Idaho Counties Brave Texas Heat for 2023 NACo Annual Conference in Austin

31 Jul 2023, by Jessica Roth Share :

Several of Idaho’s county elected officials, county staff, and four members of Idaho Association of Counties (IAC) staff traveled to Austin, Texas, to attend the 2023 National Association of Counties (NACo) Annual Conference & Exposition July 21 to July 24 at the Austin Convention Center.

The event attracted county members and state associations from across the country to shape NACo’s federal policy agenda, share proven practices, and strengthen knowledge networks to help improve residents’ lives and the efficiency of county government. The conference featured ample educational opportunities with diverse workshops ranging from addressing housing affordability, to improving economic stability for young children, to leaving a legacy through strong leadership, to generating clean energy, and more.

“The NACo Annual Conference offers unmatched opportunities to learn about nationwide policy trends in county governments,” said Sara Westbrook, IAC Director of Government Affairs. “It demonstrates the effectiveness of county governments working together at the county, state, and national levels.”

Keynote speakers at the engagement included Honorable John Cornyn, U.S. Senator (R-Texas); Dr. Drew Pinksy, physician, author, TV and radio host; Joan Lunden, award-winning journalist, bestselling author, and TV host; and Allan G. Golston, president of the U.S. Program; Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Topics such as addressing the mental health crisis, committing to professional, unbiased journalism and news reporting, and increasing civility in politics by eliminating dehumanizing rhetoric were discussed.

Several of Idaho’s county officials in attendance serve on the NACo Board of Directors that met twice during the conference. IAC President Vic Pearson was officially nominated to the NACo Board to replace IAC Immediate Past President Chris Goetz during one of the meetings. Kathy Ackerman, Idaho County Clerk and Carol Moehrle, District Director, Idaho North Central Public Health District also serve on the Board. IdahoCounty Commissioner Skip Brandt continues to serve on the Western Interstate Region (WIR) Board of Directors, and Bannock County Commissioner Jeff Hough was appointed as one of the vice chairs of the NACo Community, Economic, and Workforce Development Policy Steering Committee. Ada County Commissioner Rod Beck also participates on the Finance, Pensions, and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee.

“Idaho is well-represented nationally on the NACo Board of Directors and the WIR Board of Directors, as well as on NACo’s many policy steering committees,” said IAC Executive Director Seth Grigg. “Idaho county officials leverage attending the NACo Annual Conference to ensure Idaho’s voice is heard on important issues like federal land management, federal land payments, and housing affordability.”

Board members heard from Tyrone Durham, Acting Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, and Tom Perez, Senior Advisor to the President and Director for the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. Both speakers gave updates to the NACo Board on the work being done ahead of the 2024 election to assure voter confidence and prevent interference from foreign and domestic adversaries.

The Board also heard reports from all Standing Committees and reviewed the Resolutions passed by each Committee in their meetings the previous day. The Housing Affordability Task Force, co-chaired by Valley County Commissioner Sherry Maupin and consisting of 33 NACo members from around the country whose focus is to discuss strategies and policies that advance housing availability in the U.S., also reported their findings.

Commissioner Maupin delivered the task force’s report to the Board. “It was great to watch Commissioner Maupin bring local issues to the national platform and diligently work toward solutions that will benefit many,” said Ackerman.

Members of the task force include experts from all areas that are focused on housing policy and strategies to overcome the critical shortage of housing units in the United States. The task force produced a Best Practices policy which contains five pillars of county engagement at the local level. 25 strategies were created within these pillars to help communities find success.

The report highlighted:

  • Land use, zoning, and community planning,
  • Regulation, codes, and associated fees,
  • Federal-county intergovernmental nexus,
  • Community engagement, partnerships, and education, and
  • Finance, lending, and county tax policy.

“It was an honor to be asked to represent Idaho as a task force co-chair,” said Maupin. “Counties cannot be the only solution to housing concerns, however, we can and should convene conversations with local partners and the development community to find answers and solutions.”

