Every July, the National Association of Counties (NACo) holds its annual conference at a host member county. Nearly 1,500 county officials attended this year’s conference in Tarrant County, Texas, better known for Fort Worth, “Where the West Begins.” Though the temperature was in the 90s, I was pleasantly surprised by the lower humidity, which made walking from the hotel to the conference center easy.
The NACo Conference has two major segments: steering committee work and workshops. As vice chairman of the Environment, Energy, and Land Use Steering Committee (EELU), I worked with Supervisors and Commissioners from throughout the country on issues such as federal stormwater regulations, acid mine drainage, and oil pollution penalties, a special interest of Gulf Coast counties. One item of importance to Virginia was a resolution to support continued funding of the Department of Defense (DOD) Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative (REPI). The program would enable DOD to enter into cost-sharing partnerships with local and state governments, as well as private conservation groups, to protect military testing and training capabilities and conserve land. The REPI program would be of enormous assistance in preserving the training capabilities at Marine Base Quantico, Fort A.P. Hill, and the Oceana Naval Air Station, where local development threatens the future of these facilities.
NACo members hail from urban, suburban, and rural counties, but share many commonalities, albeit on different scales. Service delivery, cyber security, violence prevention, leadership, immigration, and community health were among the subjects shared by panelists and attendees. One very interesting workshop focused on the differences between managing and leading, and the appropriate balance between elected officials responsible for setting policy and county employees charged with carrying out those policies. In Texas, elected county officials are called judges, with responsibilities both for setting policy and adjudication. In Louisiana, they are called police jurors, reflecting the Napoleonic underpinnings of the Pelican State.
Fairfax County also earned some bragging rights at the NACo Conference, receiving a Best of Category Achievement award for its innovative stream restoration project at the main government center, and a Digital Counties’ Survey award for jurisdictions of 500,000 population and over. The stream restoration project used a new technology to raise and renovate about 1,000 feet of stream and dredge two old farm ponds to handle stormwater from about 150 developed acres. The project is accessible by a trail from Government Center Parkway. The Digital Counties’ award recognized Fairfax County for its outstanding ability to provide services and information through technology, 24 hours a day. These two awards recognize not only taxpayer investment, but also outstanding work by county staff.