidemic has reached nearly every county in the United States, and as Sam Quinones tells it in Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic, it was the convergence of two independent trends that met in the late 1990s.

The first was the rise of black tar heroin trafficking from Mexico starting in the 80s, as an increasingly corporatized trafficking operation spread eastward, without the accompanying violence characteristic of the urban heroin scene.

“They were delivering heroin like a pizza franchises,” he told the luncheon audience. “They stressed customer service and went where there wasn’t any competition. And they offered a product that was more pure than what was coming from Burma or Turkey.”

Meanwhile, a dramatic change in medical philosophy about using opioid painkillers for all manner of ill coincided with a pharmaceutical push to prescribe Oxycodone, which is molecularly similar to morphine and heroin.

“A 101-word letter to the editor in the New England Journal of Medicine became the cornerstone, used as evidence to convince doctors that you could prescribe these pills for anything,” Quinones said. “The new addicts were either following the doctor’s orders or getting into it recreationally. The pills take the tolerance to new heights, but then they can’t afford it so they switch to cheap heroin.

“It was, a new kind of drug trafficking meets a new type of drug promotion.”

Although the scourge has changed economies, taken lives and ruined others, Quinones and many of the people he talked to saw hope in the potential for a change in the criminal justice system, now that there is political pressure on the epidemic.

“If we’re not going to arrest our way out of this, we have to find more treatment beds,” he said. ”Jail is the place to make this difference. You have people detoxing and thinking clearly for the first time in years and the realize they want to make a change in their lives. Right now, this is when we push them into a predatory, boring, non-productive system and instead we could treat and rehabilitate people who wind up in jail.

“The infrastructure is there, because it’s more expensive to build a jail and put in the plumbing than to do the programming to make this possible.

“If that’s the legacy of this epidemic, we may actually thank heroin someday.”

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About Bev Schlotterbeck (Full Bio)

Consulting Editor, County News

As executive editor, Bev manages and directs the editorial and production process for County News, NACo's official bi-weekly membership newspaper. She also oversees the County News website and emailed newsletter, CN Alerts. She has spent many years in the communications field, working as a reporter, editor and public relations director.