Members of the Board also received a sneak peek of the new NACo website, which will have several customizable features, as well as a fresh look and easier functionality. Additionally, NACo Edge, a product suite that leverages NACo’s networks, evaluates emerging market county needs, and establishes sustainable, cost-saving, and value-added solutions that can be applied nationwide was unveiled. It is a rebranding of previous services offered by NACo that also adds new product lines already being used by counties, such as budget and cash management platforms through THREE+ONE and ClearGov. IAC met with the NACo Edge program director during the conference to discuss potential partnership opportunities.

Beyond the Board meetings, general sessions, committee meetings, and workshops, there were ample networking opportunities between attendees from different organizations and counties and with exhibitors. The exhibit hall hosted over 100 businesses and organizations whose products and services could assist counties in carrying out their duties and provide solutions to county issues.

“Attending the conference was a good reminder that county governments across the nation are grappling with issues very similar to what we are dealing with here in Idaho, from EMS to property taxes to trends in preemptions and more,” said Westbrook. “Learning how county governments in other states are tackling these issues and sharing Idaho’s approach helps IAC be more effective as an association and allows county leaders to collaborate on the best solutions to county issues.” 

Idaho also hosted a joint reception for Alaska, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming on Saturday night. The invite-only event featured a cozy venue with light snacks and refreshments. Candidates running for NACo’s 2nd Vice President position also had the opportunity to address attendees at the reception to ask for their support in the upcoming election at the Annual Business Meeting on Monday, July 24th.

During the Annual Business Meeting, Ramsey County Commissioner Mary Jo McGuire was elected NACo President, Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore was elected 1st Vice President, Wise County Judge J.D. Clark was later elected 2nd Vice President, and Will County Commissioner Denise Winfrey was elected Immediate Past President. Newly elected NACo President Mary Jo McGuire unveiled her ‘Forward Together: Connect, Inspire and Lead’ campaign that outlined her focus and priorities as NACo president for the year. “Each of you brings your own strength to this organization, and I’m so excited to see what we’ll do to move forward together this year at NACo,” McGuire said.

Outside of the conference events, Idaho’s team explored the city together and patronized local establishments. Enjoying regional cuisine and experiencing the culture and entertainment Travis County had to offer was a highlight of the conference for many of the attendees. A trip to Austin would not have been complete without trying smoky BBQ at neighborhood-favorite Terry Black’s. From the brisket to the potato salad to the bread pudding, the restaurant left nothing to be desired – except perhaps stronger misters on the patio.

County karaoke at Ego’s, a local dive on South Congress Ave., was informally organized by NACo members, citing a past tradition that had lost momentum during the pandemic but was regaining traction. The event attracted county officials from all parts of the country and proved to be a crowd favorite. Attendees didn’t hesitate to showcase their talents, including Bannock County Commissioner Jeff Hough who made his karaoke debut with an electrifying rock performance. The event was a fantastic way for counties to connect in a more organic way and create lasting memories.

County members and IAC staff also took the opportunity while in Texas to learn more about the state’s history and went on a self-guided tour of the Texas State Capitol Building, where they visited the senate chambers and learned more about the Capitol and the state’s past legislators.

The conference concluded with a spirited closing reception at Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater, which provided buffet-style dinner of local fare like brisket and shrimp hushpuppies. Attendees thoroughly enjoyed dancing to live music from an enormously talented ensemble group who covered an array of mainstream hits like Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk,” and more, with powerhouse vocalists and a full band, including a brass section.

The 2023 NACo Annual Conference was objectively a huge success and a wholly worthwhile event for Idaho’s attendees, who are already looking forward to attending the 2024 conference, which will take place in Tampa, Florida, next July. IAC encourages Idaho’s county elected officials and county staff to consider participating in next year’s conference. The education, networking, resources, and cultural enrichment is well-worth the time commitment.

“I want to thank those who take time each year to attend NACo and advocate for their counties and constituents while working together to solve issues impacting counties across the nation,” said Grigg.

To see the full photo album from the conference and download pictures, visit our Flickr page