The National Association of Counties (NACo) held its annual conference in Adams County on the outskirts of Denver, Colo., at the Gaylord Rockies Resort this July. The event drew state and local government officials, subject-matter experts, and celebrated authors and innovators as keynote speakers from all nooks and crannies of the country. The event also boasted over 100 businesses and organizations in the exhibit hall, providing ample networking and growth opportunities for both counties and exhibitors.
The conference hosted a slew of engaging, educational, and fun events, including committee and subcommittee meetings, general sessions, and regional receptions where attendees connected over drinks and appetizers and heard from NACo’s second vice president candidates prior to NACo’s annual business meeting and election. There was also an array of informative workshops and panels which included “Community & Land-Use Planning to Build Wildfire-Resilient Counties”, “Framework for Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to Transform County Government”, “Practical Policy Solutions to Promote Affordable Housing”, and many more.
Idaho’s county elected officials who attended the various workshops found the content incredibly valuable and relevant to their own counties. “Attending the conference is vital to my success as a commissioner. Every year, I can bring back one or two ideas to help move our county forward,” said Bannock County Commissioner Jeff Hough. “This year, one of my favorite ideas was the creation of county information dashboards. One county used lessons learned from COVID-19 to create interactive information dashboards on their website to inform the public. Their dashboards included information such as financial data, planning and zoning information, and data points the public frequently request. Another key point was with rising costs, we need to find ways to automate and streamline our processes. Several counties shared stories of financial savings due to simple automation strategies.”
Although it is impactful for conference goers to attend workshops and meetings, some of Idaho’s delegates took it a step further and participated as panelists during several of NACo’s committee meetings. Carol Moehrle, District Director, Idaho North Central Public Health District, served as a speaker at the Health Policy Steering Committee: Subcommittees Meeting, while Laurel Caldwell, Latah County ITS Director, spoke at both the CIO Forum: Emergence: Going Forward Stronger and Better, and the Telecommunications and Technology Policy Steering Committee.
“Idaho’s participation in the conference and in these committees demonstrates that our counties are engaged, ready and willing to lead,” said Idaho County Clerk Kathy Ackerman. “These two amazing women who presented are respected for their many contributions in their fields of expertise. Their thoughtful, knowledgeable insights are making a difference in their communities and across the United States.”
Participation in NACo’s annual business meeting and election was another opportunity for Idaho’s voices to be heard, as counties were invited to cast their votes virtually for NACo’s incoming second vice president. The three candidates, supervisor James Gore of Sonoma County, Calif., commissioner Greg Puckett of Mercer County, W.VA., and Phyllis Randall, chair at large of Loudoun County, VA. took noticeably different approaches to their campaigns, but each were highly praised by their endorsers. Despite valiant efforts amongst all the candidates, it was clear early in the election that Gore was the frontrunner. He managed to hold his lead throughout and secured his place as NACo’s second vice president. In addition to a new second vice president, NACo elected its new president, Will County, Ill. Board Member Denise Winfrey. “I’m pleased to announce today that RISE! will be the focus of my NACo presidency,” Winfrey told county officials gathered in the Gaylord Rockies ballroom. (RISE stands for Resiliency, Inclusion, Solvency and Empowering.)
In addition to conference sessions and meetings at the resort, attendees were invited on off-site excursions which included mobile tours of the Adams County Elections Administration Center, the Colorado Air and Space Port, the Gravel Roads Program, and the Riverdale Regional Park which toured the Riverdale Animal Shelter, Veterans Memorial, and the Riverdale Golf Course.
“It was very educational to tour the Adams County Elections office and see first-hand how they operate in conjunction to Idaho. Nebraska and Utah also shared informative pamphlets they use for voter education,” said Power County Clerk Sharee Sprague.
On the final day of the conference, NACo’s closing celebration took place at the Stanley Marketplace in Aurora, Colorado, where conference goers enjoyed a buffet-style dinner, live music, dancing, and patronizing the many gift shops and eateries at the two-level indoor plaza. For some opportunistic attendees from Idaho, the shuttle bus between the resort and the marketplace served as impromptu karaoke mobiles (and we have the photos to prove it.)
Reflecting on the fun and successful event, Idaho’s conference attendees are already looking forward to next year’s annual conference which will be held in Austin, Texas, and they strongly encourage other county elected officials and staff to attend, especially if they’ve never been. “I appreciate that networking is a natural component of the conference, as it affords us the chance to strengthen relationships with our counterparts from across the state and the country,” said Sprague. “Connecting and sharing resources is how we learn and build stronger counties – this conference provides the perfect environment to do that.”
To see the full photo album from the conference and download pictures, visit our flickr page.