Mercer County, W.Va.
Why are you interested in serving as a NACo officer?
Since becoming a County Commissioner just over seven years ago, I have worked to find new and innovative ways to bring opportunities to my county, region and state. Coming from a small rural area in southern West Virginia, I know how hard it is to put aside the politics and try and accomplish things that have never been done before. As a community advocate for change, I knew that leadership in a public forum would be difficult, but with NACo, I was able to find my voice and develop the relationships needed to help my community and others. And, while I know that local partnerships are essential, relationships beyond an invisible border or boundary can lead to comprehensive change.
Over the years, I’ve served in varied capacities with the National Association of Counties. Currently, I’m Chair of the Rural Action Caucus, have a seat on NACo’s Board of Directors, was one of 10 Commissioners on NACO’s National Opioid Taskforce, currently invested on the Economic Mobility Leadership Network, Vice Chair of the Arts and Culture Committee, Vice Chair on Healthy Counties Committee and previous Vice Chair on the Juvenile Justice Subcommittee. So, for me, service isn’t something I’m interested in, it’s something I’m committed to do.
What do you consider to have been your most important contribution to the National Association of Counties to date? What do you consider to have been your most important contribution to your state association of counties?
In addition to being a County Commissioner, I’m also the Executive Director of a statewide non-profit that works to strengthen communities in a variety of ways. This is everything from working with communities to establish community-based coalitions, to advocating for effective policy at all levels. I think that expertise that I’ve developed over the last 20 years has given me an opportunity to represent others at various levels and achieve a great deal of success. My knowledge in policy streams from my education with the strategic prevention framework developed and supported by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA), of which I proudly serve as a board member. This framework and subsequent environmental change strategies not only guides my work choices but is a guide for creative decision making within my daily life.
My breadth of expertise also extends to effective public health policy where I push for prevention-based outcomes to strengthen our communities. In fact, over the last year, I’ve put over 60,000 miles on my car promoting public policy and directing additional attention to the needs of our communities; Advocating for local control of ARPA funds, public health & housing, and economic mobility. I understand where you are in your space because I have been in your back yards, and I see the common issues regardless of scale. You’re dealing with substance abuse, you’re dealing with blight, you’re dealing with aging infrastructure. It just may be at a different scale. Your budget may be bigger, your population may be smaller, your tax base more or less diverse. The issues are the same but so is the commitment to change the narrative.
On a state level, I serve on the Board of Directors and as a Legislative Committee member for the County Commissioners Association of West Virginia (CCAWV). I also represent Mercer County as a member of the West Virginia Association of Counties. Together, we work to establish partnerships with local, state and federal leaders while proactively advocating for county issues including jail bill relief, tax collection reform, and local county authority. We also seek to encourage collaboration and better government for our citizens.
What do you consider to be the two or three most important challenges facing NACo in the near future on which the Officers/Executive Committee/Board of Directors should focus? Why?
Beyond COVID, I think we need to continue striving for collaboration amongst our counties on regional and statewide levels, to leverage how we increase upward economic mobility for these large-scale initiatives that may be too big for one county to do alone. In the coming years, knowing how to work collaboratively will give us an opportunity to expand our efforts to bring broadband and water/sewer projects to even the most rural community. Working with our federal partners through the ARP and infrastructure packages, we should challenge ourselves to face the daunting task of dealing with our dilapidated and blight so that we can promote positive, healthy, drug-free communities that are more resilient and opportunistic for other areas like tourism and eco-friendly businesses. And we should understand how to talk beyond opioids and focus on addiction as a whole as the key indicator to strengthen our communities. It’s not just about one drug, but rather, a societal byproduct to a mental health crisis.
What measures would you recommend to increase and retain NACo membership and to encourage broad participation in NACo by elected officials and employees of NACo member counties? What specific role would you be willing to assume to help build and sustain membership in NACo?
Membership retention and expansion is essential to maintaining not only the education and opportunities we currently have for counties but being able to leverage the resources necessary to comprehensively advocate for effective policy and funding at all levels. The leadership and staff at NACo are nothing short of exemplary and, with their support, the voices of many are much greater than the voice of a few. Being a part of the varied committees gives us all a voice and when we speak, we speak in unison. So, I would highly encourage active participation to a committee that appeals to the individualistic needs we see daily.
Simply, as public officials, we not only have an opportunity to lead, we have an obligation to do so. Collectively, our jobs should be dedicated to being public servants beyond our locally myopic visions. This is why I love NACo. I think that we should continually look for change that is driven by our communities, focused on the strengths of our physical and mental health systems, promoted through advocacy with an established narrative, and achieved in a given environment that is filled with the energy to accomplish the goals at hand.
We are strongest when we CHANGE. And that’s why I want to be NACo’s next 2nd VP.Hero 1